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Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Sweet Lord, He's So Fine...or Maybe Not...

First things first.

I want to take the opportunity to wish everybody out there in the world who celebrates it a very happy Easter Sunday!  Whether you're at church observing the religious aspects of the holiday, or whether you're outside hunting for brightly coloured eggs hidden all over your backyard, I hope you have a wonderful day.  And more importantly, I am hoping that you spend the holiday with the people who love you and understand you.  After all, sharing a two pound chocolate bunny is much more fun when you split it with someone you love.

Well...okay, I suppose you COULD share it with someone you don't love.  Just break it apart in a way that nets you the bigger piece.

Anyway, whatever you do, I hope you have a lot of fun, and that you spend the day safely.

Unfortunately, I don't have a Sunday Jukebox song to present that has anything to do with Easter.  I really have my doubts that Cher believed in life after Cadbury Creme Eggs, nor do I believe that the Smashing Pumpkins ever wrote a song about Marshmallow Peeps.  Though, I concur that if such a song did exist, it would be awesome.

No, instead we're going to be talking about a song that topped the Billboard charts over FIFTY years ago.  It's a song by an all-girl group from The Bronx.  It's a song that was not only the group's first number one hit, but also their very first single overall!  And it's also a song that became part of a plagiarism investigation - though to make it absolutely clear, this group was not the one who did the plagiarizing.

Oh, I bet you're wondering what this song is, aren't you?  Well, here it is...a song that topped the charts some fifty-one years ago!

ARTIST: The Chiffons
SONG:  He's So Fine
ALBUM:  He's So Fine
DATE RELEASED:  December 1962

Now, before we go ahead with the plagiarism controversy that surrounded this song, why don't we talk a little bit about the band that called themselves The Chiffons, shall we?

When The Chiffons first formed in 1960, they were originally a trio of high school friends from The Bronx's James Monroe High School - Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett, and Barbara Lee.  The group would sing together for two years before adding a fourth member to their line-up, Sylvia Peterson.

TRIVIA:  Peterson was hired at the suggestion of Ronald Mack, a songwriter who would be credited for many of The Chiffons' earliest hits.  It ended up being a good decision.  After all, Peterson had been in the business since her early teens, singing with Little Jimmy and the Tops.

And since I brought up Ronald Mack already, I figure that I should probably mention that Mack was the man responsible for penning The Chiffons' first hit, "He's So Fine".

As it so happened, Mack became acquainted with the group after hearing the group singing inside their school cafeteria and with the group's blessings not only became The Chiffons' songwriter, but their manager as well.

With assistance from another band, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" singers The Tokens (they provided the background music for "He's So Fine"), The Chiffons managed to record two singles..."He's So Fine", and "Oh, My Lover".

Now would you believe that originally the single "Oh, My Lover" was believed to be the bigger hit of the two songs and almost became the band's first release?  Had it not been for the catchy "doo-lang, doo-lang, doo-lang" ditty that were recorded as backing vocals for the chorus, it's entirely possible that "He's So Fine" could have been completely overlooked.  Nevertheless, the band made the decision that they would release "He's So Fine" first.  And that decision almost caused the band to never become heard in the first place.

Would you believe that a total of ten record labels rejected the single?  Ten record labels stating that the song was "too trite" and "too simple".  It wasn't until Laurie Records expressed interest in the single that the eleventh time became the charm.

And, boy, what charm that single had!

The song was released in the final few weeks of December 1962.  As the new year dawned, the single began to slowly climb the Billboard Charts.  By March of 1963, it had reached the Top 10, and on March 30, 1963, the single topped the charts for four weeks before being dethroned in late April by Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him".

And, this was by far not the only single to chart well for The Chiffons.  Other singles that the band had that were very successful included "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "One Fine Day", "It's My Party", and "My Boyfriend's Back".  I'm sure that most of you have heard of at least one of these songs throughout your lives.  I think almost every song has been used in the soundtracks of at least one movie.

But now here's where the whole plagiarism scandal comes into play.  And it takes place approximately eight and a half years after "He's So Fine" was released on the charts.

In 1970, The Beatles famously split up after playing together as a band for nearly a decade.  And, naturally, all four Beatles released solo albums.  And George Harrison's very first solo hit happened to be this classic from late 1970.  Now, I really want you to listen to this song closely and compare it to The Chiffons smash from 1962.  Notice any similarities?

ARTIST:  George Harrison
SONG:  My Sweet Lord
ALBUM:  All Things Must Pass
DATE RELEASED:  November 23, 1970

Okay, so there's definitely one similarity that I can point out.  Both songs by The Chiffons and George Harrison reached #1, and both stayed at #1 for the same amount of time.  Four weeks.

Oh, and there's also the fact that both songs sounded extremely similar to each other.  I mean, George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" sounded quite a lot like "He's So Fine", only without the doo-lang, doo-lang, doo-lang.

According to The Chiffons and Bright Tunes Music Corporation, it sounded too similar for it to be a coincidence.

Despite Harrison's insistence that he never aimed to plagiarize any song by The Chiffons, a lawsuit was filed in January 1971 - around the same time that "My Sweet Lord" was topping the charts.  It would take another five years before the trial would commence, beginning in 1976...but before that trial began, both The Chiffons and George Harrison would take pot shots at each other through their gifts of music.

Now, depending on what you believe, you might think that The Chiffons delivered the first blow, as in 1975, they actually had the cojones to record their own version of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" as a way of sending a message of sorts.  And would you believe that I happened to find a copy of this release on YouTube?  Have a listen.

Okay, that was peculiar...and awkward.  And even more awkward was the fact that George Harrison got wind of The Chiffons' cover, and recorded an answer song of his own.

Dang.  Stuff just got real.

Anyway, George Harrison's "This Song" was released in late 1976, immediately after Harrison spent an entire week inside of a New York City courtroom pleading his case and defending himself against the allegations of plagiarism.  It was a valiant effort on Harrison's part, but unfortunately, it was all for naught.  He was found guilty of "subconscious plagiarism" and he was ordered to pay nearly $1.6 million in damages.  The lawsuit caused Harrison to nearly give up on songwriting entirely, as he had felt too paranoid to consider such a thing.  But of course, as we all well know, by the time the late 1980s came along he was involved in both solo projects and with his side project, "The Traveling Wilburys".  And even better news for Harrison.  Because George Harrison's one-time manager Allen Kline himself became a plaintiff by virtue by purchasing Bright Tunes - the company that held the rights to "He's So Fine" - in 1978.  Because of this, Harrison was no longer forced to pay the $1.6 million.  All he really had to do was buy Bright Tunes from Allen for the same amount that Allen paid for the company - a steal at just over half a million dollars - everything became hunky dory, though it would take another ten years of litigation before the conflict was finally dropped.

The epilogue?  Well, we know that Harrison continued to write and record music until his death from cancer in November 2001.  As for The Chiffons, the band line-up basically collapsed in the late 1960s following the departures of Judy Craig and Sylvia Peterson, but over the next two decades, various line-ups of one or more of the original Chiffons would perform.  In May 1992, Barbara Lee passed away from a heart attack, and soon after, Sylvia and Patricia Bennett would retire from the group, leaving Judy Craig and her daughter to carry on The Chiffons name.

And now you know the story behind the My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine scandal.  After reading the whole story, whose side are you on?

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