Released: 15 March 1968 (UK), 18 March 1968 (US)
George Harrison: vocals
John Lennon: backing vocals
Paul McCartney: backing vocals
Sharad Ghosh/Hanuman Jadev: shehnai
Hariprasad Chaurasia/SR Kenkare: flute
Ashish Khan: sarod
Mahapurush Misra: tabla, pakavaj
Rij Ram Desad: harmonium
With lyrics based on the Taoist guide to living Tao Te Ching, The Inner Light was written by George Harrison and first released as the b-side of Lady Madonna.
As noted by Ian MacDonald in Revolution In The Head, on 29 September 1967 Harrison and John Lennon had appeared on The Frost Programme to talk about Transcendental Meditation. The programme was a success and they were invited back on 4 October to take part in a further discussion.
Among the other guests was Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University, who later sent Harrison a copy of his anthology Lamps Of Fire. Mascaró highlighted a passage within it from chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching, which he suggested could be set to music. The original words were:
Without taking a step outdoors
You know the whole world;
Without taking a peep out the window
You know the colour of the sky.
The more you experience,
The less you know.
The sage wanders without knowing,
Sees without looking,
Accomplishes without acting
The Beatles all regarded The Inner Light highly, and it was released as the b-side of Lady Madonna in March 1968 – the first time a song by Harrison had appeared on a Beatles single. An excerpt from the recording also appeared as a transition, alongside Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, on the 2006 remix album Love.
In the studio
In 1967 Harrison was invited by director Joe Massot to write a score for his film Wonderwall, starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowran. The soundtrack took three months to record, during which time Harrison recorded a number of instrumental pieces at EMI’s studio in Bombay, India.
He flew out on 7 January 1968. The sessions for the Wonderwall Music album, which featured local musicians, lasted for five days, at the end of which Harrison produced a number of further ragas for possible use by The Beatles. The basic track of The Inner Light was thus recorded on 12 January.
The song was returned to back in Abbey Road on 6 February, when Harrison recorded his lead vocals. He needed some encouragement from Lennon and McCartney to do this, as the song was above his usual range.
George had this big thing about not wanting to sing it because he didn’t feel confident that he could do the song justice. I remember Paul saying, ‘You must have a go, don’t worry about it, it’s good‘.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
The Inner Light was completed with the addition of backing vocals from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, recorded quickly in the early afternoon of 8 February.