The Inner Light (song)

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"The Inner Light"
Cover of the US single,
released on Capitol Records
Single by The Beatles
A-side "Lady Madonna"
Released 15 March 1968
Format 7"
Recorded EMI Studios, Bombay, India, 12 January 1968; EMI Studios, London, 6 and 8 February 1968
Genre Raga rock, psychedelic rock, Hindustani classical, art rock
Length 2:36
Label Parlophone/EMI(UK)
Capitol Records(US)
Writer(s) George Harrison
Producer(s) George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"Hello, Goodbye"
"Lady Madonna" /
"The Inner Light"
"Hey Jude"

"The Inner Light" is a song written by George Harrison that was first released by the Beatles as a B-side to "Lady Madonna". It was the first Harrison composition to be featured on a Beatles single. The lyrics are a rendering of the 47th chapter (sometimes titled "Viewing the Distant" in translations) of the Taoist Tao Te Ching. The song is also available on the Beatles' compilation albums Por Siempre Beatles; Rarities; Past Masters, Volume Two; and Mono Masters (the companion edition to Past Masters), the latter CD available only on The Beatles in Mono box set. An instrumental alternate take was released in 2014 on George Harrison's Wonderwall Music remastered CD as a bonus track.

The song features lead vocals from Harrison, as was always the case with his compositions, and brief backing vocals from John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The instrumental track was recorded in Mumbai, India, during the sessions for Harrison's Wonderwall Music (a soundtrack album), during January 1968.[1]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

The cover for Juan Mascaró's Lamps of Fire.
George Harrison received a copy of Lamps of Fire from Juan Mascaró, who wondered: "might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao".

In his autobiography I, Me, Mine, Harrison writes that the song was inspired by a letter from Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University, who sent him a copy of his book Lamps of Fire (a wide-ranging anthology of religious writings, including some from the Tao Te Ching) and asked him: "... might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao, for example number 48, page 66 of the book." Harrison states: "In the original poem, the verse says 'Without going out of my door, I can know the ways of heaven.' And so to prevent any misinterpretations — and also to make the song a bit longer — I did repeat that as a second verse but made it: "Without going out of your door / You can know all things on earth / Without looking out of your window / You can know the ways of heaven" — so that it included everybody".[2] The passage Harrison refers to, however, corresponds to what English translations normally number as "47", rather than "48". D. C. Lau's translation of the Tao Te Ching 47, for example, states: "Without stirring abroad / One can know the whole world / Without looking out of the window / One can see the way of heaven."[3]

Musical structure[edit]

Pedler quotes McCartney as describing this as a "beautiful melody," and claims this may be because of the unusual tritone intervals, the background static harmony of the harmonium drone, South-Indian drum rhythm and Eastern-sounding flute, which are far removed from usual 'pop tunes'.[4] The song opens with a E♭ drone (setting up the E♭ tonic (I) key) played by Rijram Desad on the harmonium, Aashish Khan then enters at 4/4 time on the sarod, Mahapurush Misra drumming on the pakhawaj, and Hanuman Jadev on the shehnai.[1] Khan plays the sarod like an acoustic guitar: staccato-style in the upper register and without bending of notes.[1] Misra drums loudly on the pakhawaj in the style of a tavil barrel drum and Jadev plays the shehnai like a double-reed nagaswaram.[1] These unusual playing styles and the absence from this song of the sitar, tabla and tamboura (that gave a North-Indian feel to Harrison's earlier Indian music forays in "Love You To" and "Within You Without You"), place this music more in the South Indian Karnatak temple music tradition.[5]

After the opening instrumental by sarod, shehnai, pakhawaj, the harmonium drones E♭ while Harrison sings the opening lines ("Without going out of my door") accompanied by Hariprasad Chaurasia on flute and Aasish Khan on sarod.[5] Harrison's opening phrase "Without going out" sung against the tonic (I) E♭ chord utilises a "hauntingly modal" G-B♭-D♭ tritone progression as the 3rd heads towards the ♭7th.[4] Everett considers that this Mixolydian ascending arpeggiation of the diminished triad (ga-pa-ni, the Indian equivalent of mi-sol-te) resembles that used in "Within You, Without You" ("We were talking").[6] The harmonium then shifts between E♭ and F (for example Fm7/E♭ 'slash' chord on "door") with a passing A♭ on "the farther one travels the less one knows."[5] The song is thus an example of creating ambiguity about the tonic (I) key that became such a subtly meaningful technique in Harrison's spiritually-oriented songwriting.[4]


In early January 1968 Harrison travelled to Bombay to record some of the score to the movie Wonderwall using local musicians. The Wonderwall recordings were completed on 12 January, and on 13 January Harrison recorded some additional tracks for possible later use. The instrumental track for "The Inner Light" was one of these, and was recorded in five takes on a two-track recorder at EMI's Bombay studio; the final take was the one used for the released song. The specific musicians on this track were Aashish Khan (sarod), Mahapurush Misra (pakhavaj), Hanuman Jadev (shehnai), Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri), and Rijram Desad (harmonium). Harrison did not play on the instrumental track.[1]

Harrison overdubbed his lead vocal on 6 February at the EMI Abbey Road studios. On 8 February, John Lennon and Paul McCartney overdubbed some background vocals at the very end of the song, notably on the words "Do all without doing."[5]


The mono version of the song that was released as the B-Side of the "Lady Madonna" single (and later on the Rarities compilation) is slightly different from the stereo version available on Past Masters: Volume Two. The mono mix features an extra horn riff during the intro and overdubbed vocals, whereas the stereo mix lacks the extra horn and features a single vocal track.

"The Inner Light" was one of the last Beatles songs to not be readily available on an album in the English-speaking world. Although the song had been included in Por Siempre Beatles, a compilation album released only in Argentina and Spain in 1971, it was not available on a British or American long-playing record until the release of Rarities (which had been included in the British and American boxed set, The Beatles Collection, in 1978, and released separately as an album in the United Kingdom in 1979). The first stand-alone American album to feature "The Inner Light" was The Beatles Rarities, which was released in 1980. "The Inner Light" is available on CD on Past Masters: Volume Two and Mono Masters. An instrumental alternative take was released in 2014 on George Harrison's Wonderwall Music remastered CD as a bonus track.

Chart performance[edit]

"The Inner Light" spent one week on the Billboard Hot 100 at #96, on 30 March 1968.



Jeff Lynne of ELO, who worked frequently with George Harrison, sang the song accompanied by his acoustic guitar, Anoushka Shankar on sitar, George's son Dhani on piano, and an ensemble of Indian musicians in 2002's Concert for George.

Part of the song appears mixed alongside another Harrison composition, "Here Comes the Sun", on the 2006 Cirque du Soleil album, Love.

In popular culture[edit]

Star Trek: The Next Generation, an American TV program, aired an award-winning episode with the same title in 1992. In an interview, screenwriter Morgan Gendel said that he named the episode for the Beatles song, but only later realized how relevant the lyrics were.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Peter Lavezzoli. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Bhairavi. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. New York 2006. ISBN 0-8264-1815-5 ISBN 978-0826418159. p183
  2. ^ George Harrison. I, Me, Mine. Chronicle Books 2007. ISBN 978-0-8118-3793-4 p.118
  3. ^ Lao Tzu (DC Lau trans) Tao Te Ching. Penguin Books, London. 1963. p108.
  4. ^ a b c Pedler, Dominic (2003). The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles. London: Omnibus Press. p. 524. ISBN 978-0-7119-8167-6. 
  5. ^ a b c d Peter Lavezzoli. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Bhairavi. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. New York 2006. ISBN 0-8264-1815-5 ISBN 978-0826418159.p184
  6. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford Uni Press. NY 1999 ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0 p153.
  7. ^ Gendel, Morgan (2006). "Comments on "Inner Light Sources"". Soul of Star Trek. 

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