Today is the fifth of our eight days without a #1. We’re going back a couple of days to a song that, accidentally, introduced one of the more dubious legal concepts.
Song: “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons
Reached #1: March 30, 1963 (their first, 4 weeks)
The story of how “He’s So Fine” got released in the first place was good enough – the Chiffons’ label, Capitol Records, showed the brilliant decision making that would later lead to them rejecting several #1 Beatles’ singles… and rejected this one. So did ten other labels before the small Laurie Records label agreed to release it.
So, of course, the song Capitol called too “trite” to release went to #1.
On its own, that’s a good story.
Then came George Harrison. 7 years later, he released a little single you might have heard of – “My Sweet Lord”. Harrison’s song of praise to Krishna would go on to reach #1 – in fact, we’ll see that song later this year.
The story in short – Bright Music, which owned the rights to “He’s So Fine” (songwriter Ronald Mack had died years earlier), heard enough of their song in “My Sweet Lord” that they sued for plagiarism.
The reality is that the two songs are similar… but in the mid-‘70s, there wasn’t a judge in the world that was going to actually say that a Beatle had committed plagiarism. So… the judge came up with the (frankly ridiculous) concept of “subconscious plagiarism” and awarded a judgment to Bright Music.
But really? “Subconscious plagiarism” really means “if you ever listened to the radio, and wrote a song, you might have stolen it”. I’m truly surprised that we haven’t had 40 years of songwriters suing each other, as there’s a limited number of ways to write a song and a seemingly-unlimited number of songs…
The story takes some other odd twists, but I’ll get to that when I write Harrison’s side of the story later this year.
The one fun footnote for now? The Chiffons did a cover of “My Sweet Lord” four years after the lawsuit was filed, in hopes of cashing in. No word on how well that worked out for them, alas…
Tomorrow, we doo-wop.
No songs reached #1 on April 2.