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“WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU”
Having secured three songwriting spots on their previous album “Revolver,” George Harrison was poised to at least one contribution on The Beatles landmark 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The only problem was, George wasn’t up for the task.
“I went to India in September, 1966,” related George Harrison. “It was becoming difficult for me, because I wasn’t really that into it…I’d just got back from India, and my heart was still out there. After what had happened in 1966, everything else seemed like hard work. It was a job, like doing something I didn’t really want to do, and I was losing interest in being ‘fab’ at that point.”
Two-and-a-half months into the recording of the album, George did muster up a song as his contribution to “Sgt. Pepper.” “Only A Northern Song” was fully recorded with much enthusiastic cooperation by both Ringo and Paul, but the consensus was that the song was not even close to the caliber of the rest of the album – a collection that they already knew would be a milestone for their career. The lyrics bemoaned the fact that “it doesn’t really matter what chords I play, what words I say…’cause it’s only a Northern Song.” “Northern Songs” was the name of the publishing company that George was a contracted songwriter for, but the lyrics may also be a sly reference to how his mind was really facing a more Eastern direction these days as opposed to Northern.
“Before then everything I’d known had been in the West, and so the trips to India had really opened me up. I was into the whole thing, the music, the culture, the smells…I’d been let out of the confines of the group, and it was difficult for me to come back into the sessions. In a way, it felt like going backwards. Everybody else thought that 'Sgt. Pepper' was a revolutionary record – but for me it was not as enjoyable…I was growing out of that kind of thing.”
A month later, to everyone’s relief, George popped in to the sessions with another composition that fit in perfectly with where his enthusiasm was right then. And it fit in perfectly with the kaleidoscope of musical genres on display on the album, depicting a euphoric atmosphere amazingly suited to the “summer of love” mentality of that year. The song was titled "Within You Without You."
But was the song accepted by the rest of the group?
John Lennon in Playboy (1980): “I think that is one of George’s best songs, one of my favorites of his. I like the arrangement, the sound and the words. He is clear on that song. You can hear his mind is clear and his music is clear. It’s his innate talent that comes through on that song, that brought that song together. George is responsible for Indian music getting over here. That song is a good example.”
Ringo Starr: “’Within You Without You’ is brilliant. I Love It!”
George Harrison in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, India, September 1966
Explaining the origins of “Within You Without You” simply cannot be done without describing the profound effect that the introduction to Eastern religion had on George Harrison. Under the name of Sam Wells, George, along with his wife Pattie, vacationed in Bombay, India for six weeks, beginning on September 20th, 1966. At the suggestion of Ravi Shankar, who he was going to take sitar lessons from while there, he grew a mustache as a subtle disguise so as to ward off any Indian ‘Beatlemaniacs’ that may be around. "I had George practice all the correct positions of sitting and some of the basic exercises," the late Shankar wrote in his 1969 autobiography, "My Music, My Life." "This was the most one could do in six weeks, considering that a disciple usually spends years learning these basics."
While there, however, he became quite enamored with the culture and, especially, the religion. “I believe much more in the religions of India than in anything I ever learned from Christianity,” he was quoted as saying during a BBC interview on the day he arrived in India. “The difference over here is that their religion is every second and every minute of their lives and it is them, how they act, how they conduct themselves and how they think.” In May of 1967, George elaborated further: “I’ve taken the time to learn about the many religions. Religion is a day-to-day experience. You find it all around. You live it. Religion is here and now. Not just something that just comes on Sundays!”
George, in the book “Anthology,” goes into even further detail: “For me, going to India and reading somebody saying, ‘No, you can’t believe anything until you have direct perception of it’ – which was obvious, really – made me think, ‘Wow! Fantastic! At last I’ve found somebody who makes some sense.’ So I wanted to go deeper and deeper into that. That’s how it affected me – I read books by various holy men and swamis and mystics, and went around and looked for them and tried to meet some.”
In Andy Babiuk’s book “Beatles Gear,” Ravi Shankar speaks of George’s “tremendous interest in Indian philosophy, religion and so on. It was so strong. I gave him a very famous book, ‘Autobiography Of A Yogi.’ That really changed his whole life and mind. That influenced his writing of beautiful songs like ‘Within You Without You’ and many others.”
George’s research led to his firm belief that “we’re all one” – that is, all creation, including our individual selves, are made of the same energy field (or life force) and are therefore all invisibly connected to each other. The majority of general mankind view themselves as individual and, thereby, separate from everyone and everything – this referred to by many mystics and teachers as the “ego.” Not realizing their inter-connectedness, they “hide themselves behind a wall of illusion.” Obtaining this true realization during their lifetime is the ultimate goal because “it’s far too late when they pass away.” The more people that realize the power they possess, the more they could harness this collective energy through various means, such as meditation, to spread love throughout the world. As George sings, “With our love we could save the world – if they only knew.”
Regarding his new beliefs that he specifically wrote about in the song, George relates: “There are so many people who don’t understand the sentiments of ‘Within You Without You.’ They can’t see outside themselves, they’re too self-important and can’t see how small we all are...We’re all one. The realization of human love reciprocated is such a gas. It’s a good vibration which makes you feel good. These vibrations that you get through yoga, cosmic chants and things like that…It’s nothing to do with pills. It’s just in your own head, the realization. It’s such a buzz. It buzzes you right into the astral plane.”
Sometime after his return from India, most likely around early March of 1967, George and Pattie were present at a dinner party at the Hampstead, London home of close friend Klaus Voormann. Tony King, who had known The Beatles since 1963 and would work with them at Apple shortly afterwards, was also present at this party. Describing the atmosphere on this day in Steve Turner’s book “A Hard Day’s Write,” Tony remembers: “We were all on about the wall of illusion and the love that flowed between us but none of us knew what we were talking about. We all developed these groovy voices. It was a bit ridiculous really. It was as if we were sages all of a sudden. We all felt as if we had glimpsed the meaning of the universe.”
“Klaus had a harmonium in his house,” George remembers about that day, “which I hadn’t played before. I was doodling on it, playing to amuse myself, when ‘Within You’ started to come. The tune came first, and then I got the first sentence. It came out of what we’d been doing that evening.”
Tony King adds more detail to the event: “Klaus had this pedal harmonium and George went into an adjoining room and starting fiddling around on it. It made these terrible groaning noises and, by the end of the evening, he’d worked something out and was starting to sing snatches of it to us. It’s interesting that the eventual recording of ‘Within You Without You’ had the same sort of groaning sound that I’d heard on the harmonium because John once told me that the instrument you compose a song on determines the tone of a song.”
George apparently worked out the remainder of the song on his own at his Kinfauns home in Surrey, England, in the following few days. Regarding the song’s melody and structure, George stated that it “was a song that I wrote based upon a piece of music of Ravi’s that he’d recorded for All-India Radio. It was a very long piece – maybe thirty or forty minutes – and was written in different parts, with a progression in each. I wrote a mini version of it, using sounds similar to those I’d discovered in his piece.”
March 15th, 1967 was the first recording session to focus attention on the recently written “Within You Without You,” although, as usual, George hadn’t decided on the song’s title as of this day, the tape box identifying the track as “Untitled.” Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” relates the experience of getting acquainted with the song: “After the debacle of ‘Only A Northern Song,’ nobody was really expecting too much of George Harrison, and, quite frankly, when he came in at around this time and previewed ‘Within You Without You’ for us, nobody was overwhelmed. Personally, I thought it was just tedious. Of course, just hearing him run it down on acoustic guitar gave very little idea of the beautiful song that it was to turn into once all the overdubs were completed, but at the time it caused a lot of eye-rolling among the other Beatles and George Martin.”
The session, scheduled as usual to begin at 7 pm, took place in EMI Studio Two and was attended by some special guests. “He brought in friends from the Indian Music Association to play some special instruments,” George Martin explains in his book “All You Need Is Ears.” Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” describes these musicians as “from the Asian Music Circle in Fitzalan Road, Finchley, north London.” “There are some Indian musicians who worked on ‘Sgt. Pepper’ who still haven’t been paid simply because George doesn’t know their names,” George Martin stated in interview shortly after the release of the album.
Since George Harrison was “a detached, reluctant participant” during the recording of the album, as Geoff Emerick described him, “George Martin must have known that he felt that way, which would explain why he was prepared to put so much time and effort into recording the song. My theory was that, while Harrison may well have felt trapped by the group’s fame and notoriety, he didn’t want to let the side down, either. That’s why there was such a sense of relief among everyone when the track turned out so well.”
Geoff Emerick continues: “Studio Two had a hardwood floor, so in order to dampen the sound, I normally put down carpeting underneath Ringo’s drums and in the area where Beatles vocals were recorded. But this time Richard and I got out a bunch of throw rugs and spread them all around the floor for the musicians to sit on, all in an effort to make them more comfortable and make the studio a bit more homey. Mind you, the Abbey Road rugs were completely moth-eaten and dilapidated…but it was the thought that counted.”
“All four Beatles were there when the basic track was recorded, along with famed illustrator Peter Blake, who was there to talk about the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album cover. He mostly huddled with Paul and John while George was busy instructing the musicians as to the parts he wanted them to play. Ringo, as usual, was lost in a game of chess off in a corner with Neil (Aspinall).”
Regarding the atmosphere in the studio during the above mentioned rehearsals for “Within You Without You,” Peter Blake recalls: “George was there with some Indian musicians and they had a carpet on the floor and there was incense burning. George was very sweet – he’s always been very kind and sweet – and he got up and welcomed us in and offered us tea. We just sat and watched for a couple of hours. It was a fascinating, historical time.” Emerick concurs: “It was very calm and peaceful in the studio that evening. Harrison was surrounded by his new friends, the Indian Musicians, and he was gracious and welcoming when Peter Blake arrived; for perhaps the first time during the ‘Pepper’ session, I could see that George was completely relaxed." As heard on a bonus track contained in the 50th Anniversary Edition of "Sgt. Pepper," George takes relaxed but concerted effort in going through the arrangement of his song with the musicians, directing them verbally as to how the melody line should be played. He then directs proceedings by saying, "Ok, should we try it from the beginning?," adding instructions to Geoff Emerick, "Just tape it, Geoff, just in case."
As to Paul and John’s activities during these rehearsals, Emerick continues: “Paul was somewhat interested in the goings-on and in how the various instruments were played – eventually he even bought a sitar himself – but John seemed quite bored, wandering around the studio aimlessly, not knowing what to contribute.” “George has done a great Indian one,” Paul stated in interview in 1967. “We came along one night and he had about 400 Indian fellas playing there, and it was a great swinging evening, as they say.”
Once the arrangement was worked out and all the instrumentalists were warmed up, it was time to start the tapes rolling. “Eventually the recording commenced,” Emerick relates. “It was decided to first lay down a drone, with three of four musicians playing one note continuously; even Neil Aspinall was recruited to assist Harrison in playing tamboura. As the other instruments began to be layered on top of the drone, the structure of the song started to make a little more sense. I quite liked the sound of the tabla, and, as I had done on George’s ‘Revolver’ track ‘Love You To,’ I once again decided to close-mic them and add signal processing to make things a bit more exciting sonically.” In the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” Emerick states: “Everyone was amazed when they first heard a tabla recorded that closely, with the texture and the lovely low resonances.” The other Indian instruments recorded on this day were swaramandala, which is a multi-stringed board zither, and dilruba, described by Emerick as “a bowed instrument similar to a sitar, but smaller."
In using the above mentioned Ravi Shankar composition as inspiration, the recording was done in three sections: the first comprising the first two verses and the refrain, the second being the elaborate 5/4 instrumental section of the song, and the third being the return to the original tempo and comprising the final verse and refrain. However, as evidenced on a bonus track contained on the 2017 released 50th Anniversary Edition of "Sgt. Pepper," both of the slower tempo sections of the song were recorded first, interupted by George Harrison's direction "Ok, uh just go...," which then evolves into the elaborate 5/4 section afterwards. As explained in the book "Revolution In The Head," these were made “in three edit-sections which he then pieced together,” this piecing being done at the mixing stage. The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” indicates the song “lasting 6:25” at this point, this meaning that since the finished product was 5:03, editing had to be done during the mixing stage.
“Because the song was unusually long,” Emerick continues, “there were quite a few glances between John and Paul when the rhythm track was being recorded, and I could tell that they were a bit dubious. ‘Yes, it’s all very nice,’ I could imagine they were thinking, ‘and it’s all very well played, but it isn’t Beatles, is it?’…I guess they went along with it for the sake of band unity.”
“We all knew George liked Indian music,” stated George Martin in the film “The Making Of Sgt. Pepper.” “There was a kind of toleration, if you like, but it was a welcome one, because we actually liked the sounds. The joss sticks were even OK – they covered the smell of pot.”
The instruments recorded on this day filled up tracks one, two and four of the four track tape. By 1:30 am the following morning, the session was complete, the unnamed Indian musicians went home and the rugs were rolled up for the night.
A week later, on March 22nd, 1967, work continued on “Within You Without You” in EMI Studio Two, this session also earmarked to begin at 7 pm. “A refreshed, rejuvenated George Harrison came back to the studio and oversaw the overdubbing of a couple of additional dilruba parts,” says Emerick about this day’s work.
“I was introduced to the dilruba,” George Martin recalls, “an Indian violin, in playing which a lot of sliding techniques are used.” These dilrubas were played by another unnamed musician, undoubtedly overdubbing himself (or herself), the result being the sliding melody lines heard throughout the song. The tape speed was increased to 52 1/2 cycles per second so that it would sound slowed down when played back at the proper speed.
“The other three Beatles were present at the session,” Emerick remembers, “but boredom set in quickly, so arrangements were made to have them listen to other works in progress in another control room. Deep in concentration, George barely even noticed that the others had departed; he may have even welcomed them leaving him to work on his own.” This listening session is described in the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” in this way: “In the control room of Studio One, between 11 pm and 12:30 am, tape operator Graham Kirkby oversaw a playback of the LP songs completed to date for any Beatle interested in listening."
However, it appears that at some point during this session that one or all of the other Beatles did pop down into the recording studio to contribute to the song musically. Engineer Richard Lush, in an Australian 2017 interview celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the "Sgt. Pepper" album, explains: "If you listen very carefully at the end of the sessions, there's a little bit of tambourine. Now, somebody walked into the studio while we were doing whatever it was, picked up a tambourine and just played along. Andf that's the only bit of - an exclusing here - that's the only piece of somebody else other than George or his Indian friends...It was either John or Paul or Ringo. So, they walked in downstairs and we couldn't see, you know, who did it. 'Well, there's a tambourine playing along; who's doing that?' The tambourine can easily be heard in the final measures of the faster instrumental section of the song, which was actually recorded last during this session.
The dilrubas recorded on this day went onto track three of the four track tape and, since the tape was now full, a reduction mix was made which turned ‘take one’ into ‘take two.’ After this was accomplished, a demo mono mix was made in order for an acetate recording to be available to hear what’s been done so far on the song. By 2:15 am the following morning, the session was complete.
One final recording session was needed to bring “Within You Without You” to completion, this extensive session happening on April 3rd, 1967 in EMI Studio One beginning at 7 pm. Studio One was chosen because of it being larger and more suitable for orchestral recordings, this being the major ingredient being recorded on this day. This session is also noteworthy because, apart from the “Inner Groove” that was quickly recorded for the run-out groove of the British album, this was the final recording session for the entire “Sgt. Pepper” album. George Harrison may have been the only Beatle present on this day “with Paul somewhere over the Atlantic, winging his way to America” as Geoff Emerick put it, but it was a landmark day nonetheless. “As was becoming a habit,” Emerick continues, “it was a marathon session, running until dawn the next day, but the results were nothing short of magical.”
However, much preparatory work was needed from George Martin before this session. “What was difficult,” explains Martin, “was writing a score for the cellos and violins that the English players would be able to play like the Indians. The dilruba player, for example, was doing all kinds of swoops and so I actually had to score that for strings and instruct the players to follow.” Concerning the “sliding techniques” of the previously recorded Indian instruments, Martin explains: “This meant that in scoring for that track I had to make the string players play very much like Indian musicians, bending the notes, and with slurs between one note and the next.” The book “Revolution In The Head” explains: “A less than enthusiastic Martin did his best to catch the idiom, carefully marking in the microtonal slides his London Symphony Orchestra players were required to imitate.”
Geoff Emerick explains the events of the day: “George Martin was conducting the same top-flight orchestral players that worked on most of the rest of ‘Pepper,’ but despite their expertise, the musicians took a long time to get it right; I clearly remember the look of deep concentration on their faces as they struggled to master the complex score. It was painstaking, and it certainly was a challenge to the musicians, many of whom seemed to be getting a bit frustrated as the session wore on.”
“The problem was that we were trying to create a blend of East meets West – conventional orchestral instruments playing over nonconventional Indian instruments. There were no real bar lines in the Eastern music, just a lot of sustained tones, most of which were playing in between the twelve notes used in Western music. That was a really hard session for George Martin – by the end of the night he was absolutely knackered. Thankfully he had the help of George Harrison, who acted as a bridge between the Indian tonalities and rhythms, which he understood quite well, and the Western sensibilities of George Martin and the classical musicians. I was never more impressed with both Georges than I was on that very special, almost spiritual night.”
While the recording of seasoned string players working off of a detailed score usually get it nearly perfect from their first try (see “She’s Leaving Home” as a prime example), many attempts needed to be made this time around. The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” states: “Each take of the strings overdub went directly onto track three of the four-track tape, automatically wiping the previous attempt, and this procedure went on until all were satisfied that it could not be improved any further.” The session musicians were then dismissed for the evening at approximately 11 pm, leader Erich Gruenberg receiving pay of eleven pounds while the remainder of the players received the Musicians’ Union session rate of nine pound.
Geoff Emerick now describes the events of the rest of the session. “After the string overdubs were completed and the musicians had departed, we moved into Studio Two, where George Harrison began tuning his sitar, sitting cross-legged on a throw rug we had put down for him. He only had to overdub three of four licks in the instrumental section, but some of the drop-ins were tricky, and it took hours to do. None of us ever really appreciated how difficult the sitar was to play. Despite the fact that George was quite accomplished, it did always seem to take a lot of time to get his parts recorded whenever he picked the instrument up.”
As was his wont, George chose to fill in the empty spaces between the melody lines played by the dilruba in this section of the song. (See “I’m Looking Through You” and “She Said She Said” for other examples of George ‘filling in the gaps’ of the melody lines.) Upon listening, there are actually eight sitar fills George added to the instrumental section on this day as well as other vamping and mimicking of the dilruba melody line. Interestingly, it appears that they attempted to double-track these fills, the first one being double-tracked while the others remain single tracked, undoubtedly realizing the difficulty they were having in getting this done and how much time they were taking.
With the sitar work complete, they quickly went to the next task at hand. “Finally, with the lights down low and candles and incense burning,” Emerick continues, “George tackled the lead vocal, and he did a great job. Mind you, he does sound quite sleepy on it…hardly surprising since he’d been up all night working on the track! Fortunately, that lethargic quality seemed to perfectly complement the mood of the song.” It wasn’t only his lack of sleep that created the vocal feel needed for the song. The same finesse that the string musicians used had to also be perfected by George. As George Martin explains, he had to sing “the same tune as the dilruba in exactly the same way; the same kind of swoops that the dilruba does.” He worked at perfecting this art, recording each attempt directly onto track four of the tape, also wiping away any previous attempt in the process. The rhythm track he was recording his vocals onto was played back slightly faster as well, whiched changed the key of the song from C to C-sharp.
Although it remains to be found on the finished product, “The Beatles Recording Sessions” indicates that George also recorded “a dash of acoustic guitar…just here and there” before the evening was complete, all of George’s overdubs being preserved on track four of the master tape. With all of this accomplished, the production staff of Martin, Emerick and 2nd engineer Richard Lush took the time to try their hand at creating a mono mix, making three attempts at mixing ‘part one’ of the song and two tries at ‘part two and three’ with the intention of editing them together later. “The sun was rising as we staggered out of the studio the next morning,” remembers Geoff Emerick, “but I felt completely satisfied, proud of our accomplishment.”
Later that day, April 4th, 1967, the same team of Martin, Emerick and Lush convened back into the control room of EMI Studio Two at 7 pm to create both the mono and stereo mixes of “Within You Without You” that appeared on the released versions of the album. While remembering to increase the tape speed to match George's vocals, they made six more attempts at ‘part one’ of the song (remix 6 through 11) and only one try at ‘parts two and three’ (remix 12) and then edited them together (remix 10 and 12) to get the final mono mix.
However, per George Harrison’s request, they added a small bit of laughter at the end of the song as it faded out. “The laugh at the very end of the track was George Harrison,” George Martin explains. “He just thought it would be a good idea to put on it...I think he just wanted to relieve the tedium a bit. George was slightly embarrassed and defensive about his work. I was always conscious of that." The production staff superimposed a bit of recorded laughter as they were editing the two sections of the mono mix together. According to “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” this laughter came “courtesy of the Abbey Road sound effects collection, ‘Volume 6: Applause and Laughter.’” However, George Martin’s book “Summer Of Love” explains this snippet as The Beatles laughing after an unknown take during the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions. In either case, the laughter comes in quite abruptly and loudly in the final seconds of the mono mix.
The stereo mix was then tackled at the same increased tape speed, three mixes of ‘part one’ (remixes 1 through 3) and two mixes of ‘parts two and three’ (remixes 4 and 5), mixes 3 and 5 being chosen to be joined together to form the finished stereo mix. During the editing of these two mixes, they once again superimposed some laughter, taking a similar but noticeably different section of laughter than what they used for the mono mix. The initial tamboura drone, the tabla and the introductory swaramandala is heard in the left channel of the stereo mix, while the dilrubas are strictly in the right channel. The vocals, sitar and second swaramandala appearance are centered in the mix while the acoustic guitar is apparently buried somewhere deep in the mix. The ending laughter is a little more subtle and is only heard in the right channel of the stereo mix.
While George Martin described “Within You Without You” in 1979 as “a rather dreary song,” he changed his opinion as the years passed. "I actually think 'Within You Without You' would have benefitted a bit by being shorter, but it was a very interesting song," Martin later said. "I find it more interesting now than I did then." This new opinion is also obvious by his choice to include a new mix of the recording on the 1996 compilation “Anthology 2.” He was undoubtedly proud of the hard work he put into the string score and the performance he and George Harrison got out of the violinists and cellists. “From then on,” Geoff Emerick explains, “many of George Martin’s orchestrations began exhibiting that same kind of Indian feel, with string sections doing slight pitch-bending. It actually put a stamp on his arrangements and gave them a unique sound.” The unique and vibrant mix of the song on “Anthology 2” has all of the elements of the released version, minus George’s lead vocals and the ending laughter.
Even more thrilling to hear was the new mix created by George Martin and his son Giles Martin for the Cirque du Soliel production and subsequent album “Love.” They worked hard to combine the rhythmic elements of “Tomorrow Never Knows” with George’s vocals of “Within You Without You” to create what many view as the crowning jewel of the album. This mix, created sometime between 2004 and 2006, had to be constructed to fit the sometimes changing time signatures of the original, this being done by strategic editing and blending of elements of both songs. The second verse takes away the rhythms of “Tomorrow Never Knows” to reveal more of the tablas and dilrubas of “Within You Without You,” while the backward vocal lines of “Rain” are even thrown in at the close of the track. Very inventive indeed!
Then, sometime in 2016 of 2017, Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell revisited the original tapes to create a new stereo mix of "Within You Without You" for inclusion on various editions of a 50th Anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper." Also created during these sessions were two bonus tracks from the sessions for the song, one being the instrumental 'take one' and the other being "George Coaching The Musicians" during rehearsals on that day in the studio.
Song Structure and Style
While most would agree that this song is one of the most unique Beatles tracks as far as structure is concerned, its format actually falls well within the “usual” range within their catalog. The structure comprises a ‘verse/ verse (altered)/ refrain/ instrumental/ verse (altered)/ refrain’ (or abcdbc). But, as usual for The Beatles, the arrangement takes many dives and jumps to make it anything but usual. This is not even mentioning that they are trying, in a very simple Western way, to introduce traditional Eastern rhythms within a structure that would be more palatable to English ears.
Regarding playing the sitar, as well as understanding Eastern music, Ravi Shankar explains to Andy Babiuk in the book “Beatles Gear,” “It takes 10 or 15 years to reach a very good standard, because it’s not just the playing of it. You have to learn the whole musical system. So what George Harrison did, along with many other people, was to take up the sitar and just start to play it. They produced a sort of sound which to us sounded really ridiculous. It’s like if someone in Africa takes the violin and plays it and says, ‘How do you like this scratching sound?’ It takes a long time to produce the real sound and play the real music…When George showed his interest in sitar and said he would like to learn a little more, I told him very clearly that sitar is not like guitar where you can just learn it on your own. You have to undergo many years of study, like the violin and cello or any of the Western classical instruments.”
Even though it was only a matter of months after he received his initial intense study of the sitar and the music of India, what he and George Martin came up with was convincing enough for Western audiences - however “ridiculous” the raga masters in India may have felt that it was.
To start out the proceedings, we hear the tamboura drone fade in as a backdrop to the entire song, this appearing in the key of C# (vari-speeded up from the original key of C as evidenced on the album “Anthology 2”). Along with the drone is a single-tracked dilruba, which shortly thereafter begins a melody line which is a variation of what we’ll hear later in the song, complete with triple swoops that definitely set the mood. The unnamed dilruba player takes the ‘Beatles Indian phase’ to a much higher level than what was created by the somewhat ‘choppy’ sitar introduction played by George himself on the previous years’ “Love You To.” While many first time listeners to “Within You Without You” may have thought: “Oh boy, here we go again!,” what they were really experiencing was much closer to the real thing.
This free-form introduction continues with an upward glissando from the swaramandala, which is the opposite direction of the downward run heard by the instrument a couple of times on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The 4/4 time signature then begins as the tabla comes in immediately afterward, it beating out a four measure intro with the tamboura drone as accompaniment.
The first verse is a whopping twenty-two measures long, mostly in 4/4 time. George comes in singing the melody line (“we were talking…”) simultaneously with the now double-tracked dilruba which plays the identical melody line throughout the entire verse in traditional Indian style. Measure eighteen is the only measure to deviate from the 4/4 pattern, this adding another beat to make it a measure of 5/4 in order to fill out the lyric line “when they pass away.” The final two measures of this verse premier orchestral strings for the first time as the cellos play a swirly riff as a segue into the verse that follows.
The second verse is identical in format for the first twelve measures but then changes in scope thereafter, thereby consisting of eighteen measures, the sixteenth measure adding two additional beats to make it the only measure of 6/4 in an otherwise 4/4 verse. This occurs during the lyrics “if they only…,” the word “knew” extending into the seventeenth measure and thereby becoming the highest sung note in the song. Instrumentally, the string section kicks into full gear on this verse, playing subtle counter-melodies to command attention and add variance to the arrangement. The song then slips into neutral for a short time; the next seven seconds comprising a melodic riff played by dilruba and cello an octave apart without any time signature whatsoever.
A ‘tabla fill’ (not unlike a ‘drum fill’ as usually performed by Ringo) brings in the 4/4 time signature once again to begin the refrain of the song. The refrain is twelve measures long, the one and only variance in time signature appearing this time in the third measure to allow for the lyric “-in yourself, no one,” one beat being added to comprise a measure of 5/4. The cellos seem to add to the drone of the tambouras to create a full bass effect to this part of the song, there being no bass guitar in this song after all. Another subtle melody line is played by the violins to fill in the gap left after the line “no one else can make you change.” The violins also kick in to mimic the vocal and dilruba melody line during the key line “and life flows on within you and without you” while the cellos increase their volume to create the obvious conclusion that this is the title of the song. All voices and instruments (except for the drone) then drop out entirely for another stalled pause in the proceedings (where the edit is, by the way) to pick up again in the vibrant instrumental section that follows.
“Indian music doesn’t modulate, it just stays” George Harrison explained. “You pick what key you’re in and it stays in that key.” However, it appears that a good portion of the refrain actually does change because the movement of the melody line makes it appear to Western ears that the F chord should be behind it. But, because of the droning C chord underneath it, it is actually just a “wall of illusion.”
Then (hold on to your hats) we enter into an elaborate fifty-five measure instrumental section that is comprised entirely of measures that are in 5/4 time. No wonder George Martin was proud enough of this amazing arrangement and performance to include it on “Anthology 2.” And to think, many music lovers, as well as Beatles enthusiasts, think of this song as “boring.” I encourage you – implore you – to listen again!
Instrumental section part one: The genius tabla player keeps a strict fast-paced 5/4 time while the now triple-tracked dilrubas repeat a variation of the melody line of the second verse to fit the time signature while George himself adds little snippets of sitar phrases in the gaps. Measure seventeen brings in the plucked strings of the violins to add some excitement to the proceedings. Measures twenty-three through twenty-eight show George playing sitar in unison with the fast moving melody lines of the dilrubas. (Despite Ravi Shankar’ opinion, my ears say that George had become a damn good sitarist by that point.) Also, in measures twenty-seven and twenty-eight, just before the first repeat of the verse concludes in this instrumental section, the cellos appear and also play in unison with the remainder of the melody line.
Instrumental section part two: Starting at measure twenty-nine, a second variation of the melody line of the second verse is played, this time with the string arrangement playing a more prominent role. The plucked violins disappear and instead, with the cellos, play the main melody line together with the dilrubas. All the while, George still fills in the gaps with little sitar phrases, the one in measure thirty-six practically hurting your ears. From measure thirty-seven through forty-eight, George can also be heard ‘vibing’ with a pattern on the C note until the forty-ninth measure where he also plays in unison with the intricate melody line of the dilrubas and strings for the remainder of its’ duration. The final two measures comprise a simple repeated melodic phrase that brings us to a breathless conclusion and another coast in neutral for thirteen seconds. During this duration of droning tambouras, we hear a sighing dilruba phrase, two more upward swaramandala glissandos, an interesting cello melody and some noodling from George on sitar. Another element not heard elsewhere in the song is a tambourine, which wafts in and out for the last few measures and accents the final few beats before disappearing forever. The mystery Beatle, whoever it may have been, did a good job!
The tabla then starts off the third verse with a brief four-measure introduction to set us back into the slow 4/4 groove of the first two verses, we being able to detect George quietly “dah-te-dah”ing to get the rhythm in his head for when to come in with the vocals. This final verse is similar in structure to the second verse but with two added measures to accommodate the slight change in melody line (compare the lyric line “with our love, with our love, we can save the world” from verse two with “they don’t know – they can’t see – are you one of them?” from verse three). The sixteenth measure is once again altered to 6/4 for proper phrasing of the instrumental melody line. Indian instruments are heard by themselves for the first twelve measures, the strings answering George’s phrases “they don’t know” and “they can’t see” and then instrumentally mimicking the line “if they only knew” from the second verse while the dilruba plays an improvised alternate melody line behind it. The beat suddenly stops as at the end of verse two to reveal the same intricate melodic phrase played once again by both the strings and the dilruba. The dilruba then ad-libs the same phrase as the tabla player starts the beat going again for the final refrain that follows.
This refrain is identical in structure and instrumentation to the first, the only difference being the lyrics and the tabla player closing his performance with some impressive percussive playing. With the droning still prominent in the background, the dilruba plays one final sighing phrase followed by the laughter that relieves the tension. Then, fade to black.
While the lyrics to “Within You Without You” are roughly based on conversations had with fellow guests at Klaus Voormann’s house that evening in early 1967, indicated by each verse beginning with the words “we were talking about…,” George uses the song as a vehicle to introduce the amazing “truth” that he had recently been infatuated with. At the risk of coming across as ‘preachy,’ he apparently felt it important to use his celebrity to inform the masses of his recent discoveries regarding the meaning of life, the result being what amounts to the Eastern equivalent to John Lennon’s “Imagine” in many ways.
While highlighting the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (“the people”), the emphasis throughout is one of encouragement and hope. The “people” are depicted as hiding “behind a wall of illusion,” not even getting a “glimpse” of their true potential throughout their whole life. Their potential rests in “the love we all could share” and how, “when we find” that we can keep our focus mentally on this love (“try our best to hold it there”) we collectively can actually “save the world” from all the negative aspects that permeate it. “If they only knew” what amazing things we could all accomplish together, George muses.
He then addresses us all by encouraging, “Try to realize it’s all within yourself.” Instead of focusing on our high-minded ego, he reminds us that we’re “really only very small” on our own but, collectively, we can use this force of energy that “flows on within you and without you” to make great changes in the world.
Regressing to present conditions, George views that, generally, the love in most people has “gone so cold” and their ego-oriented focus is to “gain the world but lose the soul.” It’s not that they refuse to do what’s right; it’s just that “they don’t know – they can’t see.” This is where George feels he can help us all – being that most of us are “one of them.”
Encouragement is once again found in the refrain as he says that we’ll find true “peace of mind” when we’ve “seen beyond” our limited ego and view things globally. George then assures us that we will come to this true realization about our collective consciousness at some point by saying: “And the time will come when you’ll see we’re all one.”
Much of the general public in the West undoubtedly viewed, and view, the sentiments expressed by George in “Within You Without You” as rather ‘pie in the sky,’ labeling him as “a dreamer.” But, of course, he’s “not the only one!”
June 2nd, 1967 was the US release date of the landmark album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which included “Within You Without You” as the opening track of side two. The fact that the song was immediately followed by the loveable-but-campy “When I’m Sixty-Four” demonstrates the vast diversity that The Beatles had become capable of by 1967.
This album received a somewhat unusual re-release sometime in 1978 when it hit the record shops as a picture disc. This short-lived release is one of many collectables that fans did get a good chance to purchase at the time, if they took advantage of the opportunity.
The album got its first compact disc release on September 21st, 1987, the only Beatles CD release at the time to come complete with an extensive booklet chock full of liner notes and interesting facts. The booklet was improved upon even more when it was re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.
The wholly instrumental version of the song was then included on the March 18th, 1996 released compilation album “Anthology 2.” The song is somewhat longer and slower due to its being mixed here at the originally recorded speed, it being heard in the key of C major instead of C# as we’re used to hearing it.
The unorthodox but highly interesting mash-up of “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” then appeared on the November 20th, 2006 release “Love,” which was created by George and Giles Martin for the long-running Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. A curious demo/acetate version of this song was also released at this time on DVD, which appears to be quite the collector’s item today.
The extensive box set “The Beatles In Mono,” which features the entire Beatles catalog in its originally mono mixed condition, was released on September 9th, 2009. Being advertised as a limited edition, it remained available for much longer than expected.
On May 26th, 2017, a newly remixed stereo version of the "Sgt. Pepper" album was released based on the superior mono mix of 1967. A new vibrant stereo mix of "Within You Without You"in included in all editions of this re-release. The instrumental 'take one' is included in the "2 CD Anniversary Edition" while both this and "George Coaching The Musicians" is included in the "Super Deluxe Edition" box set.
Neither The Beatles nor any individual member has ever touched it live. But did anyone ever expect them to?
Being thrust upon the world at large in 1967, Indian music and philosophy as introduced by George Harrison through “Within You Without You” appeared as just another element of the emerging drug culture. The sound of sitars, dilrubas and tablas, along with lyrics about seeing "beyond yourself," “you’re really only very small” and “we’re all one,” appeared as just something else to ‘get high’ to. Beatle authors who have bought into this opinion view this song as “dated,” “directionless” and ‘hasn’t worn well’ through the years.
What these writers, and possible many Beatles fans, fail to realize is that this genre of music is genuine, traditional, and sacred all at the same time. Ravi Shankar, whose popularity increased dramatically from this time forward, was aghast to see dope smoking attendants at his performances in the states. And we also need to understand that, while the lyrics spoke to the “tune in, turn on, drop out” generation in a particular anti-establishment way, this was purely unintentional. “It’s nothing to do with pills,” George insisted at the time. He sincerely wanted us to learn about his new-found spiritual truths. “We are spirits that are encased in bodies,” George stated in interview as late as 1997, still daring to try to get these spiritual beliefs through to his fans. “People forget that and think they’re just this body but we’re actually spirits in bodies.”
The Beatles were always forthcoming in admitting when a particular song was influenced by drugs in some way. It appears obvious that this wasn’t one of them!
“Within You Without You”
Written by: George Harrison
Song Written: March, 1967
Song Recorded: March 15 & 22, April 3 & 4, 1967
First US Release Date: June 2, 1967
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
Key: C# major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush
Instrumentation (most likely):
George Harrison - Lead Vocals, sitar, tamboura, Rhythm Guitar (1964 Gibson J-160E)
Neil Aspinall - tamboura
- unknown - dilruba
- unknown - tabla
- unknown - tamboura
- unknown - swaramandala
Erich Gruenberg - Violin (leader)
Alan Loveday - Violin
Julien Gaillard - Violin
Paul Scherman - Violin
Ralph Elman - Violin
David Wolfsthal - Violin
Jack Rothstein - Violin
Jack Greene - Violin
Reginald Kilbey - Cello
Allen Ford - Cello
- Peter Beavan - Cell
- John Lennon - tambourine (?)
- Paul McCartney - tambourine (?)
- Ringo Starr - tambourine (?)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski