George Harrison became the first former Beatle to have a solo No. 1 when he released “My Sweet Lord” in 1970. Though slightly marred by a copyright lawsuit — he was found guilty of “subconsciously plagiarizing” the Chiffon’s 1963 hit “He’s So Fine”— the rock hallelujah included on his majestic triple album All Things Must Pass went on to become Harrison’s signature song.
By 2000 Harrison’s strength was fading due to his battle with lung cancer, but he threw what remaining energy he had into supervising an elaborate 30th anniversary edition of his breakout album. “To create something extra for the Anniversary issue, I decided to have a new look at ‘My Sweet Lord’ and change it from the original version,” he writes in the liner notes. Though it had its genesis as merely a bonus track, he lavished a considerable amount of attention on the tune.
Using the original session tapes as a base, Harrison set about recording new instrumentation overtop. His son Dhani Harrison took acoustic guitar duties, Sam Brown (daughter of his close friend and fellow musician, Joe Brown) shared lead vocals, and famed percussionist Ray Cooper manned the tambourine. Harrison himself took the opportunity to re-do his slide guitar solo, which he felt wasn’t up to par on the original.
The revised version packs a charm equal to the original. Following an introductory strum of Harrison’s beloved sitar, “My Sweet Lord (2000)” features a transcendent, oddly human-sounding chorus of intersecting slide guitar lines, all overdubbed by Harrison himself. His actual voice sounds much more thin and brittle than the original, but he reaches a passionate peak that he never reached before — and he never would again.
Harrison knew his time was growing short, and his pleas to see, be with, and go with the Lord sound achingly earnest. He would die on Nov. 29, 2001 — just months after “My Sweet Lord (2000)” was issued that January. On the 15th anniversary of his death, it’s a fitting epitaph for a remarkable cultural figure.