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 written by George Harrison that was released by the Beatles in 1968 as the B-side to "Lady Madonna". It 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 chapter 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. A comparative rarity among the Beatles' recordings in the decade following its release, the song 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 recording introduced instruments such as sarod, shehnai and pakhavaj to the Beatles' 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 a brief backing vocal from John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Among music critics, the song has received praise for the its melodic qualities and for its evocation of the meditation experience. Jeff Lynne and Anoushka Shankar performed "The Inner Light" at the Concert for George tribute in 2002. An instrumental alternate take was released in 2014 as a bonus track on the remastered Wonderwall Music CD.
- 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 "The Inner Light" was inspired by a letter he received from Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University. Mascaró had taken part in a debate, televised on The Frost Programme on 4 October 1967, in which Harrison and John Lennon discussed the merits of Transcendental Meditation with an audience of academics and religious leaders. Impressed with Harrison's song "Within You Without You", Mascaró enclosed a copy of his book Lamps of Fire (a wide-ranging anthology of religious writings, including some from the Tao Te Ching) and suggested: "might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao, for example no. 48, page 66 of Lamps?"
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." The passage that Mascaró referred to, however, corresponds to what other English translations 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."
After "Within You Without You", "The Inner Light" was the second Harrison composition to reflect his immersion in Eastern philosophy, particularly meditation, an interest that had spread to his Beatles bandmates and to the group's audience. 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 lyrics convey Harrison's "lasting outlook". 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 composer's 1967 song "It's All Too Much", where Harrison sings: "The more I learn, the less I know."
Musicologist and author Dominic Pedler writes that Harrison's melody for "The Inner Light" features unusual tritone intervals, which, together with the musical arrangement, ensure that the song is far removed from standard "pop tunes". The structure of the composition clearly delineates between instrumental passages and the two sections comprising verses.
The song opens with a E♭ drone (setting up the E♭ tonic (I) key) performed on harmonium, after which sarod, pakhawaj and shehnai enter, playing in 4/4 time. The sarod is played like an acoustic guitar: staccato-style in the upper register and without bending of notes. The pakhawaj is played in the style of a tavil barrel drum, while the shehnai sounds similar to a double-reed nagaswaram. These unusual playing styles and the absence of the sitar, tabla and tamboura (the three instruments that gave a North Indian feel to Harrison's earlier Indian music forays, "Love You To" and "Within You Without You") place this music more in the South Indian or Karnatak temple music tradition.
After the opening instrumental, the harmonium drones E♭ while Harrison sings the opening lines accompanied by flute and sarod. Harrison's opening phrase "Without going out" sung against the tonic (I) E♭ chord utilises what Pedler terms a "hauntingly modal" G-B♭-D♭ tritone progression as the 3rd heads towards the ♭7th. Walter 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"). 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". 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.
Having used London-based Indian musicians from the Asian Music Circle on his two previous compositions in the genre, Harrison recorded "The Inner Light" with some of the foremost contemporary classical musicians in India. In early January 1968 he travelled to HMV Studios in Bombay to record part of the score for the film Wonderwall. On 13 January, the day after these recordings were completed, 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). Harrison's choice of instrumentation reflected his desire to introduce Western audiences to less well-known Indian instruments with the Wonderwall project, which he later described as an attempt to present an "anthology" of Indian classical music. Author Simon Leng refutes the presence of the oboe-like shehnai on the recording, however, saying that this part was played on an esraj, a bow-played string instrument.[nb 1] As with the Wonderwall selections recorded at HMV, Harrison directed the musicians but did not perform on the instrumental track.
The recording was completed in London during sessions for a new Beatles single, which would serve as a stopgap release while the group undertook their Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. 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, on the words "Do all without doing."
Highly regarded by Harrison's bandmates, particularly McCartney, "The Inner Light" was selected as the B-side for the forthcoming single. 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 2] 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."
Following its release in 1968, "The Inner Light" became one of the rarest Beatles recordings. Although it appeared on Por Siempre Beatles, a compilation album issued in Spain in 1971, the song was not available on a British or American Beatles LP 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 2006 remix album Love, created for the Cirque du Soleil stage show, the song was segued onto the end of "Here Comes the Sun". The 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 3]
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.
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 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. In a discussion on the Star Trek blog site Soul of Star Trek, Nick Sagan, one of the show's screenwriters, was quoted as saying that the inspiration for the episode probably came from the song, the lyrics of which express the "ability to experience many things without actually going anywhere – and that’s what happens to [the main character, Captain] Picard". In his subsequent post, screenwriter Morgan Gendel confirmed that he had named the episode after the Beatles song, adding that it "captured the theme of the show: that Picard experienced a lifetime of memories all in his head".
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, tabla tarang
- Rijram Desad – harmonium
- 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.
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