George’s “This Song” a commentary on infamous copyright lawsuit

The George Harrison song “This Song” receives little airplay among the catalog of solo hits by ex-Beatles. It entered the Top 40 of The Billboard Hot 100 and reached # 25. It was the first single released off of the album Thirty-three and 1/3.

“This Song” and Thirty-Three and 1/3 got a boost when Paul Simon hosted the November 20, 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live and George was the musical guest. The video for “This Song” was played on Saturday Night Live, giving the ex-Beatle’s new song national exposure via the medium of rock video some five years prior to the 1981 launch of MTV. On this episode of Saturday Night Live, for the musical segment Simon and Harrison did a duet of both the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Homeward Bound” and the Harrison-penned Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun“.

George Harrison wrote “This Song” in response to the lawsuit filed against him for alleged plagiarism on account of his 1971 number hit “My Sweet Lord” sounding similar to the “He’s So Fine”, the classic by The Chiffons that topped the charts for four weeks in March/April 1963. It was written by Ronald Mack.

Marc Shapiro’s 2002 biography Behind Sad Eyes: The Life of George Harrison contains the passage, “On September 7, 1976, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Owens found that while he did not feel that George had ‘deliberately’ plagiarized the song ‘He’s So Fine’, there was substantial evidence that he did infringe on the song’s copyright. George was found guilty and ordered to pay damages in the amount of $587,000.”

It quotes George as cynically saying in the aftermath of the court’s decision. “I don’t even want to touch the guitar or piano in case I’m touching somebody’s note. Somebody might own that note, so you’d better watch out.”

A full examination of this notorious copyright infringement lawsuit is not possible in a blog post as the subject matter is too lengthy not to mention controversial. It is safe to say that after a week of testimony in federal court in Manhattan, George Harrison channeled his feelings of frustration and anger in the proper way by writing “This Song”, which is an obvious reaction to the lawsuit.

The following lyrics are a good indication of Harrison’s frame of mind while writing the song immediately after spending a week in the court room:

This song has nothing tricky about it
This song ain’t black or white and as far as I know
Don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright, so
This song, we’ll let be, this song is in E
This song is for you and
This tune has nothing bright about it
This tune ain’t bad or good and come ever what may
My expert tells me it’s okay
As this song came to me unknowingly
This song could be, you could be
This riff ain’t trying to win gold medals
This riff ain’t hip or square, well, done or rare
End up one more weight to bear
But this song could well be
A reason to see that
Without you, there’s no point to this song
But this song could well be
A reason to see that
Without you, there’s no point to this song

After the line, “This song could be”, Monty Python’s Eric Idle chimes in with, “Could be ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch’? Naw! Sounds more like ‘Rescue Me’”. In the video, Idle’s line is lip-synched by Ronnie Wood, who the previous year joined The Rolling Stones after the dissolution of Faces. Wood is dressed up as a woman in the video.

The line “This tune has nothing bright about it” is a reference to Bright Tunes, which owned the rights to “He’s So Fine” and initiated the infamous lawsuit.

Olivia Arias, a year away from becoming Mrs. George Harrison, plays Lady Justice, appearing as a blindfolded woman in a toga holding the scales of justice. Veteran drummer Jim Keltner plays the judge.

The next song off Thirty-three and 1/3 was “Crackerbox Palace”, which reached number 17 in the U.S. in the spring of 1977.

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