Within You, Without You - The Beatles
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"Within You, Without You" - The Beatles (1967)
George Harrison says he wrote “Within You, Without You” after dinner one night at artists Klaus Voorman’s house. The first sentence came out of what we’d been doing that evening:
“I thought- how would a pop song sound using this instrument and these sounds.”
Lennon remarked on the track:
“George’s mind and his music are clear on that song. There is his innate talent. He brought that sound together with the meaning of his words.”
McCartney commented in 2011 that the song was “Completely landmark.”
Harrison was the only one of them to perform on the track. There is no guitar or bass but just some hand-drums.
George had to become conversant with Indian notation in order to transcribe his arrangement for the song. He spent weeks looking for musicians to play the Indian instruments as it was very difficult to find any who could read Western music.
On the song, a variety of Indian instruments are played—tambouras, tabla, bowed dilruba, sitar—which shared acoustic space with violins and cellos.
Producer George Martin said that in scoring the strings for the track, he had to make the non-Indian musicians play very much like Indian musicians - bending the notes, and with slurs between one note and the next.
The lyrics quote equal parts from the Bible and Hindu scriptures. It reveals profound insights but ends in the sardonic laughter of those who listen but do not hear. To balance the weighty content, at Harrison’s request, laughter was added to lighten the mood at the conclusion.
It’s been suggested by many Beatles scholars that “Within You, Without You” represents Sgt. Peppers “ethical soul.”
Music writer Steve Turner pointed how that this song is critical to understanding the deeper meaning of the group:
“The Beatles consistently espoused the view that all things are fundamentally interrelated and part of a single, underlying reality. This commitment to metaphysical monism is evident in a number of songs that deal—on one level or another—with the unity and interrelatedness of all things. This song stated in music for the first time George’s belief in the urgency of asking the big questions: ‘Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?’”
On a planetary level, the song has been viewed as one of the first expressions of “globalism” With his whole worldview associated with transcendental meditation, and a language associated with it as well, it not only became part and parcel of Beatle music- it also ushered in an entirely new “way for life” for generations of young people. It also signified George Harrison’s greatest triumph by singlehandedly having bridged East and West.
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