Double Take: 'Got My Mind Set on You' - James Ray/George Harrison

Robert Webb on cover versions

Friday 11 April 2003 00:00
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George Harrison was the first Beatle to set foot on American soil. In September 1963, he spent a fortnight with his sister Louise, a resident of Benton, a small mining town in southern Illinois. George wandered the trim streets, checked out the stores, and even made a booking for his band at the local country club (by the time the Beatles made it to the States, however, they were too big to play Benton). He returned to the UK with a Rickenbacker 425 and a copy of James Ray's "Got My Mind Set on You".

Ray was a former GI from Washington, DC. Once his draft was through he picked up his singing career and aimed it at the soulful end of rhythm and blues. He was living rough when the producer Gerry Granahan urged him into the studio. "Got My Mind Set on You", penned by the prolific songwriter Rudy Clark, was recorded by Ray in 1961. It skips around the yard to a bouncing, reggae-style beat, this lightweight tale of woe: "Everywhere I go, you know, bad luck follows me/ Every time I fall in love, I'm left in misery." The Beatles had already included Ray's better-known "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody" in their live set, before leaving Freddie and the Dreamers to kick it into the charts. It's unlikely that they considered "Got My Mind Set on You", but the song stuck with Harrison.

In 1987, the Quiet One was working on his third album of the Eighties at his home-studio in Henley, and he was in retro mode. Ringo was behind the drums once more, and Clapton was sitting in on guitar. Cloud Nine was, in part, a finely crafted, nostalgic look back to the Beatle years, "when we was fab", as he wryly put it. Harrison no doubt nudged his mind back even further, to the days when he could still walk the streets of any town unhindered. And he remembered that record by James Ray. Harrison's cover of "Got My Mind Set on You", arranged with the help of Jeff Lynne as producer, lost some of the original lyrics but otherwise is a vast improvement, a sweet piece of positive pop. Released as a single, it jumped to the top of the charts, providing him with his biggest hit since "My Sweet Lord".

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