When George Harrison released “Got My Mind Set On You” in October 1987, it became his third number one single. But only the most avid record collectors realized that the track was not a Harrison original; Written by Rudy Clark, it was rhythm and blues singer James Ray who first recorded the song in 1962 as part of an LP titled “James Ray.” The album featured Ray’s only hit, “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody.” But Ray wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy his success.
James Ray of Washington, DC, who was five feet tall, made his first record in 1959 as Little Jimmy Ray. By 1961, his recording career was going nowhere, Ray continued to perform but was broke and homeless.
Enter Rudy Clark, a postman and aspiring songwriter who would later write or co-write classics like “Good Lovin ‘” and “It’s In His Kiss.” Clark took Ray to Caprice Records, where owner Gerry Granahan hired Ray at a time when the singer was living on a rooftop. Rudy Clark wrote “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” so much that it became one of the top ten R&B hits and peaked at # 22 on the charts, and “I’ve got my mind set on you.”
Ray’s smooth style was reminiscent of singers like Little Willie John and Bobby “Blue” Bland. The record, arranged by Hutch Davie, featured a large section of trumpets, banjos, and female backup singers in a vibrant R&B style.
But Ray would not have the opportunity to continue with his self-titled album. In 1963 or 1964 (exact date unknown), Ray died of a drug overdose. A song from the only album he produced would provide a contagious hit for former Beatle George Harrison in 1987. But Harrison’s recording of “Got My Mind Set On You” would take more than two decades to prepare.
In September 1963, before Beatlemania swept the United States, George Harrison was visiting with his sister Louise in southern Illinois, where he purchased a copy of Ray’s album. On Harrison’s return to England, the Beatles became fans of Ray, incorporating “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” into their live performances. But the group never recorded “I have my mind set on you.”
Fast forward to 1987. Harrison was recording the LP Cloud Nine in Friar Park, his home studio in Oxford, England. ELO’s Jeff Lynne, who would later join Harrison on the Traveling Wilburys, served as co-producer. When Harrison removed the James Ray song from the past, he removed “I” from the title, as well as some lyrics: “Wherever I go, you know bad luck follows me / Every time I fall in love, I am left in misery.”
Lynne provided the arrangements and backing vocals. Also key was Jim Keltner’s driving rhythm on the drum synths and saxophonist Jim Horn’s dozen multiple follow-up saxophones; Harrison called it “being stung by saxophones.” The result was one of the catchiest tunes of the year.
Harrison released two versions of “Got My Mind Set On You”: the album version at 3:51 and an extended track that ran at 5:17. Record sales were boosted by repeat MTV plays of the imaginative Gary Weis-directed video featuring dancing furniture and a singing stuffed boar.