Nina Simone & Richie Havens Each Extol the Sun

I was sorry to learn of the passing of Richie Havens, whose legendary performance as the opening act of Woodstock was so riveting – in no small part due to the sheer physicality and novelty of Havens using his considerable thumb as a moving capo, holding down all six strings of his openly-tuned guitar as he chorded up and down the neck of the guitar.

My Richie Havens music library, unfortunately, consists of exactly one song, “Minstrel from Gault” – from Ronco’s aforementioned Do It Now “music collage” album.  However, a recent vinyl purchase – Nina Simone’s 1971 RCA album, Here Comes the Sun – led to the discovery that she and Richie Havens each did a great job of interpreting the classic Abbey Road track that George Harrison had famously written one day while “playing hooky” from an Apple Records business meeting:

“Here Comes the Sun”     Nina Simone     1971

Compare Nina’s version with Richie Havens’ which went to #16 in the pop charts in 1971 – his only charting single, interestingly:

“Here Comes the Sun”     Richie Havens     1971

Intrigued to learn that even though “Here Comes the Sun” was a radio staple, this song was never released as a single – instead, that distinction went to George’s other great Abbey Road contribution, “Something,”  his first ever A-side.

Thanks, EMI:

According to Wikipedia, “astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan had wanted [the original Beatles version of “Here Comes the Sun”] to be included on the Voyager Golden Record, copies of which were attached to both spacecraft of the Voyager program to provide any entity that recovered them a representative sample of human civilization. Although the Beatles favored the idea, EMI refused to release the rights and when the probes were launched in 1977 the song was not included.”

EMI was justifiably concerned about the possibility of aliens bootlegging and profiting from a song that had been a worldwide radio smash back on the home planet.

In Hindsight, the Lawsuit Was Inevitable

One of my favorite (and affordable) ways of discovering music is trawling for vinyl at local secondhand shops.  Of course, you have to wade through a lot of Andre Kostelanetz and Percy Faith to find something worthwhile, but that’s part of the fun – and adventure.  It’s not uncommon to find boxed sets in excellent condition, such as this 6-LP offering by Columbia that I picked up for 5 bucks:

Country Box Set

At this point I need to stop and ask:  do you remember where you were when you first learned that George Harrison lost a major court battle, having been found to have “unconsciously” plagiarized the melody of the Chiffons’ 1963 hit “He’s So Fine” for his 1970-71 worldwide smash, “My Sweet Lord“?  When I first learned of the charges, I was pretty outraged on George’s behalf and took George at his word when he professed his innocence.  I thought the accusation was a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly, and a naked attempt to shake down an ex-Beatle for a big payday.  I realize now I had been blinded by Beatle love.

Apparently, others noticed the melodic similarity between the two tunes, such as the dobro player who backed Jody Miller on her 1971 country pop cover version of “He’s So Fine” – one of the songs on the 6-LP box set that caught my ear.  Nice intro, great arrangement, crisp guitar lines – and humorous incorporation of George’s distinctive slide guitar part from “My Sweet Lord”:

“He’s So Fine”     Jody Miller     1971

Most fascinatingly – as Chip Madinger & Mark Easter point out in Eight Arms to Hold You:  The Solo Beatles Compendium – Phil Spector, the master of the early 60s “girl group” sound and the producer who spun the dials for “My Sweet Lord,” failed to notice the similiarity.  Which I think qualifies as ironic.

As Rolling Stone points out, the resulting lawsuit – filed in 1971 and litigated until 1998 – makes it “one of the longest legal skirmishes in American history.”