“Got My Mind Set on You” is etched in the soundtrack of the memory banks of most people who were listening to music in the late 1980’s. This number one hit for George Harrison is significant in many ways. First, it represents the last number one hit in the U.S. by a member of The Beatles, hitting the top slot for one week in February 1988. Of course, Harrison was the first ex-Beatle to score a number one hit when “My Sweet Lord” topped the charts for four weeks beginning in the last week of December 1970, giving him the distinction of being the first and the last ex-Beatle to top the charts in the U.S.
Furthermore, for a period of several months in 1988, George Harrison held the remarkable distinction having the number hits the longest length apart, as 15 years elapsed between “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) in 1973 and 1988’s “Got My Mind Set on You”. Surprisingly, The Beach Boys scored the number one hit “Kokomo” in November 1888, 22 years after their last number one hit, “Good Vibrations” in December 1966.
In terms of hits by ex-Beatles in the U.S., the song broke the longstanding tie as George, Ringo and John each had two number one hits. This 1988 chart-topper gave Harrison three number ones, catapulting him over Ringo and John. Furthermore, “Got My Mind Set on You”, written by Rudy Clark in 1962, represented only the second time an ex-Beatle had topped with charts in the U.S. with a song that he did not write. The first such instance was when Ringo scored a number one in 1973 with “You’re Sixteen”, which was written by Richard Sherman and Roger Sherman, and previously was a hit for Johnny Burnette in 1960. Songwriter Rudy Clark also wrote “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” which was a # 6 song for Betty Everett in 1964 and later a Top 40 hit for Cher in 1991 as it was featured in her movie Mermaids.
The James Ray version of “Got My Mind Set On You” was recorded in 1962 but did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 despite adequate airplay. When The Beatles each had two weeks of vacation in the summer of 1963, Harrison went to Chicago to visit his older sister Louise and her family. He always liked the song and bought a copy of the 45 at a Chicago record store and brought it back to Liverpool. Incidentally, George visited many Chicago record stores in those two weeks. He was accompanied to Chicago by his older brother Peter; the two brothers had a project. The Beatles were already famous in Great Britain with number one hits and other hits; they canvassed every record store in Chicago to see if any of the stores were selling Beatles records. They found that not only did any of the stores not have Beatles records, but none of the owners or employees of the stores had ever heard of The Fab Four. In a matter of months the climate would change drastically for The Beatles in the U.S.
Harrison bought the record as he loved the song, in addition to being familiar with James Ray because in earlier years The Beatles many times included the Ray song “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” in their set. He always kept “Got My Mind Set On You” in the back of his mind. In the sessions that preceded recording of the Cloud Nine album in 1987, there were jams sessions among Harrison and the musicians who would appear on the album. In The Billboard Book of Number Hits by Fred Bronson, there is a passage in which Harrison describes the twist of fate that inspired the recording of the 25 year-old song; “I did that song because Jim Keltner got this drum pattern going one day that was a cross between swing and rock. Gary Wright turned around and said, “Hey, doesn’t that remind you of that song ‘Got My Mind Set on You?’ I was so surprised that anybody else had ever heard that tune!”
The Cloud Nine album marked the first of several collaborations between Harrison and ELO frontman Jeff Lynne. When Harrison voiced that he was looking for an innovating producer for his upcoming album, Dave Edmunds recommended Lynne and set up a meeting between the two. A major Beatles fan, Lynne was thrilled to work with the ex-Beatle; the ELO influence can be heard throughout Cloud Nine, especially with Lynne doing backing vocals on “Got My Mind Set on You”. The following year Harrison and Lynne would form the group The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Both Harrison and Lynne received credit as co-producers of “Got My Mind Set on You”. Of course, 18 years later Jeff Lynne would produce the two new Beatles songs that used old vocal tracks of John Lennon, “Free as a Bird” and “Free Love”, for the Beatles Anthology CD; George Martin opted out of producing the two songs primary because he felt it was not a good idea to record a song using old vocal tracks of the deceased Beatle but also because he had experienced some hearing loss and such a project requiring perfection would be a difficult task because of the hearing loss.
“Got My Mind Set on You” was released in 1987 when MTV still showed music videos on a regular basis and it received ample airplay. According to The Quiet One: A Life of George Harrison by Alan Clayson, Paul McCartney backed out of an agreement to appear in a couple of videos for singles off of Cloud Nine. George was disappointed that the first video with McCartney was supposed to be the one for his non-original “Got My Mind Set on You”. The video for the single consisted of an adolescent couple flirting in an amusement arcade while a video of George and his band played in a nickelodeon. With music videos still being played constantly on MTV in 1987, Warners made the case that a better video was needed to promote the single and the album. The second video, which is by the far the better known of the two videos, featured Harrison playing the guitar and singing in his study, which evolves into the furniture moving and taxidermies on the wall partaking in the singing. A memorable part of the video is when a stuntman stepped in for Harrison and does backflips. The second video was credited with helping to propel the song to becoming an international hit. In addition to the U.S., it topped the charts in Australia, Belgium and Ireland, while scoring in the top ten in almost every country in the free world with pop music charts.
The second single from the album, “When We Was Fab”, reached # 23 in the U.S.
To this day, it ranks as an extreme rarity in that the day in which The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 20, 1988, “Got My Mind Set On You” was the number one song in the U.S.!