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"THE INNER LIGHT"

(George Harrison)

George Harrison will forever be known as the band member who infused Indian music into the catalog of The Beatles.  Apart from him playing sitar on a few songs, such as "Norwegian Wood," "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," there are actually only a trio of songs that George brought into The Beatles that contained Indian instrumentation.  These are "Love You To," "Within You Without You" and the final one being "The Inner Light."  

George has also been credited, by none other than spiritual author and personal friend Deepak Chopra, to have single-handedly brought Eastern religious beliefs into the Western world through his music. While these beliefs can be heard lyrically in more conventionally recorded Harrisongs such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long” and “Old Brown Shoe,” as well as a good portion of his post Beatles output, one of the most obvious examples is “The Inner Light.”  He may have abandoned Indian instrumentation on his Beatles compositions after this song was recorded, but it stands as the most Eastern Beatles song in their catalog.  It was recorded in India, contained only Indian musicians, and its lyrics were derived entirely from a highly respected ancient Eastern manuscript.



George Harrison and John Lennon on "The Frost Programme," circa 1967

Songwriting History

On September 29th, 1967, George Harrison and John Lennon made an appearance at Wembley Studios in Wembley, North London, for a taped interview with David Frost before a live audience for that evenings British Televisoin show "The Frost Programme."  The subject matter of this interview was Transcendental Meditation, George and John appearing in the second half of the program following an interview with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taped earlier in the day.

The response to this program was so strong that they were asked to appear on the very next episode of this program five days later, October 4th, 1967.  George and John were interviewed for this entire episode, which included questions from prominent intellectuals, either for or against TM, who were sitting in the front row.  Among these guests was scholar Juan Mascaro, who interacted with George personally after the show.


George relates: “Following John and I's appearance on 'The Frost Programme,' the Sanskrit scholoar Juan Mascaro, who was present in the audience, wrote a complimentary letter to me prasing 'Within You Without You.'  He also sent me a book called 'Lamps Of Fire,' suggesting that I wrote a song with the words of “Tao Te Ching.'  The words of 'The Inner Light' came from that book, page 66, 48a.”

The “Tao Te Ching,” translated as “The Great Way,” was said to have been written by Lao Tzu roughly in 400 BC and is claimed by many as being one of the most insightful pieces of literature ever written.  The 47th verse of this 81 verse writing states as follows:

Without going out the door, know the world.

Without looking out the window, you may see the ways of heaven.

The farther one goes, the less one knows.

Therefore the sage does not venture forth and yet knows,

does not look and yet names,

does not strive and yet attains completion.”

(Translation from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer's book “Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life.”)

"Lamps Of Fire - The Spirit Of Religions," was a book first published in 1958 that contains a compilation of religious writings put together by, and sometimes translated by, scholar Juan Mascaro.  In mid-November of 1967, Mascaro sent a copy of this book to George with a note suggesting that it might "be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao," then indicating selection 48 in his book which contains the above mentioned 47th verse of the "Tao Te Ching."  George decided to do just that, even using Mascaro's chapter title "The Inner Light" as his song's title.

Although there is much room for interpretation of this ancient spiritual text, it's generally agreed that these lyrics depict how we don't need our physical senses nor any physical action on our part to experience tru knowlendge or enlightenment.  Through our raised consciousnesses, "we can know all things on earth" without traveling anywhere.  In fact, "the farther one travels, the less one knows."  But "we can know the ways of heaven" through meditative reflection, not needing the physically use the eyes to peer even "out of your door." Anything of real value in our life experience can be attained from within, hence "do all without doing."

It can easily be deduced that the song was written in its entirety by January 12th, 1968.  This can be said with confidence because of an interesting recording of the backing track, released on the 2014 remastered version of George's “Wonderwall Music” album, that catches George encouraging the studio musicians to play in conjunction with the already written lyrics.  George is heard instructing them with the words, “because the singing goes...” and then demonstrates the notes of the melody line that he had already written. Therefore, the song appears to have been written sometime between November 1967 and January 12th, 1968.



George Harrison with Vinayek Vora (playing a taar-shehnai) and Rijram Desad (playing a harmonium), Bombay, India, January, 1968. 

Recording History

"In January 1968, I was in Bombay (India) working on the soundtrack for the film 'Wonderwall' - a Sixties hippy movie directed by Joe Massot,"  George Harrison relates in the book "Beatles Anthology."  He continues, "He asked me if I would do the music, but I told him I didn't write music for films.  Then he said that Whatever I gave him, he would use.  That sounded pretty simple, and I though, 'I'll give them an Indian music anthology, and who knows, maybe a few hippies will get turned on to Indian Music.'"

George started recording the soundtrack for this movie using conventional instrumentation in EMI Studio Two on January 5th, 1968, but flew to India on January 7th for a five days of recording sessions at EMI's Bombay Studio.  “I worked with Indian musicians at the EMI/HMV studios in Bombay,” George continues.  “Mr. Bhaskar Menon brought a two-track stereo machine all the way from Calcutta on the train for me, because all they had in Bombay was a mono machine.”


The five days that George had booked for recording in India were January 9th through 13th, 1968.  Each of these sessions ran from 10 am to 7 pm.  On January 12th, the “Wonderwall” project was just about complete but he didn't want to waste the studio time for that day or the next.  He thereby decided to utilize the Indian session musicians that he recruited and record a selection of ragas (traditional Hindu musical pieces) for possible use on Beatles recordings.  One in particular that he had in mind was what became known as “The Inner Light,” although it was simply referred to as “Untitled” on the documentation for that day.

Five takes of the song were recorded on this day, documentation showing 'take five' being the keeper.  All the instrumentation for the song was recorded on this day, all vocals to be added in at a later date back in London. According to Andy Babiuk's book “Beatles Gear,” the instruments used on “The Inner Light” comprise the following:  “Harmonium and flutes and sitars, plus a plethora of Indian instruments including dholak and pakhavaj (double-headed drums), shehnai (conical oboe), santur (box zither), sarod (a lute-like instrument with double soundbox), surbahar (bass sitar), tabla (pair of hand-drums), and tar sahnai (a fiddle with an amplifying horn).”

Back at EMI Studios in London on February 6th, 1968, The Beatles turned their attention to completing what was now titled “The Inner Light” by adding George's vocals.  The Beatles minus Ringo (who was absent because of him rehearsing and then appearing as a guest on Cilla Black's television show “Cilla” that evening) entered EMI Studio One at 2:30 pm with intentions of completing the song.  A tape copy of the originally recorded music from Bombay needed to be done first, documentation showing the two-track tape containing “take five” being copied onto a four-track tape to open up two extra tracks for recording vocal overdubs.

Tape operator Jerry Boys remembers the reluctance of George Harrison to perform his vocal part for the song.  “George had this big thing about not wanting to sing it because he didn't feel confident that he could do the song justice.  I remember Paul saying 'You must have a go, don't worry about it, it's good.'”

Engineer Geoff Emerick concurs and, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” adds his recollections. “Abbey Road's Studio One was a cold, cavernous place even on the sunniest summer day.  In the dead of winter, it was like a cross between a meat locker and an airplane hangar. But that's where I found myself on a frigid February afternoon, working with George Martin and three of the Beatles...We would be working on George Harrison's Indian-influenced song 'The Inner Light' that day...Mal Evans lit some candles and incense to create a vibe for George...Harrison, in particular, was quite nervous about doing his lead vocal.  He felt that he couldn't do the song justice, but with encouragement from Paul, he actually did a good job of it.  John had little to say that day – I had the impression he wasn't too keen on the song – but he and Paul stayed on anyway, alternating between the control room and the studio, where they would sit behind George, perched up on high stools, the lights turned down low.”

Just before the 8 pm mark, when they brought in a television to watch Ringo on live TV, the first mono mix of what was thought to be the completed song was done by the engineering team of George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Jerry Boys.  A second recording session followed after the television show was over, them adding overdubs to the previously recorded McCartney song “Lady Madonna.”  They all left for the night around 2 am the following morning.

On February 8th, 1968, it was decided that one finishing touch needed to be done to “The Inner Light.”  The Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at about 2:30 pm with the first thing on the agenda being adding a very brief harmony vocal overdub by John and Paul toward the end of the song on the lyric “do all without doing” as well as George double-tracking his vocals on the line "arrive without traveling."  This was undoubtedly completed rather quickly, followed by another mono mix being created by the engineering team of George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott and Richard Lush.  Three attempts were made for getting the releasable mono mix, numbered 2 through 4 of “take six,” the final one becoming the finished mono master.  It appears, however, that a decision was made when creating this mix to edit in another 'take' of the original instrumental track recorded in Bombay (possibly 'take four').  This is evident from listening to the first instrumental verse on this mono mix as compared to the stereo mix made at a later time.  By around 4:30 pm, more work was done on the previously recorded Lennon composition “Across The Universe.”

Interestingly, it was decided sometime during the remainder of this session that “Across The Universe” was to be shelved because it didn't meet with John's satisfaction.  It was given away for use on a charity album called “No One's Gonna Change Our World,” which was conceived by comedian Spike Milligan who happened to be in attendance at this recording session. With this decided, George's “The Inner Light” was earmarked to be the b-side of their next single “Lady Madonna.”  By 12:15 am the following morning, the recording session was complete.

Since “The Inner Light” was only destined to be on a single at the time, and was even overlooked to be a part of the compilation album “Hey Jude,” no stereo mix was needed any time soon since Beatles singles were only printed in mono up to that point.  But for some reason, on January 27th, 1970, Geoff Emerick (acting as producer), along with engineers Peter Bown, Jeff Jarratt and John Barnett, entered the control room of EMI Studio Two to create a stereo mix of the song.  It took them an hour and a half to make the one attempt needed to create a suitable stereo mix, from 10 to 11:30 pm.  It appears that they went back to the original overdubbed “take six” to create this mix, thereby having the original first instrumental verse that was edited out of the released mono mix. As the need arose in upcoming years, this stereo mix was dusted off and used on later compilation releases.

Then, sometime between 2004 and 2006, George Martin and his son Giles Martin returned to the master tapes of “The Inner Light” for inclusion on a track for the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soliel production “Love,” which was put together using all newly mixed versions and mash-ups of Beatles music.  The track it is included in is called “Here Comes The Sun (with 'The Inner Light' transition),” which features a small snippet of the final moments of “The Inner Light” at the track's conclusion.

Also, as mentioned above, the instrumental 'take' of the song as recorded in Bombay on January 12th, 1968, that features the first instrumental verse as heard on the mono mix (possible 'take four') was mixed sometime in 2014 for inclusion as a bonus track on the remastered compact disc release of George's “Wonderwall Music” album.  The track begins with instructions from George to the Indian musicians as to how the song should be played, which make for a very interesting listen.


George with S.R. Kenkare (?), Bombay, India, circa January 10th, 1968.

Song Structure and Style

The structure of the song is quite simple, namely, 'verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ verse' (or ababa).  The first two verses are instrumental while the final verse has vocals.  Both choruses are relatively identical and have vocals.  A brief two measure introduction starts things off, which consist of a faded-in harmonium drone and then a sitar.

The first instrumental verse is ten measures long and consists of the drone of the harmonium in the background with the tar sahnai playing a lead melody line for measures one and two with a simple single note sitar pattern playing in the background.  The sitar then plays an interesting twice descending melodic phrase in the foreground on measures three and four while the tar sahnai takes a break.  All the while, the percussive sounds of the pakhavaj, tabla and santur keep the beat. Measures five through eight display both the tar sahnai and the sitar playing an intricate melody line in unison until the percussive instruments fade away by the ninth measure.  The ninth and tenth measures, then, consist of the final ringing note of the tar sahnai and sitar with the drone of the harmonium acting as a segue into the first chorus that follows.


This first chorus is fifteen measures long and features the wonderfully delivered single-tracked vocal by George while the dholak and tabla keep the beat in half-time.  The harmonium and surbahar hang back in the mix to create a low toned pad which work nicely for the chord changes.  A shehnai is playing a finely crafted counter melody throughout the chorus while a sitar plays a quick melodic phrase in measures two, four, six and eight to fill in the gaps left from the vocalist.  Measures thirteen through fifteen see the return of the tar sahnai playing in virtual unison to George's sung melody line which then brings the chorus to its conclusion.

The second instrumental verse is nearly identical to the first except for the inverted order of the melody lines played by the lead instruments.  First to occur this time, in measures one and two, is the sitar while the tar sahnai appears in measures three and four followed by the sitar again in measures five and six only to play in unison again for the remaining measures.  This verse is followed by the second chorus which is also nearly identical to the first, the only noticeable difference being the slight lyrical change from it being George's personal experience to one we can have personally.  For instance, “Without going out of your door,” instead of “my door” from the first chorus, and so on.

The third verse is similar instrumentally to the second verse but is different in that it features lead vocals from George in measures two, five and six, the line “arrive without traveling” in the second measure being double-tracked for added affect.  George's lead vocals are joined with harmony vocals from John and Paul in the sixth measure on the line “do all without doing.”  Another notable difference this time around is two added measures at the end of the song, making it a twelve measure verse.  Measures nine through twelve feature the final three notes of the tar sahnai melody line being repeated three times and then allowing the final note to fade out with the droning harmonium.

American Releases

On March 18th, 1968, "The Inner Light" was released as the b-side to their hit single "Lady Madonna," which was their last original Capitol single, the follow -up "Hey Jude" being the first released on their own new "Apple" label.  While the a-side was the obvious choice for radio airplay, "The Inner Light" did get attention enough to make a slight dent on the Billboard singles chart at #96.

The first appearance of the song on album in the U.S. was on “Rarities,” which was released on March 24th, 1980.  The aforementioned stereo mix, although already in existence for over ten years, was not unearthed as of yet, so the already released mono mix from the single appears here.


The first time the stereo mix of “The Inner Light” was released in the U.S. was on the compact disc “Past Masters – Volume Two,” released on March 7th, 1988.  This CD was then remastered and combined with its companion album “Past Masters – Volume One” as a double set entitled simple “Past Masters,” this being released on September 9th, 2009.  Then the song was released on a bonus disc in the box set “Compact Disc E.P. Collection,” which was released on June 30th, 1992.  Also on September 9th, 2009, the original mono mix was included in the box set “The Beatles In Mono” on a disc entitled “Mono Masters.”

Not to be forgotten is the November 20th, 2006 released compilation album “Love,” which features a small segment of the song on the track entitled “Here Comes The Sun (with 'The Inner Light' transition).”  Also, as outlined above, an original instrumental 'take' of “The Inner Light” as recorded in Bombay, India on January 12th, 1968 is included on the remastered re-release of George Harrison's “Wonderwall Music” album.

Live Performances

Neither George nor The Beatles ever performed the song live, however many will call to mind the excellent version performed by Anoushka Shankar (Ravi Rhankar's daughter), Jeff Lynne and others at the “Concert For George” at The Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29th, 2002.

Conclusion

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that "The Inner Light" is one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated songs in The Beatles catalog.  As a B-side that never made it onto either an official British or American album during their career, and as the third of three George Harrison compositions recorded predominatly with Indian instrumentation, a substantial amount of today's Beatles fans are oblivious even of its existence.

However, the fact that “The Inner Light” beat out two other strong and well respected John Lennon compositions, namely, “Across The Universe” and “Hey Bulldog,” to earn its place as the first George Harrison composition to grace the coveted flip-side position on an officially released British Beatles single, is worthy of our consideration and respect. Paul McCartney himself had a high opinion of the song shortly after its release, describing it as “an unusual composition and one of the most commercial that George has ever written...Forget the Indian music and listen to the melody. Don't you think it's a beautiful melody? It's really lovely.”


Song Summary

The Inner Light”
Written by: George Harrison

  • Song Written: November 1967 – January 12, 1968
  • Song Recorded: January 12, February 6 and 8, 1968
  • First US Release Date: March 18, 1968
  • US Single Release: Capitol #2138 (b-side to “Lady Madonna”)
  • Highest Chart Position: #96
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #SHAL-12060 “Rarities”
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PSLP-261 “Rarities”
  • Length: 2:36
  • Key: E-flat major
  • Producer: George Harrison, George Martin
  • Engineers: J.P Sen, S.N. Gupta, Geoff Emerick, Jerry Boys, Ken Scott, Richard Lush

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • George Harrison - Lead Vocals
  • Paul McCartney - Backing vocals
  • John Lennon - Backing vocals
  • Ashish Khan - sarod
  • Mahapurush Misra - tabla, pakhavaj
  • Chandra Shakher - surbahar
  • Shiv Kumar Sharmar - santur
  • S.R. Kenkare - shehnai
  • Vinayak Vohra - tar sahnai
  • Rijram Desad - dholak, harmonium
  • Indril Bhattacharya - sitar
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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