"My Experts Tell Me That It's OK"

I've been mildly obsessed with Ding Dong, George Harrison's Big Ben-based ostensible New Year's anthem which staggered limply into the lower reaches of the top forty early in 1975 (making him the first former Beatle to miss the top thirty in the process), ever since first hearing the almost belief-beggaringly uninspired slab of lyric-deficient nothingness on an edition of The Golden Oldie Picture Show, the bizarre mid-eighties BBC1 vehicle in which Dave Lee Travis linked 'videos' made for pop hits from the days before they had 'videos'; the fact that most of them had promo films was presumably neither here nor there. In case you were wondering, it was accompanied by footage from inside a bell factory. Years later, I would spend about a week laughing at Charles Shaar Murray's original NME review of Ding Dong, a single paragraph in which the disillusioned former sixties underground firebrand despaired of how we had got from The Beatles to here, zeroing in on the song's sheer uselessness with an intensity that all but eradicated the need to hear it for yourself.

Needless to say, Ding Dong was one of the first things that I looked up in The Guinness Book Of Rock Stars - an 'A to Z of the people who made rock happen' that I was given as a Christmas present in 1989, which charted pop careers in a month-by-month stat-heavy fashion - and even that blunt just-the-facts summation somehow managed to be amusingly damning. But it was then that my eye was caught by aspects of the Solo George story of which I had not previously been aware, primarily the 1971 court case in which he was accused of ripping off The Chiffons' 1963 hit He's So Fine for My Sweet Lord. These sort of cases were ten a frozen royalty penny in those days, affecting everyone from Joe Meek to The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and almost always found in the complainant's favour; while even the most casual of observers could make a good case that while He's So Fine and My Sweet Lord have similar melodies, they are fundamentally different songs, try telling that to an early seventies judge who probably held a dim view of those erstwhile Beatle Boys and their long-haired antics, if indeed he didn't have to ask the prosecutor who they were in the first place. Followed in stark, detail-heavy black and white, the long and protracted course of the court case, and George's eventual defeat, is actually rather uncomfortable to read, and you do get a sense of how it must have impacted on a man who wasn't exactly having the happiest time of his life at that point. The entry for Ding Dong, released towards the end of the drawn-out legal proceedings, draws attention to the fact that "the b-side I Don't Care Anymore reflects his mood of the time". Although it's fair to say that Ding Dong also fairly accurately reflects his mood of the time, and that I Don't Care Anymore is as depressingly lazy and throwaway as it is sarcastic - you really do have to feel for anyone who bought that single expecting a faint echo of Beatle magic - I couldn't help but feel drawn towards the idea of one of the world's most famous musical figures waving a musical two fingers not just at his legal tormenters but at a public that had seemingly turned on him too. The quiet ones - and indeed The Quiet One - always have the best comebacks.

Yet even that was nothing compared to what I found a couple of entries further down. Late 1976 single This Song, the book dryly noted, "offers wry comment on the My Sweet Lord court case, referring in its lyrics to the publishers of He's So Fine". The idea of a world-famous musician - and an ex-Beatle at that - blasting back at recent personal troubles with a neat bit of public score-settling place-putting-in musical pissed-offness sounded to the very young me like the most amazing thing in the history of anything ever. With the reissue market and oldies radio not really having taken off at that point, and iTunes still nothing more than a vague notion at the back of the mind of whoever it is that thinks making each successive upgrade harder and harder to navigate in any meaningful fashion is in any way a good idea, the only place that you really stood a chance of hearing it was on Radio 1's Golden Hour, and indeed that was where I would finally hear it, during breakfast in a hotel on a family holiday, and I was rooted to the spot not just by even more acidic and virulent lyrics than I had been anticipating - the line "this tune has nothing Bright about it", referring to He's So Fine copyright holders Bright Tunes, still makes me want to punch the air with joy whenever I hear it - but by the startling appearance in the middle eight of the unmistakeable voice of Eric Idle, screeching away on full Pepperpot form about which Motown oldie This Song sounds most like. Monty Python, The Beatles and getting up the nose of the Establishment, my three big teenage obsessions, had collided in spectacular fashion and I can recall the pure rush that gave me as if it was yesterday. Of course, George was so disillusioned with the music business by this point that he took extended time out and set himself up as a film producer, resulting in - or, depending on which way you look at it, resulting from - yet another even more spectacular collision of those same three obsessions. But that's another story.

But the This Song story itself didn't end there. Years later, I discovered that George had made a promo film for This Song - stitch that, The Golden Oldie Picture Show - featuring him being dragged bodily into court and forced to give evidence to a courtroom of his music and comedy pals, miming, boogieing and mugging like an even more unhinged episode of Cop Rock, if such a thing was even scientifically possible. It's a subtle act of rock star defiance, especially by 1976's own specific standards, but it's one that all this time later can still have you crying with laughter both at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation that led to it, and at one man's determination to show them all just how much he didn't care any more. Put it on whenever you're feeling disillusioned or out of options - well, come on, not many people reading this are going to be sued for copyright infringement over a global multi-million selling single - and I guarantee you'll see the funny side.