Sour Milk Sea
|"Sour Milk Sea"|
|Single by Jackie Lomax|
|from the album Is This What You Want?|
|B-side||"The Eagle Laughs at You"|
|Released||26 August 1968 (US)
6 September 1968 (UK)
|Recorded||24–26 June 1968
Abbey Road Studios, London
|Jackie Lomax singles chronology|
"Sour Milk Sea" is a song written by George Harrison in early 1968 during the Beatles' stay in Rishikesh, India. It was given to Jackie Lomax to record and released as the latter's debut single on the then-new Apple Records label, in August 1968. "Sour Milk Sea" was among Apple's first batch of releases, another of which was the Beatles' "Hey Jude" single. The recording of "Sour Milk Sea" is notable for being the first of many extracurricular musical projects produced by Harrison, and a rarity among non-Beatles songs in that it features three members of the band. Along with Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, the backing musicians on the track were Eric Clapton and session pianist Nicky Hopkins.
The single enjoyed only minor success internationally, becoming a top 30 hit in Canada. "Sour Milk Sea" was later included on Lomax's Apple solo album, Is This What You Want?, released in March 1969.
"Sour Milk Sea" was one of a number of songs George Harrison wrote while at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh during February to April 1968. In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison explains that the song title was a play on a theme in Vishvasara Tantra (a sacred Hindu text), while the lyrics were about Transcendental Meditation and using the benefits of meditation to improve one's life − the message being: "[If] you're in the shit, don't go around moaning about it; do something about it." In I Me Mine, Harrison draws particular attention to the song's final verse:
Looking for release from limitation?
There's nothing much without illumination
Can fool around with every different cult
There's only one way that brings results
Get out of Sour Milk Sea
You don't belong here
Get back to where you should be
Find out what's going on there.
Along with other new material that was considered for inclusion on the White Album, the Beatles recorded a demo of "Sour Milk Sea" at Harrison's Esher home in May 1968. This was the only Beatles recording of the song; it featured a "fine" falsetto vocal from Harrison, musical biographer Simon Leng writes, acoustic-guitar backing (from Harrison and Paul McCartney), lead guitar from John Lennon, and percussion from Ringo Starr – all played with "real enthusiasm". The demo has surfaced on a number of bootleg albums, including Acoustic Masterpieces (The Esher Demos) and Unsurpassed Demos.
Harrison decided to give the song to Apple signing Jackie Lomax, whose debut album the Beatle had agreed to produce before departing for India on 15 February. The main session for "Sour Milk Sea" – or a "glorified jam", as Harrison would soon describe it to a Melody Maker journalist – was held at Abbey Road Studios on 24 June, with overdubs carried out over the next two days. The line-up consisted of Lomax on vocals, Harrison and Eric Clapton on guitars, Nicky Hopkins on piano, McCartney on bass, and Starr on drums. Lomax later recalled of the sessions: "With Eric Clapton playing on it, it was on fire. When the backing tape was played back, I thought it worked as an instrumental. 'You want me to sing on top of that?!' There I am in the studio and there are three Beatles in the control room watching me ... I guess I was nervous at first, but after a couple of takes I was into it." "Sour Milk Sea" is also notable as the only track on which three members of The Beatles recorded together for an artist other than themselves during the band's lifetime, although McCartney's contribution was actually overdubbed on 26 June, following his return from an Apple-related business trip the day before. (On another occasion, in October 1969, Harrison, Starr and Lennon were all present at Leon Russell's session for "Pisces Apple Lady" at London's Olympic Studios, but Lennon observed rather than participated.)
Leng identifies "Sour Milk Sea" as marking three important "firsts" in Harrison's career: it was the first song Harrison "gave away" to another artist, a sign that his output as a songwriter had outgrown the quota of tracks allocated to him on Beatles releases; the Lomax album project was the first time he served as producer for another artist; and the recording is the first example of Harrison and Clapton sharing lead-guitar duties on record.
"The Eagle Laughs at You", a Lomax original, was also recorded during these dates in late June. Although some sources suggest Clapton played guitar on this song, Apple Records' promotional material for the 2010 remaster of Is This What You Want? refers to an "ad hoc power trio" of Lomax on bass and rhythm guitar, Harrison on lead guitar and "a couple of overdubs", and drummer Tony Newman from Sounds Incorporated. Lomax recalls that he and Harrison then overdubbed a cornet part (played by a studio cleaner) and treated the recording to make it sound "like a bloody elephant screaming through the place".
Release and reception 
Backed with "The Eagle Laughs at You", the "Sour Milk Sea" single was released on 26 August in America (as Apple 1802) and 6 September in Britain (as Apple 3). Along with "Hey Jude", Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days" and Black Dyke Mills Band's "Thingumybob", it was one of the "first four" singles on Apple, all issued on the same day in the United States but spread out over two weeks in the UK.
"Sour Milk Sea" failed to chart in Britain, and only made it to number 117 during a two-week chart stay on America's Billboard Hot 100. It was a top 30 hit in Canada, however, peaking at number 29 on the RPM 100 in November 1968. Writing for Rolling Stone magazine in June 1971, Ben Edmonds described "Sour Milk Sea" as an "excellent" single and suggested that the little-known Lomax "seemed to get lost among the superstars" accompanying him. In a 1974 feature on his career in ZigZag magazine, Lomax opined that the song's release in tandem with "obvious" hits like "Hey Jude" and "Those Were the Days" was another factor, since radio stations were reluctant to risk alienating other record labels by featuring Apple singles so heavily on their playlists. "So they kind of lost me in the shuffle," Lomax said of "Sour Milk Sea". While Beatles author Bruce Spizer echoes this explanation for the disappointing commercial fate of Lomax's "great rock single", Leng suggests that the song "just wasn't catchy enough" in Lomax's reading and finds The Beatles' "garage rendition" superior.
Both sides of the single were included on Lomax's only album for Apple, Is This What You Want?, and in 2010 "Sour Milk Sea" would appear as the opening track on the 2-CD compilation Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records.
- Jackie Lomax – vocals
- George Harrison – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
- Eric Clapton – electric guitar
- Nicky Hopkins – piano, organ
- Paul McCartney – bass
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Harrison, p. 142.
- Greene, p. 99.
- Miles, p. 299.
- MacDonald, p. 244.
- Leng, p. 57.
- Richie Unterberger, "Jackie Lomax Is This What You Want?", Allmusic (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- "The Beatles – Acoustic Masterpieces – The Esher Demos", Bootleg Zone (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- "The Beatles – Unsurpassed Demos", Bootleg Zone (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- Leng, p. 55.
- Clayson, pp 239–40.
- Mark Paytress, "A Passage to India", Mojo: The Beatles' Final Years Special Edition, February 2003, p. 12.
- Clayson, p. 239.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 68.
- Miles, p. 302.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 206.
- Sour Milk Sea, The Beatles Bible (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- "Is This What You Want?", Apple Records (retrieved 28 October 2012).
- 26 June 1968: "George Harrison produces Jackie Lomax's Sour Milk Sea", The Beatles Bible (retrieved 31 October 2012).
- O'Dell, pp 106–07.
- Leng, pp 55, 56.
- Spizer, p. 341.
- Schaffner, p. 110.
- Castleman & Podrazik, pp 67–68.
- Castleman & Podrazik, p. 350.
- "RPM 100 Singles Chart, 11 November 1968", Library and Archives Canada (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- Ben Edmonds, "Jackie Lomax: Home Is In My Head", Rolling Stone, 24 June 1971; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 28 October 2012).
- Andy Childs, "The History of Jackie Lomax", ZigZag, July 1974; available at Rock's Back Pages (subscription required; retrieved 28 October 2012).
- Leng, pp 56, 57.
- Castleman & Podrazik, pp 75, 77.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Various Artists Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records", Allmusic (retrieved 26 October 2012).
- Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik, All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961−1975, Ballantine Books (New York, NY, 1976; ISBN 0-345-25680-8).
- Alan Clayson, George Harrison, Sanctuary (London, 2003; ISBN 1-86074-489-3).
- Joshua M. Greene, Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, John Wiley & Sons (Hoboken, NJ, 2006; ISBN 978-0-470-12780-3).
- George Harrison, I Me Mine, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-3793-9).
- Simon Leng, While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI, 2006; ISBN 1-4234-0609-5).
- Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, Pimlico (London, 1998; ISBN 0-7126-6697-4).
- Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years, Omnibus Press (London, 2001; ISBN 0-7119-8308-9).
- Chris O'Dell with Katherine Ketcham, Miss O'Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved, Touchstone (New York, NY, 2009; ISBN 978-1-4165-9093-4).
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY, 1978; ISBN 0-07-055087-5).
- Bruce Spizer, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, 498 Productions (New Orleans, LA, 2005; ISBN 0-9662649-5-9).