If you listen to the song HEAR ME LORD you make think it is a great Christian song but actually in the context of Eastern Mysticism the words do not reach out to a personal God. Francis Schaeffer said concerning Harrison’s Eastern Mysticism,”Modern humanistic materialism is an impersonal system. The East is no different. Both begin and end with impersonality.”
George Harrison – Hear Me Lord
|“Hear Me Lord”|
|Song by George Harrison from the album All Things Must Pass|
|Released||27 November 1970|
|Producer(s)||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.
“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.” Former Mojo editor Mat Snow includes “Hear Me Lord” among the songs that provided “added vindication” for Harrison, after All Things Must Pass saw him become “by far the most successful” former Beatle by the Christmas of 1970.
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.
Along with Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit“, “Hear Me Lord” was the only song performed at the Concert for Bangladesh that did not appear on the official live album of the event and in Saul Swimmer‘s 1972 concert film. Following Harrison’s death in November 2001, Chris Carter, an American DJ and a consultant to Capitol Records, spoke of including “Hear Me Lord” on a planned reissue of The Concert for Bangladesh, which was scheduled for release during 2002. Carter added: “there are some technical problems with the recording [of the song] … so that’s still up in the air.” The reissue took place in October 2005, with “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” included as a bonus track, but without the addition of “Hear Me Lord”.
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
Francis Schaeffer with Dr. C. Everett Koop in their book WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE? noted:
The New Mysticism
What about the spread of Eastern religions and techniques within the West – things like TM, Yoga, the cults? We have moved beyond the counterculture of the sixties, but where to? These elements from the East no longer influence just the beat generation and the dropouts. Now they are fashionable for the middle classes as well. They are everywhere.
What about those who take drugs as a means of “expanding their consciousness”? This, too, is in the same direction. Your mind is a hindrance to you: “Blow it”! As Timothy Leary put it in The Politics of Ecstasy (1968): “Our favorite concepts are standing in the way of a flood tide two billion years building up. The verbal dam is collapsing. Head for the hills or prepare your intellectual craft to flow with the current.” So we see again the rejection of the mind. The verbal dam, the concepts, the intellectual craft? These must be bypassed by the “new man.”
Wherever we look, this is what confronts us: irrational experience. We must be careful not to be bewildered by the surface differences between these movements. We are not saying they are all the same. Of course there are differences. The secular existentialists, for example, disagree with one another. Then, too, secular existentialists differ with religious existentialists; the former tend to be pessimistic, the latter optimistic. Some of the movements are serious and command our respect. Some are just bizarre. There are differences. Yet, all of them represent the new mysticism!
The problem with mysticism of this sort is, interestingly enough, the same problem we considered earlier in relation to all humanistic systems. Who is going to say what is right?
As soon as one removes the checking mechanism of the mind by which to measure things, everything can then be “right” and everything can also be “wrong.” Eventually, anything and everything can be allowed! Take a simple example from life: If you are asking for directions in a city, you first listen to the directions your guide is giving and then you set off. Let us say the directions are: “Take the first turn on the right, called Twenty-fourth Street; then the next turn of the left, called Kennedy Drive; and then keep going till you come to the park where you will see the concert hall just past a big lake on your right.” Armed with there directions, you go along – checking up on what you have been told: “Yes, there is Twenty-fourth Street. Yes, there is Kennedy Drive,” and so on.
In other words, you are not just told words; you are able to see if these words relate to the outside world, the world you have to operate in if you are going to get from A to B. This is where your mind is essential. You can check to see if the information you have been given is true or false.
Imagine, on the other hand, that someone said, in answer to your request for directions, “I don’t know where or what B is. It is impossible to talk about a `concert hall.’ What is a `concert hall’ anyway? We can only say of it that it is the `Unknowable.'” How completely ridiculous for you to be told, “Go any way – because this is the way”!
The trick in all these positions is to argue first of all that the End – Final Reality – cannot be spoken of (because it cannot be known by the mind) and yet to give the directions to find it. We should notice, however, that in this setting we can never ask questions ahead of time about the directions we receive. They are directions only for blindfolded experience, the blind “leap of faith.”
We cannot ask, “How will I know that it is truth or that it is the divine I am experiencing?” The answer is always, “There is no way you can be told, for it is an answer beyond language, beyond categories, but take this path [or that one, or another one] anyway.”
Thus, modern man is bombarded from all sides by devotees of this or that experience. The media only compound the problem. So does the commercialism of our highly technological societies. The danger of manipulation from these alone is overwhelming. In the absence of a clear standard, they are a force for the control of people’s minds and behavior that is beyond anything in history. In fact, there are no clear standards in Western society now; and where there is an appearance of standards, very often there is insufficient motivation to lean against the enormous pressures. And why? In part, at least, because there is an inadequate basis for knowledge and for morality.
When we add to this that modern man has become a “mystic,” we soon realize the seriousness of the situation. For in all these mystical solutions no one can finally say anything about right and wrong. The East has had this problem for thousands of years. In a pantheistic system, whatever pious statements may be made along the way, ultimately good and evil are equal in God, the impersonal God. So we hear Yun-Men, a Zen master, saying, “If you want to get the plain truth, be not concerned with right and wrong. Conflict between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind.”
Society can have no stability on this Eastern world-view or its present Western counterpart. It just does not work. And so one finds a gravitation toward some form of authoritarian government, an individual tyrant or group of tyrants who takes the reins of power and rule. And the freedoms, the sorts of freedoms we have enjoyed in the West, are lost.
We are, then, brought back to our starting point. The inhumanities and the growing loss of freedoms in the West are the result of a world-view which as no place for “people.” Modern humanistic materialism is an impersonal system. The East is no different. Both begin and end with impersonality.
Francis Schaeffer in his book HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? (page 191 Vol 5) asserted:
But this finally brings them to the place where the word GOD merely becomes the word GOD, and no certain content can be put into it. In this many of the established theologians are in the same position as George Harrison (1943-) (the former Beatles guitarist) when he wrote MY SWEET LORD (1970). Many people thought he had come to Christianity. But listen to the words in the background: “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna.” Krishna is one Hindu name for God. This song expressed no content, just a feeling of religious experience. To Harrison, the words were equal: Christ or Krishna. Actually, neither the word used nor its content was of importance.