Tomorrow Never Knows
|"Tomorrow Never Knows"|
Cover of the Northern Songs sheet music (licensed to Sonora Musikförlag)
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album Revolver|
|Released||5 August 1966|
6, 7 and 22 April 1966|
EMI Studios, London
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, released as the final track on their August 1966 album Revolver but recorded at the beginning of sessions for the album. Credited as a Lennon–McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon.
Inspired by techniques from musique concrète, avant-garde composition, and electro-acoustic sound manipulation, "Tomorrow Never Knows" saw the Beatles experiment with musical elements unconventional in pop music. It features Lennon's vocal fed through a Leslie speaker cabinet (which was normally used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ), tape loops prepared by the band, and Indian-inspired modal backing underpinned by a constant but non-standard drum pattern. Its backwards guitar parts marked the first recorded use of reversed sounds in a pop song. "Rain", which was released showcasing the technique three months earlier, was recorded after.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is considered one of the greatest songs of its time, with Pitchfork Media placing it at number 19 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s" and Rolling Stone placing it at number 18 on its list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs. It has been noted as an early and influential recording in both psychedelic music and electronic music.
John Lennon wrote the song in January 1966, with lyrics adapted from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner, which was in turn adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although Beatles aide Peter Brown believed that Lennon's source for the lyrics was the Tibetan Book of the Dead itself, which, he said, Lennon had read while under the influence of LSD, George Harrison later stated that the idea for the lyrics came from Leary, Alpert and Metzner's book. Paul McCartney confirmed this, stating that when he and Lennon visited the newly opened Indica bookshop, Lennon had been looking for a copy of The Portable Nietzsche and found a copy of The Psychedelic Experience that contained the lines: "Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream".
Lennon bought the book, went home, took LSD, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the book. The book held that the "ego death" experienced under the influence of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is essentially similar to the dying process and requires similar guidance. This is a state of being known by eastern mystics and masters as samādhi (a state of being totally aware of the present moment; a one-pointedness of mind).
The title never actually appears in the song's lyrics. Lennon later revealed that, like "A Hard Day's Night", it was taken from one of Ringo Starr's malapropisms. In a television interview in early 1964, Starr had uttered the phrase "Tomorrow never knows" when laughing off an incident that took place at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, during which one of the guests had cut off a portion of his hair. The piece was originally titled "Mark I". "The Void" is cited as another working title but according to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn this is untrue.
McCartney remembered that even though the song's harmony was mainly restricted to the chord of C, Martin accepted it as it was and said it was "rather interesting". The song's harmonic structure is derived from Indian music and is based upon a high volume C drone played by Harrison on a tamboura. The "chord" over the drone is generally C major, but some changes to B flat major result from vocal modulations, as well as orchestral and guitar tape loops. The song has been called the first pop song that attempted to dispense with chord changes altogether. Here, the Beatles' harmonic ingenuity is nonetheless displayed in the upper harmonies – "Turn off your mind", for example, is suitably a run of unvarying E melody notes, before "relax" involves an E–G melody note shift and "float downstream" an E–C–G descent. "It is not dying" involves a run of three G melody notes that rise on "dying" to a B♭, creating a ♭VII/I (B♭/C) 'slash' polychord. This is a prominent device in Beatles songs such as "All My Loving", "Help!", "A Hard Day's Night", "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", "Hey Jude", "Dear Prudence", "Revolution" and "Get Back".
The 19-year-old Geoff Emerick was promoted to replace Norman Smith as engineer on the first session for the Revolver album. This started at 8 pm on 6 April 1966, in Studio Three at Abbey Road. Lennon told producer Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks, which left Martin the difficult task of trying to find the effect by using the basic equipment they had. The effect was achieved by using a Leslie speaker. When the concept was explained to Lennon, he inquired if the same effect could be achieved by hanging him upside down and spinning him around a microphone while he sang into it. Emerick made a connector to break into the electronic circuitry of the cabinet and then re-recorded the vocal as it came out of the revolving speaker.
As Lennon hated doing a second take to double his vocals, Ken Townsend, the studio's technical manager, developed an alternative form of double-tracking called artificial double tracking (ADT) system, taking the signal from the sync head of one tape machine and delaying it slightly through a second tape machine. The two tape machines used were not driven by mains electricity, but from a separate generator which put out a particular frequency, the same for both, thereby keeping them locked together. By altering the speed and frequencies, he could create various effects, which the Beatles used throughout the recording of Revolver. Lennon's vocal is double-tracked on the first three verses of the song: the effect of the Leslie cabinet can be heard after the (backwards) guitar solo.
The track included the highly compressed drums that the Beatles currently favoured, with reverse cymbals, reverse guitar, processed vocals, looped tape effects, a sitar and a tambura drone. The use of these ¼-inch audio tape loops resulted primarily from McCartney's admiration for Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower. McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops. After experimentation on their own, the various Beatles supplied a total of "30 or so" tape loops to Martin, who selected 16 for use on the song. Each loop was about six seconds long.
The tape loops were played on BTR3 tape machines located in various studios of the Abbey Road building and controlled by EMI technicians in Studio Two at Abbey Road on 7 April. Each machine was monitored by one technician, who had to hold a pencil within each loop to maintain tension. The four Beatles controlled the faders of the mixing console while Martin varied the stereo panning and Emerick watched the meters. Eight of the tapes were used at one time, changed halfway through the song. The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration. According to Martin, the finished mix of the tape loops could not be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.
Five tape loops are prominent in the finished version of the song. According to author Ian MacDonald, writing in the 1990s, these loops contain the following:
- A recording of McCartney's laughter, sped up to resemble the sound of a seagull (enters at 0:07)
- An orchestral chord of B flat major (0:19)
- A Mellotron on its flute setting (0:22)
- A Mellotron strings sound, alternating between B flat and C in 6/8 time (0:38)
- A sitar playing a rising scalar phrase, recorded with heavy saturation and sped up (0:56).
Author Robert Rodriguez writes that the content of the five loops has continued to invite debate among commentators, however, and that the manipulation applied to each of the recordings has made them impossible to decipher with authority. Based on the most widely held views, he says that, aside from McCartney's laughter and the B flat major chord, the sounds were two loops of sitar passages, both reversed and sped up, and a loop of Mellotron string and brass voicings. In their book Recording the Beatles, Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew list two loops of sitar recordings yet, rather than Mellotron, list a mandolin or acoustic guitar, treated with tape echo.
Lennon was later quoted as saying that "I should have tried to get my original idea, the monks singing. I realise now that's what I wanted." The Beatles experimented further with tape loops. Later examples include "Carnival of Light", an unreleased piece recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions; the Sgt. Pepper track "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"; and "Revolution 9", released on The Beatles. Take one of "Tomorrow Never Knows" was included on the Anthology 2 compilation in 1996.
After completing the recording, McCartney was eager to gauge the reaction of the band's contemporaries. On 2 May, he played the song to Bob Dylan at the latter's hotel suite in London; as the track started, Dylan said dismissively: "Oh, I get it. You don't want to be cute anymore." According to Marianne Faithfull, who was also present, Dylan then walked out of the room. McCartney recalled that when the Beatles played the song to members of the Rolling Stones and the Who, they "visibly sat up and were interested", whereas Cilla Black "just laughed".
Harrison questioned whether Lennon fully understood the meaning of the song's lyrics:
You can hear (and I am sure most Beatles fans have) "Tomorrow Never Knows" a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming. So the song starts out by saying, "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying."
Then it says, "Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void – it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within – it is being." From birth to death all we ever do is think: we have one thought, we have another thought, another thought, another thought. Even when you are asleep you are having dreams, so there is never a time from birth to death when the mind isn't always active with thoughts. But you can turn off your mind, and go to the part which Maharishi described as: "Where was your last thought before you thought it?"
The whole point is that we are the song. The self is coming from a state of pure awareness, from the state of being. All the rest that comes about in the outward manifestation of the physical world (including all the fluctuations which end up as thoughts and actions) is just clutter. The true nature of each soul is pure consciousness. So the song is really about transcending and about the quality of the transcendent.
I am not too sure if John actually fully understood what he was saying. He knew he was onto something when he saw those words and turned them into a song. But to have experienced what the lyrics in that song are actually about? I don't know if he fully understood it.
Release and reception
"Tomorrow Never Knows" was sequenced as the final track on Revolver, which EMI's Parlophone label issued on 5 August 1966. In his design for the LP cover, Klaus Voormann drew inspiration from the song, recognising the need for artwork that would capture the Beatles' new direction and the avant-garde aspect of the recording. Voormann later said that he found "Tomorrow Never Knows" "frightening", adding that it was "so far away from the early Beatles stuff that even I myself thought, well, the normal kind of Beatles fan won't want to buy this record. But they did."
Reaction to the release was "generally ecstatic", according to MacDonald, with listeners marvelling at the album's "aural invention". To the Beatles' less progressive fans, however, the radical changes in the band's sound were the source of confusion. The editor of the Australian teen magazine Mirabelle wrote: "Everyone, from Brisbane to Bootle, hates that daft song Lennon sang at the end of Revolver." In his review for the NME, Allen Evans said, in response to the lyric's exhortation to "relax and float downstream": "But how can you relax with the electronic, outer-space noises, often sounding like seagulls? … Only Ringo's rock-steady drumming is natural." Peter Jones of Record Mirror commented: "You need some sort of aural microscope to get the message from this. But it's darned compelling listening." Writing in 1977, author Nicholas Schaffner said that those who had been confused by the lyrics were most likely unfamiliar with hallucinogenic drugs and Timothy Leary's message, but that the transcendental quality became clear during the build-up to the 1967 Summer of Love.[nb 1]
In 2006, Pitchfork Media ranked "Tomorrow Never Knows" at number 19 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s" and Q magazine placed the track 75th on a list of "The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time". "Tomorrow Never Knows" appears at number 18 on Rolling Stone's list of the best Beatles songs and at number 4 on a similar list compiled by Mojo.
In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatles music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles' Apple Corps. On the Love album, the rhythm to "Tomorrow Never Knows" was mixed with the vocals and melody from "Within You Without You", creating a different version of the two songs. The soundtrack album from the show was released in 2006. The Love remix is one of the main songs in The Beatles: Rock Band.
In popular culture
According to Colin Larkin, writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, "Tomorrow Never Knows" has been recognised as "the most effective evocation of a LSD experience ever recorded". Ian MacDonald says that the song's message represented a revolutionary concept in mainstream society in 1966. He adds: "'Tomorrow Never Knows' launched the till-then élite-preserved concept of mind-expansion into pop, simultaneously drawing attention to consciousness-enhancing drugs and the ancient religious philosophies of the Orient, utterly alien to Western thought in their anti-materialism, rapt passivity, and world-sceptical focus on visionary consciousness."
Hernan Campbell of Sputnikmusic recognises "Tomorrow Never Knows" as "the most important Psychedelic composition in the history of the genre" and "the epitome of everything that psychedelia stands for". In the opinion of former Mojo editor Paul Trynka, the track benefited most from the Beatles' ability to channel their ideas into a recognisable song form, a discipline that ensured their psychedelic recordings were superior to those by the Grateful Dead and other contemporary San Francisco acts. Writing in his book Electronic and Experimental Music, Thom Holmes includes "Tomorrow Never Knows" in his list of the "pioneering works" in electronic music. He says that the track "ushered in a new era in the use of electronic music in rock and pop music".
Musicologist Walter Everett describes Revolver as "an innovative example of electronic music" and says that "Tomorrow Never Knows" was also "highly influential" on psychedelic rock. He identifies its effects and musical form as central to Pink Floyd's "Pow R. Toc H." and recognises the same use of extreme tape-speed manipulation in subsequent recordings by Jim Hendrix and Frank Zappa, and backwards tapes in the work of Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Byrds, the Who, the Electric Prunes, Spirit, Tomorrow, Soft Machine and the First Edition. He also identifies the Leslie-treated vocal as a precedent for similar experimentation by Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Moody Blues, Cream, Yes, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Steve Turner highlights the sound sampling and tape manipulation on the song as having had "a profound effect on everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Jay Z". Having introduced these techniques to mainstream pop, Turner writes, "Tomorrow Never Knows" inspired the sampling that became commonplace over ten years later – such as in Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and other examples of an artist taking a well-known riff or musical motif from an existing song; in David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, with its use of assorted spoken-word and vocal samples; in recordings by Big Audio Dynamite, which included samples from film soundtracks; and in Moby's Play, with its incorporation of little-known and disparate vocal tracks. In 2011, DJ Spooky said of the Beatles' song:
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is one of those songs that's in the DNA of so much going on these days that it's hard to know where to start. Its tape collage alone makes it one of the first tracks to use sampling really successfully. I also think that Brian Eno's idea of the studio-as-instrument comes from this kind of recording.
Recalling his introduction to "Tomorrow Never Knows" in 1966, American producer Tony Visconti has said: "It was incredible how the music matched the lyrics and, previous to this album, nobody was writing like that." He also said that Revolver "showed how the studio could be used as an instrument" and contributed to his decision to relocate to London, because, "I had to learn how people made records like this." In his 2012 book Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings, David Howard pairs Martin's work on "Tomorrow Never Knows" with Phil Spector's 1966 production of "River Deep – Mountain High" as the two "visionary achievements in sound" that ensured that "the recording studio was now its own instrument: record production had been elevated into art."
The song is referenced in the lyric to the 1995 Oasis song "Morning Glory": "Tomorrow never knows what it doesn't know too soon". Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher also references the song in "I've All I Need" from his debut solo album As You Were. The Chemical Brothers refer to "Tomorrow Never Knows" as their "manifesto"; their 1996 track "Setting Sun" is a direct tribute to it, as is "Let Forever Be". John Foxx of Ultravox also cited the song as an influence, saying that "As soon as I heard it, I knew it contained almost everything that I would want to investigate for the rest of my life."
- 801 performed the song live at their three concerts in 1976, under the name "TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)". The final performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall was included on the subsequent release 801 Live. A rehearsal of the song at Shepperton Studios was included on the 2009 Collectors Edition of the album.
- Listed in setlists as "TNK", The Grateful Dead performed the song 12 times in the 1990s, always segueing out of The Who's "Baba O'Riley". Subsequently, former Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Vince Welnick have played the song in their post-Dead projects.
- Phil Collins released a version on his 1981 album Face Value.
- Sheila Chandra's band Monsoon released a version on their only album Third Eye from 1982.
- Herbie Hancock performed a version featuring Dave Matthews in 3/4 time on his 2010 recording The Imagine Project.
- Ride performed a cover version during their 2015 reunion tour in North America.
- Tangerine Dream recorded an instrumental version in 2008.
- The Helio Sequence released a cover version on their 2000 album, Com Plex.
- Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar performed a cover version for the soundtrack to the film Sucker Punch (2011).
The song was featured during the final scene of the 2012 Mad Men episode "Lady Lazarus". Don Draper's wife Megan gives him a copy of Revolver, calling his attention to a specific track and suggesting, "Start with this one". Draper, an advertising executive, is struggling to understand youth culture, but after contemplating the song for a few puzzled moments, he shuts it off. The track also played over the closing credits. The rights to the song cost the producers about $250,000, "about five times as much as the typical cost of licensing a song for TV".
According to Ian MacDonald:
- John Lennon – vocals, Hammond organ, Mellotron, tape loops
- Paul McCartney – bass, tape loops
- George Harrison – sitar, tambura, lead guitar, tape loops
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, tape loops
- George Martin – tack piano
- In her 2014 book Beatleness, sociologist Candy Leonard quotes the reaction of contemporary fans to the song. One recalls that his anxiety was heightened by the album's sequencing: "['Tomorrow Never Knows'] was the last thing they were leaving me with … I was hoping they don't completely go this way."
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