My Sweet Lord - Billy Preston
Question: Who recorded the first version of George Harrison's "My Sweet lord"?
Answer: Yup it was our Billy, on his first Apple album: "That's the Way God Planned it".
Having met the Beatles in 1962 when he was in Little Richard's backing band, he was stolen from Ray Charles's band in 1969 when on tour in London by George Harrison during the sessions for the "Let it Be" album. He then in many ways became the glue that kept them together until it was finished with his upbeat approach to everything and apparently because they didn't want to be seen to be behaving badly in front of him. Besides the scorching piano work on the single version of "Get Back" (which was credited to "the Beatles and Billy Preston), in 1969 and 1970 he produced 2 solo albums and the hit single "That's the Way God Planned It" for the Beatles own Apple label.
Harrison originally had no idea of recording the song himself and in 1969 gave it to Billy because of his strong Christian convictions. Interestingly, if you compare it with the Harrison hit recorded a year later, the words "Hare Krishna" are only sung once as opposed to many times in the George version, Preston preferring to stick to the Christian "Hallelujah" refrain.
The great backing line up is a pick-up band in the extreme and just goes to show who can get to join in if there's a Beatle asking and producing. The Temptations were in London on a European tour and Harrison somehow got their backing band to play, and the backing vocals are by the current hit gospel group, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, no less, who were also playing London at the time.
Many cite this version as better than the Harrison world number one but it's great just to hear Preston's gospel vocal on this, set against some wonderful second generation Motown bass playing.
Maybe Harrison shouldn't have recorded his version after all. Then no-one would have noticed the tune's similarity with the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" saving him years going through court and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Just in case he'd forgotten about that other God, Mammon.