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The time George (almost) sued Ringo

The time George (almost) sued Ringo

| On 05, Oct 2014

To sue a dear old friend must be tricky. The history of The Beatles has an endless barrage of lawsuits that have been served like tea and biscuits. Litigation focused on the band’s breakup and the division of profits has been well documented, but one forgotten story took place in the 1970’s around the recording of one song.
 
It was the time George Harrison almost sued Ringo Starr.
 
Six years after the breakup of the world’s most successful pop group, each of the four members had some varying degrees of success and failures. By June 1976, with unprecedented offers for reunion concerts, each former Beatle was comfortable in their respective lives, with little or no desire to revisit the past. The previous year saw the end of their grand experiment of creative utopia Apple Records, and with that the freedom for each musician to explore new deals with other record labels.
 
John Lennon was in semi-retirement to raise his young son Sean and Paul McCartney was in the midst of a record-breaking run with his band Wings.
 
George Harrison’s career was at a precarious junction by mid 1976. He was several months late with 33 1/3, his first LP for Dark Horse Records, a label he founded in 1974. The delays were due to his prolonged bout with hepatitis and the ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit with Bright Tunes Music over his hit song “My Sweet Lord.” A&M Records to dropped their distribution deal for Dark Horse, which was later picked up by Warner Bros. Nevertheless, 1976 was a very stressful year for the quiet Beatle.
 
Ringo Starr signed a multi-record contract with Atlantic (USA) and Polydor (UK), to deliver five LP’s in seven years, with the first to be released in June 1976. Continuing the formula of his two previous efforts, Ringo recruited some old friends to contribute songs with John, Paul and George on top of the wish list.
 
John arrived at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles on June 12 to play piano on “A Dose of Rock and Roll” and record his own composition “Cookin’(In the Kitchen of Love),” while Paul and his wife Linda recorded their track “Pure Gold” on June 19 just prior to the Wings world tour.
 
George Harrison failed to make the sessions due to his aforementioned problems, but does agree to let Ringo record an outtake from his 1970 epic triple album All Things Must Pass.
  
At the time, Ringo was asked about the other three ex-Beatles involvement: “Well, Paul asked to write a song. I asked John and he worked on it and worked on it and eventually he came up with ‘You Got Me Cooking’. You know he’s really into that now – cooking! I also asked George to write one, but there was an old one of his that was never released by anybody that I always loved. I was on the session when it was recorded so, in the end, I asked him if instead of writing one, could I have that old one? He said fine; it saved him a job. It’s called ‘I Still Love You’, a big ballady thing.”
 
The song in question is “I’ll Still Love You”. Originally titled “Whenever,” George soon renamed it “When Every Song is Sung” and recorded at least 44 takes in the summer of 1970. George later revealed it was originally intended for Shirley Bassey, best known for her James Bond themes for Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever and later Moonraker, and who recently scored her biggest hit in a decade with Harrison’s “Something.”
 
George stated in his 1980 autobiography, I Me Mine: “When I wrote ‘When every Song is Sung,’ I had it titled “Whenever.”I got the chord sequence and ‘when every song is sung’ were the first words to come out of my mouth and it developed from there. It was one of those that I tried several times to record: Ronnie Spector, Phil’s wife, had a go at it; Cilla Black also-in fact I started to produce it for Cilla as a single, but we didn’t finish it. We also did it with Leon and his wife Mary and in the end Ringo recorded it. As Shirley Bassey once suggested in a newspaper, after having a “hit’ with “Something,’ that she and I could be like Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, if we go together, I thought this would be a good one for her…”
 
I’ll Still Love You

“Whenever” lyrics as reprinted in Harrison’s 1980 autobiography, “I, Me, Mine”

 
After abandoning his own version and Bassey’s, he produced a version with Ronnie Spector during sessions in February 1971 for her unreleased solo album. Only the Apple single, “Try Some, Buy Some,” another Harrison composition, was ever released from these sessions.
 
George next attempted the song in August 1972, producing the song for fellow Liverpudilian and former Brian Epstein artist, Cilla Black. These sessions included Ringo, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman, but once again it was not released. Black did rerecorded the song in the mid-70’s, but it wasn’t released until 2003.
 
 
Former Apple artist Mary Hopkin was said to record the song in 1971 and Leon Russell and his wife, gospel singer Mary McCreary, recorded the song in 1975 with Harrison producing, but both versions have yet to see the light of day.
 
George gave Ringo his blessing to record the song with Arif Mardin producing, Gene Orloff  arranging the strings, Jim Keltner on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass and former Apple artist Lon Van Eaton played lead guitar in George’s place.
 
Ringo's Rotogravure
 
It is not clear if George heard the song when Ringo’s Rotogravure was released in September 1976, or if Ringo sent him copy, but upon hearing the new version, he was “not pleased.” Harrison never stated if he was unhappy with the mix, arrangement or overall quality, but his attorney’s did send a letter to Ringo’s attorney’s with the threat to sue. Letters went back and forth between attorneys and the dispute was eventually settled out of court.
 
 
The bizarre legal exchange was made public again in 1988, when the two appeared on ITV’s Aspel & Company together, the first time in several years two Beatles appeared in a joint interview. A bemused Ringo bought the matter up to a slightly embarrassed George:
 
Ringo: The last time we were cross was when Georgie sued me. 
George: That was the last time. We are always cross. 
Ringo: Yeah yeah, we are still cross. The last time he called he said “I’m going to sue you”, “You are not George, don’t say that” “No no, I’m going to sue you”, ‘cause he wrote this song and I had it mix by somebody else, and he didn’t like the mix (George laughs). So I said “Sue me if you want but I’ll always love you” 
 
Some consider this lost track to be one of Harrison’s finest and on par with “Something.” Christian theologian Dale Allison has stated the lyrics reflect moksha, a rebirth in the Hindu faith, a period when “souls are free, when all eyes will see, and when human beings will be of the same mind.”
 
Starr’s version does not do justice to Harrison’s unreleased version, which can be heard on bootleg recordings.  Harrison’s poetic lyrics are juxtaposed with shouts of “Yes I will” and Van Eaton is a pale imitator of Harrison’s guitar style.  
 
 
The sad conclusion is we never got to hear a final version from George of this lost and beautiful song.
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