Across the Universe
|"Across the Universe"|
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album No One's Gonna Change Our World|
|Released||12 December 1969|
|Recorded||4 February 1968, EMI Studios, London|
|No One's Gonna Change Our World track listing|
|"Across the Universe"|
1996 US jukebox single of the song, backed with "Two of Us"
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album Let It Be|
|Published||Northern Songs Ltd.|
|Released||8 May 1970|
|Recorded||4 February 1968, Abbey Road Studios, London, England|
"Across the Universe" is a song recorded by the Beatles. It was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song first appeared on the various artists' charity compilation album No One's Gonna Change Our World in December 1969, and later, in different form, on Let It Be, the group's final released album.
One night in 1967, the phrase "words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" came to Lennon after hearing his then-wife Cynthia, according to Lennon, "going on and on about something". Later, after "she'd gone to sleep – and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream", Lennon went downstairs and turned it into a song. He began to write the rest of the lyrics and when he was done, he went to bed and forgot about them.
I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated, and I was thinking. She must have been going on and on about something and she'd gone to sleep and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than an irritated song, rather than a "Why are you always mouthing off at me?" [The words] were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don't own it you know; it came through like that.
The flavour of the song was heavily influenced by Lennon's and the Beatles' interest in Transcendental Meditation in late 1967 – early 1968, when the song was composed. Based on this, he added the mantra "Jai guru deva om" (Sanskrit: जय गुरुदेव ॐ) to the piece, which became the link to the chorus. The Sanskrit phrase is a sentence fragment whose words could have many meanings. Literally it approximates as "glory to the shining remover of darkness" and can be paraphrased as "Victory to God divine", "Hail to the divine guru", or the phrase commonly invoked by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in referring to his spiritual teacher, "All glory to Guru Dev".
The song's lyrical structure is straightforward: three repetitions of a unit consisting of a verse, the line "Jai guru deva om" and the line "Nothing's gonna change my world" repeated four times. The lyrics are highly image-based, with abstract concepts reified with phrases like thoughts "meandering", words "slithering", and undying love "shining". The title phrase "across the universe" appears at intervals to finish lines, although it never cadences, always appearing as a rising figure, melodically unresolved. It finishes on the leading note; to the Western musical ear, the next musical note would be the tonic and would therefore sound complete.
In his 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon referred to the song as perhaps the best, most poetic lyric he ever wrote: "It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don't have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them."
On a standard-tuned guitar (EADGBE) the song is played in the key of D; however, the recording was slowed electronically, resulting in a lower C# tuning to the ear. The verse beginning "Words are flowing out" (I (D) chord) is notable for a prolonged vi (Bm)–iii (F#m) to ii7 (Em7) minor drop to the dominant chord V7 (A7) on "across the universe" in the 4th bar. On the repeat of this chord sequence a turn following the ii7 (Em7) through a iv minor (Gm) brings the verse to a close before moving on directly to the tonic on the "Jai Guru Deva Om" refrain. The vi–ii minor drop leading to V had been used earlier in "I Will" (on "how long I've loved you") and George Harrison utilised a shorter vi–iii minor alternation to delay getting back to the dominant (V) in "I Need You". The verse beginning "Words are flowing out like endless rain …" is also notable for the suitably breathless phrasing and almost constant 8th-note rhythm (initially four D melody notes, then C#, B, A, B).
Recording and version history
|4 February 1968||Takes one–two and four–seven recorded. Overdub onto take seven. Reduction into take eight. Overdub onto take eight. Sound effects on takes one–three.|
|8 February 1968||Overdub onto take eight. Mono mixing from take eight.|
|January 1969||Overdubs onto take eight. Mono mixing from take eight. Version planned for the album No One's Gonna Change Our World.|
|2 October 1969||Overdubs onto take eight. Stereo mixing from take eight. Version released on the album No One's Gonna Change Our World and later on Past Masters.|
|5 January 1970||Stereo mixing from take eight. Version to have been released on 5 January Get Back album.|
|23 March 1970||Stereo mixing from take eight.|
|1 April 1970||Reduction into take nine. Overdub onto take nine.|
|2 April 1970||Stereo mixing from take nine. Version released on the Let It Be album.|
February 1968 recordings
In February 1968, the Beatles convened at the EMI Abbey Road studios to record a single for release during their absence on their forthcoming trip to India. Paul McCartney had written "Lady Madonna", and Lennon had "Across the Universe". Both tracks were recorded along with Lennon's "Hey Bulldog" and the vocal track for Harrison's "The Inner Light" between 3 and 11 February.
The basic track was taped on 4 February. Along with acoustic guitar, percussion and tambura, it featured an overdubbed sitar introduction by Harrison. Two teenage fans, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, were invited in off the street to provide backup vocals.
Lennon was still not satisfied with the feel of the track, and several sound effects were taped, including 15 seconds of humming and a guitar and a harp-like sound, both to be played backwards; however, none of these were used on the released version. The track was mixed to mono and put aside as the group had decided to release "Lady Madonna" and "The Inner Light" as the single. On their return from India, the group set about recording the many songs they had written there, and "Across the Universe" remained on the shelf. In the autumn of 1968, the Beatles seriously considered releasing an EP including most of the songs for the Yellow Submarine album and "Across the Universe", and went as far as having the EP mastered.
World Wildlife Fund version
During the February 1968 recording sessions, Spike Milligan dropped into the studio and, on hearing the song, suggested the track would be ideal for release on a charity album he was organising for the World Wildlife Fund. At some point in 1968, the Beatles agreed to this proposal. In January 1969, the best mono mix was remixed for the charity album. In keeping with the "wildlife" theme of the album, sound effects of birds were added to the beginning and end. The original (mono) mix from February 1968 is 3:37 in length. After the effects were added, the track was speeded up so that even with 20 seconds of effects, it is only 3:49. Speeding up the recording also raised the key to E-flat. By October 1969, it was decided that the song needed to be remixed into stereo. This was done by Geoff Emerick immediately prior to the banding of the album. "Across the Universe" was first released in this version on the Regal Starline SRS 5013 album No One's Gonna Change Our World in December 1969. The January 1969 mono mix was also considered for an aborted "Yellow Submarine" EP and was finally released as part of "The Beatles in Mono" box set in 2009.
This version was issued on four Beatles compilation albums: the British version of Rarities, the different American version of Rarities, The Beatles Ballads, and the second disc of the two-CD Past Masters album.
Let It Be version
The Beatles took the song up again during the Get Back/Let It Be rehearsal sessions of January 1969; footage of Lennon playing the song appeared in the Let It Be movie. Bootleg recordings from the sessions include numerous full group performances of the song, usually with Lennon–McCartney harmonies on the chorus. To ensure the album tied in with the film, it was decided that the song must be included on what by January 1970 had become the Let It Be album. Also, Lennon's contributions to the sessions were sparse, and this unreleased piece was seen as a way to fill the gap.
Although the song was extensively rehearsed on the Twickenham Studios soundstage, the only recordings were mono transcriptions for use in the film soundtrack. No multitrack recordings were made after the group's move to Apple Studios. Thus in early January 1970 Glyn Johns remixed the February 1968 recording. The new mix omitted the teenage girls' vocals and the bird sound effects of the World Wildlife Fund version. As neither of the Glyn Johns Get Back albums were officially released, the version most are familiar with came from Phil Spector, who in late March and early April 1970 remixed the February 1968 recording yet again and added orchestral and choral overdubs. Spector also slowed the track to 3:47, close to its original duration. According to Lennon, "Spector took the tape and did a damn good job with it".
A previously unreleased February 1968 alternate take of the song (recorded before the master), without heavy production, appeared on Anthology 2 in 1996. This is often referred to as the "psychedelic" recording because of the strong Indian sitar and tambura sound, and illustrates the band's original uncertainty over the best treatment for the song.
The February 1968 master was remixed again for inclusion on Let It Be... Naked in 2003, at the correct speed but stripped of most of the instrumentation and digitally processed to correct tuning issues.
Critical reception and legacy
Music critic Richie Unterberger of AllMusic said the song was "one of the group's most delicate and cosmic ballads" and "one of the highlights of the Let It Be album". Music critic Ian MacDonald was critical of the song, calling it a "plaintively babyish incantation" and saying "its vague pretensions and listless melody are rather too obviously the products of acid grandiosity rendered gentle by sheer exhaustion".
Lennon himself was unhappy with the song as it was recorded. In his 1980 Playboy interview Lennon says that the Beatles "didn't make a good record of it" and says of the Let It Be version that "the guitars are out of tune and I'm singing out of tune...and nobody's supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly". He further accused McCartney of ruining the song:
|“||Paul would … sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song … usually we'd spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul's songs; when it came to mine … somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage.||”|
On 4 February 2008, at 00:00 UTC, NASA transmitted the Interstellar Message "Across the Universe" in the direction of the star Polaris, 431 light years from Earth. The transmission was made using a 70m antenna in the Deep Space Network's Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex, located outside of Madrid, Spain. It was done with an "X band" transmitter, radiating into the antenna at 18 kW. This was done to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song's recording, the 45th anniversary of the Deep Space Network (DSN), and the 50th anniversary of NASA. The idea was hatched by Beatles historian Martin Lewis, who encouraged all Beatles fans to play the track as it was beamed to the distant star. The event marked the first time a song had ever been intentionally transmitted into deep space, and was approved by McCartney, Yoko Ono, and Apple Corps. (The first musical interstellar message was "1st Theremin Concert to Aliens", section 2 of the Teen Age Message, in 2001.)
The name of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's first solo album Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy, released in 1996, comes from a quote of "Across the Universe", which is one of Lucassen's favourite songs. In David Mitchell's novel number9dream (named after another Lennon song), the phrase "words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" is used to express the incoherence of the character Eiji Mitake's words.
No One's Gonna Change Our World/Past Masters version:
- John Lennon – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric Leslie-speaker guitar
- Paul McCartney – piano, backing vocals
- George Harrison – tambura, electric guitar
- Ringo Starr – maracas, swarmandal, tom-tom drum
- Lizzie Bravo – backing vocals
- Gayleen Pease – backing vocals
Let It Be version:
- John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar
- George Harrison – tambura, sitar
- Ringo Starr – maracas, drums
- Phil Spector – strings and choir
Let It Be... Naked version:
- John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar, electric Leslie-speaker guitar
- George Harrison – tambura
- Ringo Starr – tom-tom drum, maracas
- George Martin – Hammond organ, producer (original 1968 version)
- Phil Spector – producer (1970 version)
- Ken Scott, Martin Benge – engineers (original 1968 version)
- Jeff Jarratt – remix engineer (1969 No One's Gonna Change Our World version)
- Peter Bown, Mike Sheady – recording & remix engineers (1970 Let It Be version)
Elements of the performance recorded on 8 February 1968 were replaced by an orchestra and choir recorded on 1 April 1970.
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There have been several recordings of "Across the Universe" released by the Beatles as well as covers by other artists.
|Artist||Release date||Album title||Notes|
|Cilla Black||3 July 1970||Sweet Inspiration||Produced by George Martin|
|David Bowie||7 March 1975||Young Americans||Backing vocals and guitar by John Lennon|
|Roger Waters||12 June 1985||-||With Andy Fairweather Low; from a television tribute to John Lennon|
|Vadim Brodski||1986||Beatles Symphony|
|Cyndi Lauper||1989/2009||(unreleased) / Across the Universe||2009 Version w/ Jake Shimabukuro|
|Lana Lane||21 November 1988||Ballad Collection, Vol. 1|
|Laibach||1988||Let It Be||Vocals by Anja Rupel|
|Worlds Apart||1994||(unreleased)||Recorded for their debut album Together, but never released|
|Nikolay Rastorguyev||1996/2007||Четыре ночи в Москве / Birthday (With Love)|
|Aine Minogue||15 July 1997||Between the Worlds||Celtic version|
|Fiona Apple||13 October 1998||Pleasantville soundtrack|
|Rufus Wainwright||12 February 2002||Poses||US Edition bonus track, part of the soundtrack of the film I Am Sam: played in episode 6 of the science fiction TV series "FlashForward": used in 2017 on a television advertisement for a Samsung mobile phone.|
|Verdena||5 June 2003||B-side|
|Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel||24 May 2004||Buzz|
|Kingdom Come||20 December 2006||Ain't Crying for the Moon|
|Jim Sturgess & Joe Anderson||18 September 2007||Across the Universe soundtrack||From the Julie Taymor musical based on Beatles songs. Also the title for the film|
|John Butler Trio||24 August 2004||What You Want|
|Seether||5 August 2008||iTunes Originals – Seether|
|Justin Mauriello||6 February 2010||Justin Sings the Hits|
|Brian Molko||3 July 2010||Live performance to mark Belgium's Presidency of European Union.|
|Beady Eye||4 April 2011||Proceeds go to Japanese Tsunami Relief||Recorded at RAK studios on 2 April 2011, performed live at the Japan Disaster Benefit concert on 3 April 2011, and released as a digital download on 4 April 2011, with proceeds going to the charity|
|Bill Frisell||27 September 2011||All We Are Saying||Released on Savoy Jazz records.|
|Scorpions||4 November 2011||Comeblack|
|Denise Ho||6 December 2012||無臉人演唱會|
|Hikaru Utada||9 December 2010||Wild Life (concert)||Performed during her final concert aka "Wild Life" followed by her hiatus. Although the song was not officially recorded, it was included on her Wild Life DVD and Blu-ray release on 3 February 2011.|
|Chris Hadfield and the Wexford Gleeks||6 December 2013||CBC Sounds of the Season||Live performance on CBC Toronto News|
|Curved Air||17 March 2014||North Star|
|Andrew Huang||20 Nov 2014||Comet||Made using sounds from Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko|
According to the IMDb website, the American band Velvet Revolver, with Slash playing a 12-string Gibson Les Paul, along with other artists, Bono, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Tim McGraw, Steven Tyler, Brian Wilson, Alison Krauss on fiddle, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Stevie Wonder, on lead vocals and harmonica, covered the song live as a tribute to the Tsunami Victims at the 2005 Grammy Awards. According to the 5 March 2005 Billboard magazine, the all-star Grammy recording debuted at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as a digital download. During their 1981/1982 Time Tour, Electric Light Orchestra covered "Across the Universe" together with "Imagine" and "A Day in the Life" as part of their tribute to John Lennon. Band leader Jeff Lynne had gained most of his inspiration to make Electric Light Orchestra from the works of Lennon both with The Beatles and his solo career and would later produce new songs for The Beatles Anthology albums. Barbara Dickson recorded "Across the Universe" in 2006 for her album Nothing's Gonna Change My World, a modern approach to Beatles songs. A live version can be heard on her 2017 live album, In Good Company, a live recording of her 2017 concert tour.
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