Across The Universe

Let It Be album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 3, 4, 8 February 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Martin Benge, Ken Scott, Peter Bown

Released: 12 December 1969

John Lennon: vocals, backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, organ
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
George Harrison: backing vocals, electric guitar, tambura, maracas
Ringo Starr: drums, percussion, svaramandal
George Martin: Hammond organ
Lizzie Bravo: backing vocals
Gayleen Pease: backing vocals
Uncredited: 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, harp, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitarists, 14 choristers

Available on:
Let It Be
Past Masters
Anthology 2
Let It Be… Naked

Although best known as a track on 1970′s Let It Be album, Across The Universe was recorded in early 1968 and first released on a World Wildlife Fund album the following year.

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It was John Lennon’s first composition to be recorded by The Beatles since I Am The Walrus five months earlier. The words were written before the music, and came to Lennon in the early hours one morning at his home in Kenwood.

I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right? …

But the words stand, luckily, by themselves. They were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don’t own it, you know; it came through like that. I don’t know where it came from, what meter it’s in, and I’ve sat down and looked at it and said, ‘Can I write another one with this meter?’ It’s so interesting: ‘Words are flying [sic] out like [sings] endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.’ Such an extraordinary meter and I can never repeat it! It’s not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper, and then I went to sleep.

It’s like being possessed; like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won’t let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep. That’s always in the middle of the bloody night, when you’re half awake or tired and your critical facilities are switched off.

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Part of the song’s chorus – ‘Jai guru deva, om’ – is a Sanskrit phrase which roughly translates as ‘Victory to God divine’. It was likely inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom The Beatles had met in August 1967. The Maharishi’s spiritual master was called Guru Dev. ‘Jai’ is a Hindi word meaning ‘long live’ or ‘victory’, and ‘om’ is a sacred syllable in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions.

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.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

Lennon initially wanted Across The Universe to be released as a single while The Beatles were in India with the Maharishi, but the group opted for Lady Madonna instead. In March 1969 Across The Universe was mooted for a never-released Yellow Submarine EP, but eventually appeared on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, an 11-song charity album also featuring The Bee Gees, Cilla Black, The Hollies and others.

It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as The Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ’cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

35 Responses to “Across The Universe”

  1. B,n

    You really need separate list of instruments for each versions, all four official versions are different.

    I am also confused about the organ, on the next page you say it is wiped, why do you list it?

    Reply
  2. Edward Smegal

    I heard a very strange verson in 1970 on AM radio. The begining and the end had this sound effect that sounded like some weapon from star wars echoing Across The Universe.This version was in the I Am The Walrus flavor. Most important was that before it was given to the world wildlife fund the lyrics were NOTHING GOING TO CHANGE MY MIND.It was an electric version with a LOT of sitars and backwards guitars.The DJ said THIS RECORD IS STOLEN

    Reply
  3. Joseph Brush

    Hello Edward! You should contact the radio station involved (if you can remember which one) and inquire about this particular version which, according to you, appears to be unique.

    Reply
  4. William

    If you’re right, Edward, it means that John successfully transformed something domestic into something cosmic, maybe just by the chance of having agreed to do a version for the WWF. How wonderful!

    Reply
  5. Andrew

    Are you sure John wanted to release this song as a single while they were in India? I always thought John was pushing for Hey Bulldog (recorded during the same group of sessions) to be released over Lady Madonna.

    Reply
  6. scott

    The song is splendid, but what an incredible mess the Spector version! He turned this etheral, subtle, delicate, so musical harmony into a heavy (screamed) anthum. Only the Past Masters (World Wildlife Fund) version is worse – no wonder John hated it…

    Thank goodness, the Anthology has a decent interpretion, you can relly listen to this song. The Let It Be Naked one is truly enjoyable, light and blue, with a silk-and-honey John voice. A treat. Thank you, sir Paul!

    Reply
  7. Vonbontee

    I found online a “Super Rare Psychedelic Version” full of backwards guitars; wonder if that’s the same one Edward heard?

    In all, that makes five different versions, and I love ‘em all, even Spector’s. For John to be dissatisfied with the results, no matter which version, was characteristic.

    Reply
    • GniknuS

      I think I have the same version, it starts with John saying “you’re right Richie” or something like that and then he laughs and you hear Richie on the drums for a second. It sound’s like Yoko’s harmonizing with him, even though it’s probably just those two girls who sing in the WWF version.

      Reply
  8. Scott

    The version done for the “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” album can also be found on the British “Rareties” album.

    Reply
  9. Matt

    The version on Mono Masters is supposedly the version mixed for the Yellow Submarine EP, so why does it have bird sounds that they added after it was chosen for the WWF album?

    Reply
  10. Mads Nørregård

    The versions on the WWF album, Past Masters,Let it be and Let it be – naked
    are based on the same take from feb.68.
    The lead vocal,the tambura, the acoustic and electric guitar are the same on all versions.The tempo is speeded up one semitone in the WWF and Past Master mix but speeded down again in the Spector (over)produced version from Let it be, Spector omitted George, Pauls and the girls backing vocals and added all the other stuff.The “naked” version kept only Johns vocal and acoustic guitar and George’s tambura. Only the Antology version is a completely different take, probably recorded before the other one.
    Across the Universe was planned to be the A side of the first 1968 Beatles single backed with Lady Madonna. But none of the Beatles were satisfied with the recording. Therefore they tried to rerecord it in Jan. 69. Hey Bulldog was never an option for the single.

    Reply
  11. Ian

    Does anyone else have an opinion on the “Hums Wild” mix that has been bootlegged over the years? Personally, it’s my favourite version of the song, aside from Take 2 which was released on “Anthology 2.”

    Reply
  12. CaroleTucson

    I always thought this was John’s best song with the Beatles, even better than Strawberry Fields or A Day In the Life.

    I prefer simple arrangements, and some songs are just made for one voice and a guitar … this is one of them, in my opinion.

    Reply
  13. jerald

    more of a john lennon song not much of a beatles performance. i prefer paul to be singing duet with john on the chorus…”nothings gonna change my world…” and george on another guitar

    Reply
  14. Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

    Four released version based on the same takes. Maybe I´m going deaf or something, but I can´t hear any drums or organ or piano. They tried all this instruments, but all I can hear is double-tracked lead vocals, two acoustic guitars, tone-pedal steel guitar, tamboura, swaramandal, ¿congas? (¿maybe drums with some effects?) and maracas.

    Lewisohn said “harp-like effect”. Maybe that´s the sound, and not a swaramandal at all.

    Reply
    • Joe

      It’s a complicated recording, made all the more difficult by the different versions officially released. However, after reading the musicologist Walter Everett’s brilliant The Beatles As Musicians, it seems this is correct:

      Anthology 2: Lennon and McCartney on acoustic guitars, Harrison on tambura, Starr on svaramandal.
      Past Masters: Acoustic guitars, tambura and svaramandal as before. Starr also played a tom tom (heard just before the vocals begin), and organ by Lennon enters with the first chorus. Harrison played the maracas, and George Martin added another organ, both beginning in the fourth bar of the chorus. Harrison played wah-wah guitar, and McCartney added the low ascending piano run in the coda.
      Let It Be: Spector kept Lennon’s vocals and guitar, and Harrison’s maracas and wah guitar and tambura. He added orchestration, and during the recording session Ringo added more drums. The drums are the hardest to hear in each of the versions, particularly on Let It Be’s due to the wall of sound.

      Reply
  15. Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

    That book you quoted seems very interesting.

    Lewisohn tells the story pretty diferent: every version comes from the same take, and all guitars were played by John. Ringo on swaramandal? That’s really something new.

    I need another session with four versions to compare with your notes.

    Thanks for the info.

    Reply
    • Joe

      I think they are all from the same take, though some of the masters included different elements from the multi-track tapes.

      The instrument I’ve found hardest to make out is the organ. I’m still not convinced it’s there at all.

      Reply
      • Rigby's quartet

        The organ is definitely there on Naked, especially audible after about a minute into the track.

        This is an incredibly beautiful song, and I love the pure expressive simplicity of the Naked version. Lennon says the lyrics are his best and that they can stand alone without the music, but my God what a heart wrenching poignant melody! In that regard it ranks with Golden Slumbers, Hey Jude, and Let It Be. And John says he’s out of tune. Big deal, for one note!

        Reply
  16. Travis

    I guess I’m weird, I think Spector definitely ruined a lot of Let It Be w his unsuitable production, but this is the one MAJOR exception. I completely agree w John, he completely saved this songs from the previous versions. Taking out those awful backing vocals on the chorus by amateur females is crucial, also removing that weird robotic-sounding harmony on “nothing’s gonna change my world”. For once his orchestral arrangements work and dont sound bloated but the true masterstroke was lowering the song a semitone. It adds such warmth to the guitars but ESP John’s voice. This is one of my top 5 Beatles songs but I don’t even like the other versions except Anthology. But that is sorely lacking those beautiful and crucial wah guitars

    Reply
    • Mathew

      See I disagree with that last point. I thought lowering the track’s pitch post-recording to C# had the result of making Lennon’s voice sound very disinterested. I think it would’ve been different if they had recorded it in that key to begin with. I liked everything else though, I think the strings and the choir really add to the song. I always wished there was a version of Spector’s mix, but in D or E#.

      For myself, I’ve always felt a great song can exist really in any form.

      Reply
  17. Tweeze

    Well, I’m inclined to opine that the best version is the one on the ‘Naked’ collection. I liked what Phil did to it, but John sounds proper on the latter version.

    Reply
  18. MonkeyRevolution

    This being my favorite song of all time, all I can imagine is what it would’ve been like if it had been “done properly”.

    Reply
  19. GeorgeTSimpson

    Does Paul contribute to the let it be and the naked version (and doese he really play acoustic guitar on past masters and anthology). And is there no bass in across the universe? I prefer past masters and anthology version than let it be (orchestra is not as good as the verious indian instruments but better as nothing (naked)). The naked recording is too bored i think

    Reply
  20. GeorgeTSimpson

    I think I hear a second guitar in let it be and let it be… naked coming in after the intro was played, but maybe it’s just an automatically double_tracked guitar or there is no second guitar on these two versions. But I’m quite sure that Paul’s piano run is still audible in the Let It Be version, it is quite prominent in th outro

    Reply
  21. carlos gutman

    “Across the universe” (undoubtly one of my favourites no matter which version) came up in a time when the Beatles were thinking to get back to their rock¨n´roll origins (that´s the reason why the song chosen for the first 1968 single was “Lady Madonna”), it just didn´t fit even for John (but I wonder why “The inner light” which was really a psichodelic song was included in the B side). “Hey bulldog” was essentially conceived for the film “Yellow submarine”

    Reply
  22. Bill

    Back in the days of variable-speed turntables (still got mine & still use it), I would speed up or slow down this song, depending on whether I was playing the Let It Be version or the US Rarities version. I always liked the song a lot, but neither arrangement sat well with me. Years later, the outtake comes out on Anthology 2 & I was blown away. For me, that’s the definitive version.

    Reply

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