The Inner Light (song)
|"The Inner Light"|
US picture sleeve
|Single by the Beatles|
|Released||15 March 1968|
|Recorded||13 January, 6 and 8 February 1968,
HMV Studios, Bombay; EMI Studios, London
|Genre||Indian classical, raga rock|
|the Beatles singles chronology|
"The Inner Light" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by George Harrison. It was released on a non-album single in March 1968, as the B-side to "Lady Madonna". The song was the first Harrison composition to be featured on a Beatles single and reflects the band's embracing of Transcendental Meditation. The lyrics are a rendering of a poem from the Taoist Tao Te Ching, which Harrison set to music on the recommendation of Sanskrit scholar Juan Mascaró, who had translated the passage in his 1958 book Lamps of Fire. The song became a comparative rarity among the Beatles' recordings in the decade following its release; it has subsequently appeared on compilation albums such as Rarities, Past Masters, Volume Two and Mono Masters.
Harrison recorded the instrumental track for "The Inner Light" in India in January 1968, during the sessions for his Wonderwall Music soundtrack album. The only Beatles studio recording to be made outside Britain, the song introduced instruments such as sarod, shehnai and pakhavaj to the band's sound and features contributions from Indian classical musicians including Aashish Khan, Hanuman Jadev and Hariprasad Chaurasia. Aside from Harrison's lead vocal, recorded in London, the Beatles' only contribution came in the form of group backing vocals at the end of the song.
Among music critics, "The Inner Light" has received praise for the its melodic qualities and for its evocation of the meditation experience. Jeff Lynne and Anoushka Shankar performed the song at the Concert for George tribute in November 2002, a year after Harrison's death. An alternative take of the 1968 instrumental track was released in 2014 on the remastered Wonderwall Music CD. Screenwriter Morgan Gendel named a 1992 episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation as an homage to the song.
- 1 Background and inspiration
- 2 Musical structure
- 3 Recording
- 4 Release and reception
- 5 Later releases
- 6 Cover versions and popular culture
- 7 Personnel
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
- 11 External links
Background and inspiration
In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, George Harrison recalls that he was inspired to write "The Inner Light" by Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University. Mascaró had taken part in a debate, televised on The Frost Programme on 4 October 1967, during which Harrison and John Lennon discussed the merits of Transcendental Meditation with an audience of academics and religious leaders. In a subsequent letter to Harrison, dated 16 November, Mascaró congratulated him on the success of his song "Within You Without You" and expressed hope that they might meet again before the Beatles departed for India, where the group were to undertake a meditation course with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Mascaró also enclosed a copy of his book Lamps of Fire, an anthology of religious writings, including some from Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching, and enquired: "might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao, for example no. 48, page 66 of Lamps?"[nb 1]
Harrison wrote the song during a period when he had undertaken his first musical project outside the Beatles, composing the soundtrack to the Joe Massot-directed film Wonderwall. When writing "The Inner Light", he made minimal alterations to Lao-Tzu's text and used the same title that Mascaró had used. In I, Me, Mine, Harrison says of the changes required to create his second verse:
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.
After "Within You Without You", "The Inner Light" was the second composition to fully reflect Harrison's immersion in Eastern spiritual concepts, particularly meditation, an interest that had spread to his Beatles bandmates and to the group's audience. The lyrics espouse meditation as a means to genuine understanding. Theologian Dale Allison describes the song as a "hymn" to quietism and comments that, in their attempt to "relativize and disparage knowledge of the external world", the words convey Harrison's enduring worldview. Author John Winn notes that Harrison had pre-empted the message of "The Inner Light" in an August 1967 interview, when he told New York DJ Murray Kaufman: "The more you learn, the more you know that you don't know anything at all." Writing in his study of Harrison's musical career, Ian Inglis similarly identifies a precedent in the song "It's All Too Much", where Harrison sings: "The more I learn, the less I know."
"The Inner Light" was Harrison's third song in the Indian classical genre, after "Love You To" and "Within You Without You". While those earlier songs had followed the Hindustani (North Indian) system, as sitar- and tabla-based compositions, "The Inner Light" is closer in style to the Carnatic (or South Indian) temple music tradition. Harrison's extension into the Carnatic system reflected his concept for the Wonderwall soundtrack – namely, that the assignment allowed him to create an "anthology" of Indian music and present a diverse range of styles and instrumentation.
The composition is structured into three instrumental passages separated by two sections of verse. The buoyant mood of the instrumental sections – set to what author Peter Lavezzoli describes as "a raucous 4/4 rhythm" – contrasts with the gentle, meditative portions containing the verses. The contrast is borne out in the lead instruments that Harrison would use on the recording: whereas sarod and shehnai, supported by pakhavaj, are prominent during the musical passages, the softer-sounding bansuri (flute) and harmonium accompany the singing over the verses, with the sarod providing a response to each line of the vocal. In the last instrumental section, Harrison incorporates the conclusion of Lao-Tzu's poem, beginning with the line "Arrive without travelling".
The melody conforms to the pitches of Mixolydian mode, or its Indian equivalent, the Khamaj thaat. Musicologist Dominic Pedler writes that the tune features unusual tritone intervals, which, together with the musical arrangement, ensure that the song is far removed from standard "pop tunes". In a further departure from Harrison's two previous forays into Indian music, both of which made extensive use of single-chord drone, the melody contains harmonic movement in the verses, reflected in the changes from the dominant E♭ chord to F minor, and a passing A♭ over the line "The farther one travels the less one knows".
In the opening words to the verses ("Without going out"), the melody utilises what Pedler terms a "hauntingly modal" G-B♭-D♭ tritone progression as, within the song's tonic key (of E♭), the 3rd note heads towards the flat 7th. Musicologist Walter Everett likens this ascending arpeggiation of the diminished triad to a melodic feature in "Within You Without You" (over that song's recurring phrase "We were talking"). "The Inner Light" is therefore a further example of Harrison creating ambiguity about the tonic key, a technique that Pedler recognises as a subtly meaningful characteristic of Harrison's spiritually oriented songwriting.
Having used London-based Indian musicians from the Asian Music Circle on "Love You To" and "Within You Without You", Harrison recorded "The Inner Light" in India with some of the country's foremost contemporary classical players. In early January 1968, he travelled to HMV Studios in Bombay to record part of the score for Wonderwall, much of which would appear on his debut solo album, Wonderwall Music. The day after completing the soundtrack recordings, on 13 January, Harrison taped some additional pieces for possible later use, one of which was the instrumental track for "The Inner Light". Five takes of the song were recorded on a two-track recorder.
The musicians on the track were Aashish Khan (sarod), Mahapurush Misra (pakhavaj), Hanuman Jadev (shehnai), Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri) and Rijram Desad (harmonium). In Lavezzoli's estimation, although these instruments are more commonly associated with the Hindustani discipline, the performers play them in a South Indian style, which adds to the Carnatic identity of the song.[nb 2] The recording also features tabla tarang over the quiet, vocal interludes. Author Simon Leng refutes the presence of the oboe-like shehnai, however, saying that this part was played on an esraj, a bow-played string instrument.[nb 3] As with the Wonderwall selections recorded at HMV, Harrison directed the musicians but did not perform on the instrumental track.
Harrison completed the song in London during sessions for a new Beatles single, which would serve as a stopgap release while the group were away in Rishikesh, India, with the Maharishi. Once the Bombay recording had been transferred to four-track tape, Harrison recorded his vocal part for "The Inner Light" on 6 February, at EMI's Abbey Road Studios. Lacking confidence in his ability to sing in so high a register, he had to be coaxed by Lennon and Paul McCartney into delivering the requisite performance. Two days later, McCartney and Lennon overdubbed backing vocals at the very end of the song, over the words "Do all without doing". In his study of "The Inner Light", musicologist Alan Pollack considers this last addition to be "a masterful unifying touch"; he also notes that, despite the musical arrangement having been created far away from the group's usual working environment, it retains the typical Beatles aesthetic of "using deft changes in texture to help articulate form".
The song was held in high regard by Harrison's bandmates, particularly McCartney, and was selected as the B-side for the forthcoming single. It was the first Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles single, and remains the only Beatles song to have been recorded outside the United Kingdom. Everett writes that Lennon's admiration for the track was evident from his subsequent creation of the song "Julia" through "a very parallel process" – in that instance, by adapting a work by Kahlil Gibran.[nb 4] Although Harrison had served as the producer at the Bombay session, only George Martin received a production credit for "The Inner Light".
Release and reception
The song was issued as the B-side of "Lady Madonna" on 15 March 1968 in the UK, with the US release following three days later. While Chris Welch of Melody Maker expressed doubts about the hit potential of the A-side, Billboard magazine's reviewer commented on the aptness of "The Inner Light", given the band's concurrent "meditation spell". In America, the B-side charted independently on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week, placing at number 96. In Australia, it was listed with "Lady Madonna", as a double A-side, when the single topped the Go-Set national singles chart.
Among Beatles biographers, Nicholas Schaffner wrote in 1977 that "The Inner Light" "proved to be the best – and last – of George's attempts to incorporate Indian music into the context of the Beatles". Schaffner paired it with "Within You Without You" as raga rock songs that "feature haunting, exquisitely lovely melodies", adding: "Had Harrison not given the other Beatles the day off when he recorded them ... they might have wound up as two of his greatest achievements." Bruce Eder of AllMusic writes of Harrison's growth as a composer through his absorption in Indian music and he describes the same two tracks as "a pair of beautiful songs, 'Within You, Without You' and 'The Inner Light,' that were effectively solo recordings". Ian MacDonald likens the song's "studied innocence and exotic sweetness" to recordings by the Incredible String Band and concludes: "'The Inner Light' is both spirited and charming – one of its author's most attractive pieces."
Writing for Mojo magazine in 2003, John Harris similarly admired it as Harrison's "loveliest addition of Indian music to The Beatles' repertoire". Harrison biographer Gary Tillery describes the track as "another remarkable fusion of Asian culture and Western pop music", while Ian Inglis writes: "it is the extraordinary synthesis of separate musical and lyrical traditions (in this case, Indian instrumentation, Chinese philosophy, and Western popular music) that distinguishes the song. Harrison's uncharacteristically warm vocal weaves in and around the delicate, almost fragile, melody to deliver a simple testimony to the power of meditation ..." Although he notes that the Beatles "abruptly" abandoned Indian music after returning from Rishikesh, Inglis concludes of the song's influence: "Harrison's spiritual journey was seen as a serious and important development that reflected popular music's increasing maturity. When, in the years that followed, similar statements of faith were made by Pete Townshend, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Cat Stevens, and Bob Dylan, Harrison's example certainly helped to shape the response to them ..."
Nick DeRiso of the music website Something Else! considers "The Inner Light" to be one of its composer's "most successful marriages of raga and rock" and, through Harrison's introduction of instruments such as sarod, shehnai and pakhavaj, "another ground-breaking moment in what we'd come to know as 'world music'". Quoting the ethnomusicologist David Reck, Walter Everett writes, "Most memorable is the sheer simplicity and straightforwardness of the haunting modal melody, somehow capturing perfectly the mood and truth and aphoristic essence of the lyrics." Everett adds his own assessment of the song, saying: "The peace and joy of nirvana are made palpable in this most sincere effort."
A stereo mix of "The Inner Light" was created at Abbey Road on 27 January 1970 for what Beatles recording historian Mark Lewisohn terms "some indefinable future use". On this later mix, the opening instrumental section differs slightly from that on the original, mono version.
Following its initial release in 1968, "The Inner Light" became one of the rarest Beatles recordings. Although it appeared on Por Siempre Beatles, a 1971 Spanish compilation album, the song was not available on a British or American album until its inclusion on Rarities, which was originally issued as a disc in the 1978 box set The Beatles Collection before receiving an independent UK release. The 1980 US compilation titled Rarities also featured "The Inner Light", again in its mono form. The stereo mix was first released as the opening track on a bonus EP, titled The Beatles, issued in the UK in December 1981 as part of the Beatles EP Collection box set. The song was issued on CD in 1988, in stereo, on Past Masters, Volume Two. The mono mix was subsequently included on the Beatles' Mono Masters compilation.
For the Beatles' 2006 remix album Love, created for the Cirque du Soleil stage show, the song was segued onto the end of "Here Comes the Sun". This mashup begins with Harrison singing "Here Comes the Sun" over the tabla part from "Within You, Without You" and ends with some of the Indian instrumentation from "The Inner Light".
In 2014, an alternative instrumental take of the song was issued as a bonus track on Harrison's Wonderwall Music remastered CD. The recording begins with a short studio discussion, as Harrison instructs the Bombay musicians.[nb 5]
Cover versions and popular culture
Having covered "Within You Without You" in 1967, the Soulful Strings included "The Inner Light" on their album Another Exposure the following year. Junior Parker also recorded the song, releasing a version on his 1971 album with Jimmy McGriff, The Dudes Doin' Business. Later in the 1970s, the song's title was appropriated for one of the first international Beatles fanzines.[nb 6]
Concert for George performance
Jeff Lynne, who worked frequently with Harrison after the Beatles' break-up, sang "The Inner Light" at the Concert for George tribute, held at London's Royal Albert Hall on 29 November 2002, a year after the former Beatle's death. In what Simon Leng describes as "a wonderfully eloquent duet", Lynne performed the song with Anoushka Shankar, who played the original sarod part on sitar. Lynne and Shankar were accompanied by Harrison's son Dhani (on keyboards and backing vocals) and an ensemble of Indian musicians that included percussionist Tanmoy Bose (on dholak), Rajendra Prasanna (shehnai) and Sunil Gupta (flute).
The song appeared partway through the concert's opening, Indian music segment, which was performed by Shankar and otherwise composed by her father, and Harrison's friend and former sitar tutor, Ravi Shankar. Inglis comments that, in its context at the Concert for George, "['The Inner Light'] does not appear at all out of place among the Indian folk and classical compositions that surround it." Reviewing the Concert for George film for The Guardian, James Griffiths admired Lynne's reading of the song as a "particularly sublime version".
Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
In June 1992, the American television series Star Trek: The Next Generation aired an episode titled "The Inner Light", which went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The plot centres around the show's main character, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, temporarily living in a dream-like state on an unfamiliar planet, during which decades elapse relative to a few minutes in reality. An avowed fan of the Beatles, screenwriter Morgan Gendel titled the episode after Harrison's song.
In a discussion on the Star Trek blog site Soul of Star Trek, Nick Sagan, another of the show's screenwriters, was quoted as saying that the inspiration for the episode probably came from the song also, since the lyrics express the "ability to experience many things without actually going anywhere – and that's what happens to Picard". In a subsequent post on the same site, Gendel confirmed that the Beatles song "captured the theme of the show: that Picard experienced a lifetime of memories all in his head". Writing on the official Star Trek website in 2013, Gendel remarked that Harrison's lyrics were "so apt" and concluded: "If you Google 'Inner Light + song' you’ll get the Beatles tune and an acknowledgment of my TNG homage to it back-to-back … that might be the best gift my authorship of this episode has given me."
According to Peter Lavezzoli:
- George Harrison – lead vocals, direction
- John Lennon – harmony vocals
- Paul McCartney – harmony vocals
- Aashish Khan – sarod
- Hanuman Jadev – shehnai
- Hariprasad Chaurasia – bansuri
- Mahapurush Misra – pakhavaj
- Rijram Desad – harmonium
- uncredited – tabla tarang
- The poem to which Mascaró referred, however, corresponds to what many other English translations of the Tao Te Ching number as chapter 47.
- Lavezzoli highlights the manner in which the sarod, traditionally a lead instrument in North India, is played by Khan: staccato-style in the upper register, creating a sound more typical of acoustic guitar. Similarly, the pakhavaj is performed in the style of a South Indian tavil barrel drum, and the sound of the double-reed shehnai is closer to that of its Southern equivalent, the nagaswaram.
- Citing Khan's recollection that he only worked with Harrison in London, Leng also says that the sarod was added to the track later. Rather than the esraj that Leng gives for "The Inner Light" and for Wonderwall tracks such as "Crying", Harrison used the bow-played tar shehnai during the Bombay sessions, played by Vinayak Vora.
- The Beatles chose "The Inner Light" over Lennon's "Across the Universe", the melody for which music journalist Gary Pig Gold considers was inspired by Harrison's composition.
- The reissue also includes the previously unreleased "Almost Shankara", another piece that Harrison recorded in Bombay in 1968.
- While noting the plethora of such publications, particularly in America, Schaffner describes The Inner Light as "excellent" and singles it out for the thoroughness of its discographical information.
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