June 10, 2016

The Beatles were still on a roll in early 1968, but cracks had started to appear in the fa├žade. Their manager, Brian Epstein, was dead of a drug overdose several months back, and while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had become a world-wide phenomena, their follow-up attempt at avant-garde film-making, Paul McCartney’s Magical Mystery Tour, while containing some fine music (even better on the American LP), had been universally panned in England. The Beatles seemed fairly adrift and bored with psychedelia, and after meeting the Maharishi Mahesh-Yogi and being introduced to Transcendental Meditation, returned to the studio for recording their next single, which would be McCartney’s “Lady Madonna” b/w George Harrison’s “The Inner Light” before heading off to India with the likes of Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, Mike Love of The Beach Boys, and Mia Farrow in search of enlightenment.

“Lady Madonna”, of course, was a huge hit, signifying The Beatles’ move away from the psychedelia of their previous releases and towards the no frills, “back to basics” rock that would fill the so-called White Album later that year, and even more so, the ill-fated Get Back sessions of early 1969. But I’ve felt for some time that the first Beatle single of 1968 should have been John Lennon’s early version of “Across The Universe” (#45 here) backed with Harrison’s “Inner Light”, with “Madonna” released afterwards (perhaps with Lennon’s “Hey Bulldog” from the Yellow Submarine sessions), as the intended “back to basics” release.

I’ve come to think that not releasing this earlier version of “Across The Universe” (don’t get me started about hardly the “official” release that was – at least to these ears – mangled completely by Phil Spector for “Let It Be” with “The Inner Light” was a misstep by the Fab Four. For one thing, the songs complement each other in so many ways. Both songs feature lush, beautiful melodies reflective of The Beatles collective state of mind at the time. “Across The Universe”, in particular, with its sitar and layered guitar opening is melodic and peaceful; “Inner Light” is more intense and earnest, yet the messages are still the same: true and lasting peace can only be found within. Taken together, these two songs with their message of peace and the inner search for spiritual enlightenment serve as two different takes on the search for enlightenment and peace that would contrast greatly with the political and social upheavals going on at the time: 1968 would turn out to be an ugly and violent year in so many ways.

While I doubt releasing a single containing two beautifully-written and performed messages of peace and inner tranquility would have made a dent in the goings-on of the time, The Beatles were, of course, at that time, The Beatles, and the cache they brought with the musical statements they made at that time did matter. As a purely musical statement, “Across The Universe” b/w “The Inner Light” would have been a release truly unique and indicative of the transitional period they were collectively in. Instead, next to “Lady Madonna”, “The Inner Light” sounds (at least to these ears) awkward, out of place, and, to be truthful, a toss-away “B” side that deserved better and something more complementary to its sentiments.

Not that it matters much – it’s just something that came to my mind last night for some reason. The next post I’ll discuss another misstep involving a song about Transcendental Meditation: The Beach Boys “All This Is That”.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 03:50 | Comments (2)
  1. I really enjoy your musical “dissections”. I may one of a small majority that never really went “over the moon” with the Beatles. I tended to be drawn to the Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Ritchie Havens, Janis, Hendrix, etc.
    I may have only bought 2 Beatles albums. I loved George Harrison the best. If you have not seen The Concert for George, get the DVD. It is one of the most beautiful tributes I have ever watched. Do yourself a favor, pour a glass or two of Pinot and enjoy the music and love.

    Comment by Jana — June 10, 2016 @ 4:27 am

  2. Thanks Jana. Yes I have the “Concert for George”. I also highly recommend Martin Scorcese’s fil about George, “Living in the Material World”. I like it because it offers a picture of George that I think he would like. He wasn’t a saint by any means, and he lived his life firmly with one foot in the material and the other spiritual. Scorcese’s film does him great justice.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — June 10, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

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