Today in History: August 31

Judge Richard Owen found that George Harrison had subconsciously plagiarized the song “He’s So Fine” in composing his own hit song, “My Sweet Lord,” on this date 40 years ago.

Judge Owen, who was himself a composer and musician, wrote a decision full of empathy for the composer’s plight:

Seeking the wellsprings of musical composition—why a composer chooses the succession of notes and the harmonies he does—whether it be George Harrison or Richard Wagner—is a fascinating inquiry. It is apparent from the extensive colloquy between the Court and Harrison covering forty pages in the transcript that neither Harrison nor [Billy] Preston were conscious of the fact that they were utilizing the “He’s So Fine” theme. However, they in fact were, for it is perfectly obvious to the listener that in musical terms, the two songs are virtually identical except for one phrase.
 
What happened? I conclude that the composer, in seeking musical materials to clothe his thoughts, was working with various possibilities. As he tried this possibility and that, there came to the surface of his mind a particular combination that pleased him as being one he felt would be appealing to a prospective listener; in other words, that this combination of sounds would work. Why? Because his subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious mind did not remember.

The lawsuit continued long after Judge Owen’s decision was announced, however: the legal wranglings over how much Harrison owed stretched on until 1998. (At one point, the one-time manager of the Beatles, and the four band members’ solo careers, purchased the rights to “He’s So Fine,” which meant that any damages Harrison paid for plagiarizing “He’s So Fine”—as well as the profits for sales of “He’s So Fine” and sales of “My Sweet Lord”—would both land in that manager’s pockets. Harrison filed a countersuit.)

Harrison wrote an amused and amusing musical commentary on the matter, “This Song”:

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 …

 
(Bright Tunes Music owned “He’s So Fine,” hence the joke, “This tune has nothing bright about it.”)
* * * *
Henry Moore died 30 years ago today. Diana, Princess of Wales died on this date in 1997. Sir David Frost died on this date in 2013.

* * * *
Arthur Godfrey was born on this date in 1903. Sanford Meisner was born on this date in 1905. Daniel Schorr was born 100 years ago today. Alan Jay Lerner was born on this date in 1918. Raymond Williams was born in 1921 on this date. Buddy Hackett was born on this date in 1924. James Coburn was born on this date in 1928.

* * * *
Itzhak Perlman is 71 today. Sir Van Morrison is 71 today. His 36th album will be released in September. “Sweet Thing,” from Astral Weeks:

 
Richard Gere is 67. Glenn Tilbrook is 59 today. Debbie Gibson is 46 today. Pádraig Harrington is 45. Chris Tucker is 45.

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One comment

  1. loisajay · August 31, 2016

    Oh, I do love Van Morrison. Had no idea he was a ‘Sir.’ Always informative, Mark. Along with the usual ‘huh’….. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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