Hear Me Lord
|"Hear Me Lord"|
|Song by George Harrison from the album All Things Must Pass|
|Released||27 November 1970 (US)
30 November 1970 (UK)
|Producer||George Harrison, Phil Spector|
|All Things Must Pass track listing|
"Hear Me Lord" is a song by English musician George Harrison, released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It appeared as the last track on side four of the original LP format and is generally viewed as the closing song on the album, disc three being the largely instrumental Apple Jam. Harrison wrote "Hear Me Lord" in January 1969 while still in the Beatles, but it was passed over for inclusion on what became the band's final album, Let It Be (1970).
Musically, the song is in the gospel-rock style, while the lyrics take the form of a personal prayer, in which Harrison seeks help and forgiveness from his deity. Along with "My Sweet Lord", it is among the most overtly religious selections on All Things Must Pass. The recording was co-produced by Phil Spector and features musical contributions from Eric Clapton, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Bobby Whitlock and other musicians from Delaney & Bonnie's Friends band.
On release, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone described "Hear Me Lord" as the album's "big statement" and a "majestic plea". Harrison performed the song at the Concert for Bangladesh on 1 August 1971, during the afternoon show only, although the recording has never been issued officially.
Background and composition
Despite it being recognised as a deeply personal statement, "Hear Me Lord" was a composition that Harrison did not mention at all in his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine. Simon Leng, author of the first musical biography on George Harrison, describes the self-revelation evident in the lyrics to "Hear Me Lord" as "unprecedented" – "How many millionaire rock stars," he asks, "use a song to beg forgiveness from God, or anyone else ...?" Leng observes three "anchors" in the song's lyrics: the phrases "forgive me", "help me" and "hear me".
Forgive me Lord, please
Those years when I ignored you
Forgive them Lord
Those that feel they can't afford you.
Help me Lord, please
To rise above this dealing
Help me Lord, please
To love you with more feeling.
At both ends of the road
To the left and the right
Above and below us
Out and in –
There's no place that you're not in
Won't you hear me, Lord?
In their pleas for forgiveness, acknowledgement of weakness and promise of self-improvement, Harrison's words have been described by author Ian Inglis as offering a similar statement to the Christian Lord's Prayer. In addition, Inglis highlights the song's final verse – particularly the lines "Help me Lord, please / To burn out this desire" – as being an "almost flagellatory ... self-chastisement" on its composer's part. Religious academic Joshua Greene has recognised the same couplet as an example of Harrison the "life-lover", prone to "sexual fantasies", and just one facet of its parent album's "intimately detailed account of a spiritual journey".
The Beatles' Get Back sessions
On Monday, 6 January 1969, during the Get Back sessions at Twickenham Film Studios, Harrison presented the song to the other Beatles, announcing that he had written it over the weekend. Like "Let It Down", "Isn't It a Pity" and other compositions of his around this time, it was met with little enthusiasm from bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The band barely rehearsed "Hear Me Lord" that day, during which Harrison and McCartney engaged in an on-camera argument culminating in Harrison's resigned comment "Whatever it is that will please you, I'll do it." Even after the location had been moved to the Apple basement later that month and keyboard player Billy Preston brought in – two developments Harrison instigated in an attempt to improve the atmosphere – he would not play the song again at any Beatles session.
Harrison found a more sympathetic collaborator in Preston, a born-again Christian, when he began producing the Texan's debut album on Apple Records in February 1969. The two musicians co-wrote the track "Sing One for the Lord", the first song Preston recorded for Apple, although it would not be released until September 1970, on his Encouraging Words album.
At Abbey Road Studios on 20 May 1970, a month after the Beatles' break-up, Harrison ran through "Hear Me Lord" alone on electric guitar for producer Phil Spector. Leng suggests that, following Lennon and McCartney's routine dismissal of many of his compositions, Harrison "presented his new songs with reticence, almost with a Pavlovian expectation of their being rejected". In his interview for the 2011 George Harrison: Living in the Material World documentary, Spector explains his positive reaction to Harrison's spiritually themed songs: "He just lived by his deeds. He was spiritual and you knew it, and there was no salesmanship involved. It made you spiritual being around him." Harrison biographer Gary Tillery notes an additional need for faith on the singer's part in mid 1970 as "pillars of Harrison's old life were passing away", with the demise of his former band and the fatal illness of his mother, Louise.
Selected for inclusion on All Things Must Pass, the subsequent band performance of "Hear Me Lord" has been described by Leng as "slow-cooking, gospel rock". The musicians on the recording were all those with whom Harrison had briefly toured Europe in December 1969, as a member of Delaney & Bonnie's Friends band, including Preston and Eric Clapton, supplemented by pianist Gary Wright, a mainstay of the extended sessions for All Things Must Pass. The track begins with Jim Gordon's heavily treated drums and features a "rolling" piano commentary from Wright and "sweet slide guitar licks" from Harrison, Leng writes. Author Bruce Spizer remarks on the "soulful" backing-vocal arrangement performed by Harrison, multi-tracked and credited to the George O'Hara-Smith Singers.
The guitar interplay between Harrison and Clapton, notably what Leng terms the track's "'Little Wing' riffs", would be reprised on "Back in My Life Again" and "A Day Without Jesus" for organ player Bobby Whitlock's eponymous solo album, which was recorded in January 1971. In their Solo Beatles Compendium, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter observe that the official take of "Hear Me Lord" ran considerably longer than the released 5:46 running time; on the 2001 reissue of All Things Must Pass, the song's length was extended to 6:01.
Release and reception
"Hear Me Lord" was released in November 1970 as the last track on disc two of All Things Must Pass. It was effectively the final song on the album, since the third LP, Apple Jam, was a bonus disc consisting almost entirely of instrumental jams recorded during the sessions. Discussing the critical and commercial success of Harrison's triple album, author Nicholas Schaffner wrote in 1977: "George painted his masterpiece at a time when both he and his audience still believed music could change the world. If Lennon's studio was his soap-box, then Harrison's was his pulpit." Reflecting the intentions behind songs such as "Hear Me Lord" and the album's worldwide number 1 hit single, "My Sweet Lord", Harrison said in a rare interview at the time: "Music should be used for the perception of God, not jitterbugging." He added: "I want to be God-conscious. That's really my only ambition, and everything else in life is incidental."
In his album review for the NME, Alan Smith described "Hear Me Lord" as an "impassioned hymn" and a "stand-out number within the whole set". To Rolling Stone's Ben Gerson, having bemoaned that "[Harrison's] words sometimes try too hard; [as if] he's taking himself or the subject too seriously", "Hear Me Lord" was "the big statement". "Here George stops preaching," Gerson continued, "and, speaking only to a God, delivers a simple, but majestic plea: 'Help me Lord please / To rise a little higher ...'"
Reviewers in the 21st century have deemed the song a perfect album closer, a point to which Madinger and Easter add: "If the Lord hadn't heard him by now, then there wasn't much else [Harrison] could do to get his ear." Harrison biographer Elliot Huntley praises "Hear Me Lord" as "another soulful hymn ... another number given the full gospel treatment by Spector" and credits Harrison with being "the first white man to combine gospel and rock without sounding ludicrous". Writing in Rolling Stone Press's Harrison tribute, following the singer's death in November 2001, Greg Kot described the music as "orchestrated into a dense, echo-laden cathedral of rock in excelsis by Phil Spector" before noting: "But the real stars of this monumental effort are Harrison's songs, which give awe-inspiring dimension to his spirituality and sobering depth to his yearning for a love that doesn't lie."
Simon Leng concedes that the lyrics alone might make "Hear Me Lord" seem "falsely pious" yet, like Bruce Spizer, he recognises Harrison's "clear" sincerity reflected in his performance on the recording. "Even more than 'My Sweet Lord'," Leng writes, "the closer to the album proper is the most emotionally compelling piece on an emotionally naked compilation. This is a true outpouring of feeling ... A movingly impassioned vocal completes a picture that is as cathartic as anything on Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album." Less convinced, Ian Inglis writes: "the impression is of a man cowed, rather than liberated, by his faith." Inglis notes an "uneasy self-righteousness" in Harrison's verse-one lines "Forgive them Lord / Those that feel they can't afford you", and concludes: "The song's gospel-tinged backing matches the evangelical nature of its sentiments, but ['Hear Me Lord'] is a slightly unsettling end to a collection of songs of great power and passion."
"Hear Me Lord" was included in Harrison's proposed setlist for the Concert for Bangladesh when rehearsals got under way at Nola Studios, New York City, in the last week of July 1971. Harrison then performed it during the afternoon show at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, 1 August, immediately following Bob Dylan's surprise set. After what author Alan Clayson describes as a "creaky" performance of the song, a slight reorganisation of the concert program saw it dropped for the second show. This live version was not included on the official live album of the event or in Saul Swimmer's 1972 concert film. Following the 2005 reissue of these two releases, "Hear Me Lord" remains the only song performed at the Concert for Bangladesh that has not received an official release.
The musicians who performed on "Hear Me Lord" are believed to be as follows:
- George Harrison – vocals, electric guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals
- Eric Clapton – electric guitar
- Gary Wright – piano
- Bobby Whitlock – organ
- Billy Preston – keyboards
- Carl Radle – bass
- Jim Gordon – drums
- Jim Price – trumpet, horn arrangement
- Bobby Keys – saxophone
- uncredited – tambourine
- uncredited – shaker
- Ben Gerson, "Reviews: George Harrison All Things Must Pass", Rolling Stone, 21 January 1971 (retrieved 19 May 2013).
- Leng, p. 99.
- Spizer, p. 225.
- Inglis, p. 31.
- Greene, p. 181.
- Sulpy & Schweighardt, p. 55.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, pp 38, 187.
- Huntley, pp 18–19, 21.
- Miles, p. 328.
- Clayson, p. 262.
- Miles, p. 331.
- Clayson, p. 280.
- Apple Records, "Billy Preston Encouraging Words" (retrieved 5 August 2012).
- Leng, p. 71.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 91.
- Madinger & Easter, p. 426.
- Leng, p. 76.
- Phil Spector interview, in George Harrison: Living in the Material World DVD, 2011 (directed by Martin Scorsese; produced by Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair & Martin Scorsese).
- Tillery, p. 87.
- Clayson, pp 277–78, 288.
- John Harris, "A Quiet Storm", Mojo, July 2001, pp 70, 72.
- Leng, pp 82, 99.
- Leng, p. 123.
- Madinger & Easter, p. 432.
- Booklet accompanying All Things Must Pass reissue (Gnome Records, 2001; produced by George Harrison & Phil Spector).
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 94.
- Clayson, p. 292.
- Spizer, pp 225–26.
- Schaffner, p. 142.
- Rodriguez, pp 148, 254.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 40.
- Greene, p. 184.
- Alan Smith, "George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (Apple)", NME, 5 December 1970; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 19 May 2013).
- Huntley, p. 60.
- Rodriguez, p. 156.
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, p. 187.
- Inglis, pp 31–32.
- George Harrison Cover Songs, The Covers Project (retrieved 5 August 2012).
- Harrison, p. 288.
- Badman, p. 43.
- Schaffner, p. 146.
- Clayson, pp 312–13.
- Madinger & Easter, p. 437.
- Keith Badman, The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After the Break-Up 1970–2001, Omnibus Press (London, 2001; ISBN 0-7119-8307-0).
- Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik, All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975, Ballantine Books (New York, NY, 1976; ISBN 0-345-25680-8).
- Alan Clayson, George Harrison, Sanctuary (London, 2003; ISBN 1-86074-489-3).
- The Editors of Rolling Stone, Harrison, Rolling Stone Press/Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 2002; ISBN 0-7432-3581-9).
- Joshua M. Greene, Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, John Wiley & Sons (Hoboken, NJ, 2006; ISBN 978-0-470-12780-3).
- Olivia Harrison, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Abrams (New York, NY, 2011; ISBN 978-1-4197-0220-4).
- Elliot J. Huntley, Mystical One: George Harrison – After the Break-up of the Beatles, Guernica Editions (Toronto, ON, 2006; ISBN 1-55071-197-0).
- Ian Inglis, The Words and Music of George Harrison, Praeger (Santa Barbara, CA, 2010; ISBN 978-0-313-37532-3).
- Simon Leng, While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI, 2006; ISBN 1-4234-0609-5).
- Chip Madinger & Mark Easter, Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium, 44.1 Productions (Chesterfield, MO, 2000; ISBN 0-615-11724-4).
- Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years, Omnibus Press (London, 2001; ISBN 0-7119-8308-9).
- Robert Rodriguez, Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years 1970–1980, Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI, 2010; ISBN 978-0-87930-968-8).
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY, 1978; ISBN 0-07-055087-5).
- Bruce Spizer, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, 498 Productions (New Orleans, LA, 2005; ISBN 0-9662649-5-9).
- Doug Sulpy & Ray Schweighardt, Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of The Beatles' Let It Be Disaster, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, 1997; ISBN 0-312-19981-3).
- Gary Tillery, Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison, Quest Books (Wheaton, IL, 2011; ISBN 978-0-8356-0900-5).