FIVE CASES OF PLAGIARISM INVOLVING GEORGE HARRISON:
(But Not All of Them His Fault)
by Peter Gorman
1. "My Sweet Lord" -- George Harrison recorded "My Sweet Lord" in 1971; it was a big hit, unfortunately for Harrison, because it then came to the attention of many that the song was a blatant rewrite of "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons. Everyone seems to have noticed the resemblance except for Harrison and the record's producer, Phil Spector. How Spector missed it is hard to fathom; the Chiffons hit was recorded in 1963 by an "all- girl" group who were from the same New York City high school. Spector was writing and producing at the same time for the same type of groups in the same city, competing on the same Billboard charts. At some point one would have expected Spector to pop his head out of the control room and say, "Hey George, you know what this song reminds me of?" But I guess he didn't. The judge accused Harrison of plagiarizing twice, which I guess was done for emphasis, like getting a double-life sentence, and Harrison had to give up the royalties.
2. "Start!" -- Paul Weller has had to suffer many accusations of plagiarism in the U.K., "Start" being one of them. The Weller song is built on a riff. The George Harrison song "Taxman" is also built on a riff. It also happens to be the exact same riff as that in "Start!" Lucky for George, this time he got there first. Weller bristled at the suggestion that he nicked the riff, but he hadn't helped matters by announcing to the press that his latest album -- the one containing "Start!" -- had been heavily influenced by Revolver, and the first song on Revolver happened to be... oops! "Taxman."
3. "When We Was Fab" -- Many years removed from the charts, Harrison returned with this ditty about his former band. Harrison does mention a Dylan title in the song ("It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"), but that was certainly deliberate, Harrison being friends with Dylan and even having written a song with him. The odd thing was the music, which for several bars sounds exactly like part of "Can't Get it Out of My Head,"a seventies hit for ELO. The part of the ELO song that it copies is just before the chorus and goes -- hum along with me - "Walking on a wave she came/staring as she called my name" or something like that. Every once in awhile I hear "Can't Get it Out of My Head" on the radio, but I never hear "When We Was Fab" anymore so I can't recall the lyrics, and it's not like I'm going to buy the CD just for this list, for crying out loud. All I remember is the similar part comes just before the chorus. Check it out for yourself. A big deal? Not exactly, until one considers that Jeff Lynne wrote, arranged, and produced "Can't Get it Out of My Head," and he was also the producer of "When We Was Fab." At some point one would have expected Lynne to pop his head out of the control room and say, "Hey, George, you know what this song reminds me of?" But I guess it didn't happen.
4. "Long Long Long" and "Ship of Fools" -- Harrison admits that he copied the chords for his song "Long Long Long" from the Dylan song "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Having copied the chords, it's probably not surprising that he came up with a very similar melody and tone, and the last two lines of the verses in "Long Long Long" sounds almost exactly like the last two lines of the verses in "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Many years later Robert Plant had a hit with a song called "Ship of Fools," in which Plant moans "I know why/I know why" in the exact same melody, style, and tempo that Harrison moans "I found you/How I love you" in "Long Long Long," which is in the exact same melody, style, and tempo that Dylan moans "Should I leave them by your gate/Sad eyed lady should I wait?" in "Obviously Sad Eyed Etc." In truth the case of plagiarism against Plant isn't so bad, because on the last notes of the offending line he goes up the scale while Harrison and Dylan go down the scale, but I brought Plant in because I was getting a little tired of beating up on George, and besides George has a link to Led Zeppelin. He was a big fan of theirs, but he criticized them to their faces after one of their shows because they didn't play enough ballads, and John Bonham (Zep drummer) proceeded to toss him into a swimming pool.
5. "Free As a Bird" -- This John Lennon song was revived by the surviving Beatles in 1995, a testament to the wonders of technology if nothing else. However, there happened to be a part of this song that sounded exactly like "Remember (Walking in the Sand)," a 1964 hit by the Shangri-Las, and the parts that were similar even started with the same words, "Whatever happened to." So this brings us full circle. Harrison sings the part in "Free As a Bird" that sounds exactly like "Remember (Walking in the Sand)"; he lost a lawsuit over a 1963 song by an "all-girl" group that formed in a New York City high school; "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" was recorded in 1964 by an "all-girl" group that formed in a New York City high school. Aerosmith covered "Remember (Walking in the Sand"); they also covered "Come Together," a Beatles song written by John Lennon that borrowed lyrics from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" for which Lennon nearly got sued, and Lennon's "Yer Blues" mentions Dylan and is on the same album as Harrison's "Long Long Long," which was written in India in the company of Donovan, who once played a song to Dylan that borrowed the melody from Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," and Donovan thought that was O.K. because he thought Dylan had borrowed a traditional melody for the song but Dylan had written his own, and Dylan laughed at Donovan, and Donovan hung his head, but it's not like Dylan sued him or anything like he did to Hootie and the Blowfish when they copied an entire verse of his song "Idiot Wind" into one of their own, a hit I thankfully can't recall, and Dylan once covered Willie Dixon (don't ask me when), and Willie Dixon once claimed that Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" completed ripped him off so they gave him part of the songwriting credit, and if I were British I'm sure I could work Paul Weller back into this mess, but I'm not, so the story ends here.
Anything else? Oh yes, "Free as a Bird" produced by Jeff Lynne.
(Editor's Note: Original list written in 1997 by the surviving members of the Ronettes.)