No. 291: "My Sweet Lord," by George Harrison (1970)
This post is part of a countdown series on songs that have stuck in my head and are part of my iTunes "hit parade" of most-played tracks. See all the posts here.
Yes, George is my favorite Beatle. It makes sense. I'm not a class clown like RIngo, and I've been a pretty solitary creature, not inclined to get into John-and-Paul love-hate relationships. Facial hair has never worked for me, and I never learned to play the sitar, but I identify with Harrison's inscrutability. (Maybe not accurately; for all I know, I come off to my acquaintances as a perfect drama queen.)
I'm not a Hare Krishna adherent either, even though I once took advantage of the sect's hospitality to get a free vegetarian meal in a basement on Boston's Newbury Street. So Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," infamous as the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit, doesn't speak to me as a religious hymn. Stoicism is fine, but any tolerance I once had for the idea that our fate is in God's hands vanished after I saw a high-ranking member of Congress deny the possibility of catastrophic climate change by declaring that "The Earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth." Congratulations, US Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois): You've made the best moral argument I've ever heard for athiesm.
But I doubt that Harrison was encouraging religious faith as a way for humanity to duck responsibility for its actions. The song appeared on the double album All Things Must Pass (which briefly posititioned him as the Beatle with the most acclaimed solo career), whose title song is about using spiritualism to get through a rough patch — and not using belief as a way to say, "fuck it, nothing I do matters."
Though "My Sweet Lord" was a staple of AM radio in the 1970s, it has been an earworm for me only since 2001, when I learned that Harrison died and, a few moments later, heard the song from a passing car as I was walking in Somerville's Davis Square. It was if he was playing himself off the planet with the song that's his most striking use of a guitar riff as a mantra.
"Jessica" notwithstanding, I'm more taken with the guitar as a meditative tool than as a phallic instrument, so there's a lot of Harrison in my most-played tunes. It also means that should you get me drunk enough to play an air guitar, you'll probably be disappointed by my lack of Spinal Tappish movement. (Put on Edith Piaf if you want me to emote.)
Below is a concert version of "My Sweet Lord." The album version is here.