Classic Tracks: George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You"

Dec 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson


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“[Jeff has] got a good ear and uses good discrimination in his choice of sounds and instruments. At the same time, his favorite music is basically all the old stuff, all the old chords from old pop music. I’ve always thought that since the early ’70s that Electric Light Orchestra…had taken off from where The Beatles were at with ‘I Am the Walrus’ and those sort of things, particularly the cellos. He made all this ELO music that was sort of like a continuation, in a way, of all the stuff that we’d done. We have similar likes and dislikes, and we’re both guitar players, as well.”

Dodd says that Lynne had no hesitation in asserting himself either musically or technically—he was intimately involved with arrangements, played all sorts of different instruments, co-wrote a couple of tunes and “was very knowledgeable about tone-shaping and dynamic-shaping equipment.” As Harrison had on earlier solo efforts, for Cloud Nine he enlisted a handful of his favorite musicians to help out—including Eric Clapton on guitar; Elton John and Gary Wright on piano; Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr and Ray Cooper on drums and percussion; and Jim Horn on saxophones. Lynne handled bass, other guitars, keyboards and backing vocals. The goal was to make a record that was free of artifice and that sounded like it was made by a band.

This month’s “Classic Track,” “Got My Mind Set on You” is a bit of an anomaly in that it is the only song on Cloud Nine that was not written or co-written by Harrison, and it was also constructed in the studio in a somewhat unusual way.

Today, R&B singer James Ray (1941-1964) is mostly remembered for his one hit song: the 1962 Rudy Clark–penned number, “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody,” which was a big hit in the U.S. and also popular in England; The Beatles even performed it in their early days. “Got My Mind Set on You” was also written by Rudy Clark (best known for “Good Lovin’” and “It’s In His Kiss”) and recorded by Ray in 1962. But it was never a hit. However, Harrison bought the single on his first trip to America and the song stuck with him through the years.

Dodd recalls that “Got My Mind Set on You” was cut a few songs into the sessions for Cloud Nine. Jim Keltner had flown in from New York and showed up at Friar Park with a cassette of some roomy, ambient drum sounds and patterns he’d worked up for that song over the course of three days at Power Station. “He said, ‘I’d like to get that sound for George,’” Dodd recalls. “I said, ‘That’s going to be difficult here. Other than the stairwell, there’s nothing I can think of that has the ambience of that room at Power Station.’” When Keltner saw a never-before-used E-mu Drumulator in Harrison’s studio, he and Dodd conspired to get the drum sounds from the cassette into the drum machine so they could show Harrison the sound they wanted.

“I think the maximum storage time in this Drumulator—which had 7-inch bendable floppy discs—was half-a-second per sound,” Dodd says. “I grabbed a kick and a snare from the tape and [the Drumulator] had an onboard generic hi-hat as a built-in sound so we used that.” In addition, Keltner played a four-bar loop of the drum part.

“We played it for George, and he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do a demo.’ So we put that down on tape—I think we put down five minutes of it. Later on, Jeff arrived and saw what we were doing and we talked about it. Usually, depending on the song, it would be a DI Telecaster either from George or Jeff that we’d put down as a guide; sometimes with an [Oberheim] OB-X pad with Jeff. In this case, the piano wasn’t in tune so I suggested putting on an [E-mu] Emulator II, which had a decent piano sound, as a guide, and so they went and did that. Jeff would always stick a bass on.

“This was only a demo, right? Well, we put a guide voice on it and it evolved from there. Jim Horn came in and made a slave of his saxophones and we slid them in manually. Same thing for the backing vocals—Jeff and George would sing backups together. Then I pointed out we needed to put the real piano on and the real drums. By then, though, everyone was used to what they were hearing and so that was it. The final drum patterns were done later during the mix with delays and mute switches—no automation.”

In addition to the famous custom console, in 1987 FPSHOT was equipped with a Studer A80 24-track recorder with Dolby built into a custom Eddie Veale–designed rack above the machine. “George hated the smell of Ampex tape,” Dodd says, “so everything was done to Scotch 250 unless circumstances dictated otherwise.” The studio had a large complement of Neumann mics, and Dodd notes that for the Cloud Nine sessions, he employed mostly U67s, U87s and KM84s for nearly everything. (Kick would be a 67, overheads 87s.) Harrison sang his lead vocals into an 87 in the control room, usually wearing headphones and with the monitors turned down low. In that era, the studio had built-in Altec 604Es as mains and Tannoy Little Reds for near-fields. Processing (besides the in-board pre’s and EQ) included a Fairchild, AMS DDL, a pair of 1176s, a GML mic pre and other pieces.

“Got My Mind Set on You” and the Cloud Nine album in general, are notable for the creamy background vocals by Harrison and Lynne that are clearly Beatles-influenced but actually sound more like ELO. Typically, Dodd would stack up to nine vocal parts to achieve the desired effect: “Sometimes we triple-tracked, sometimes we quadruple-tracked. If there’s more than one voice, we would rarely do more than three tracks per part. The more we did it, though, the less George wanted to do. He was happy enough with one or two tracks, but Jeff wanted to even out some of the pitching issues, which, to be polite, were never Jeff. Not that George sang out of tune; he just wasn’t perfect like Jeff.” Some of the backup vocals were looped and flown into different parts of the song.

Warner Bros. flipped over the finished album and instantly chose the catchy “Got My Mind Set on You” as the first single. It went all the way to Number One in the U.S.; in fact, it was the last single by a former Beatle to top the charts.

Lynne, Harrison and Dodd would go on to make a couple of albums with the all-star Traveling Wilburys in L.A. (and both Lynne and Dodd have had fantastically varied careers since), but Cloud Nine would be the last album Harrison released before his death in November 2001. (The excellent CD Brainwashed was completed posthumously.)

George Harrison "Got My Mind Set on You" Music Video

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