Within You Without You

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artworkWritten by: Harrison
Recorded: 15, 22 March; 3, 4 April 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 1 June 1967 (UK), 2 June 1967 (US)

George Harrison: vocals, sitar, acoustic guitar, tambura
Unknown musicians: dilruba, svarmandal, tabla, tambura
Erich Gruenberg, Alan Loveday, Julien Gaillard, Paul Scherman, Ralph Elman, David Wolfsthal, Jack Rothstein, Jack Greene: violins
Reginald Kilbey, Allen Ford, Peter Beavan: cellos
Neil Aspinall: tambura

Available on:
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Anthology 2
Love

Within You Without You was composed on a harmonium following a dinner party at the London home of Klaus Voorman, the German artist and musician whom The Beatles first met in Hamburg. Written by George Harrison, it was the only non Lennon-McCartney song on the Sgt Pepper album.

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The song was George Harrison’s second full-blown Indian recording, after Revolver‘s Love You To. Although regarded by some as a dull interlude in the otherwise masterful Sgt Pepper, Within You Without You encapsulated the exploration of spiritual themes that had become popular in 1967′s Summer of Love.

Clear references to the counterculture (‘Are you one of them?’) and the LSD-related ego death (‘And to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you’) can be found amid the more other-worldly exploration of spiritual philosophy and religious teachings.

The laughter at the end of the track was Harrison’s idea. While some listeners initially thought it was the sound of the other Beatles mocking his songwriting effort, it was in fact meant to lighten the mood after five minutes of sad, almost mournful, music.

Within You Without You came about after I had spent a bit of time in India and fallen under the spell of the country and its music. I had brought back a lot of instruments. It was written at Klaus Voormann’s house in Hampstead after dinner one night. The song came to me when I was playing a pedal harmonium.

I’d also spent a lot of time with Ravi Shankar, trying to figure out how to sit and hold the sitar, and how to play it. Within You Without You was a song that I wrote based upon a piece of music of Ravi’s that he’d recorded for All-India Radio. It was a very long piece – maybe 30 or 40 minutes – and was written in different parts, with a progression in each. I wrote a mini version of it, using sounds similar to those I’d discovered in his piece. I recorded in three segments and spliced them together later.

George Harrison

The Anthology 2 collection, released in 1996, featured an instrumental version of Within You Without You slowed down to its original key and speed. It was also featured in the 2006 remix album Love, in which it the song was blended to the rhythm track of Tomorrow Never Knows.

One of George’s best songs. One of my favourites of his, too. He’s clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent; he brought that sound together.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the studio

George Harrison was the only Beatle present during the recording of Within You Without You. He and Neil Aspinall played tamburas while Indian musicians performed traditional instruments.

Recording began on 15 March 1967. Initially it had the working title Untitled, and on the first day just one take of the basic track was taped. Although Harrison claimed that the song was recorded in three parts and later edited together, it was in fact taped as one, initially lasting six minutes and 25 seconds.

The Indian musicians’ names are not known, but they were recruited from the Asian Music Circle in Finchley, north London. They played tabla, dilruba and tambura. Another two dilrubas, an instrument similar to a sitar but played with a bow, was overdubbed on 22 March.

On 3 April – the final day of recording for Sgt Pepper, apart from the album’s run-out groove gibberish taped on 21 April – George Martin conducted eight violinists and three cellists playing a score written to Harrison’s suggestions. That evening Harrison also recorded his lead vocals, a sitar part and some acoustic guitar, and the song was complete.

34 responses on “Within You Without You

    1. Lennon

      The song is a big turnoff. Can’t believe we had to listen to that. Try dancing to it or humming it at work. Not a song I want to listen to as I drive in my car.

  1. Joseph Brush

    Arguably George’s first great song.
    Prior to Sgt. Pepper I thought his songs were up and coming along quite nicely especially on Revolver. Apparently Only A Northern Song almost made it to Sgt. Pepper.
    In one breath George wrote a spiritual song and in another breath he writes a secular song where he is cheesed off.
    Ah duality!

    1. George Demake

      Totally agree. George came up with a real gem here, and thank God, because if they had to put Only a Northern Song on Pepper,It would have detracted from the feel of the album. The dilruba introduces the song wonderfully, and carries it beautifully to it’s end. Although some critics argue that WYWY doesn’t really fit on pepper, I strongly disagree. You leave the circus atmosphere of Mr. Kite and your carpet ride brings you eastward through India before depositing you into a 1920s caberet club for When I’m 64.
      A wonderful trip.

  2. scott

    Fascinating song. Georges’s “out of this world” voice and lyrics, as well as the Indian instruments and Oriental resonances invite to daydream and abandon.

    (If there must be a “dull interlude” in the incredible Sgt Pepper, well, than it’s When I’m 64–although I really love the song. It’s just different from the other songs.)

    Within You Without you is one of the defining pieces of Sgt Pepper.

  3. Day Tripper

    This is definitely my favourite Beatle song. The lyrics are so deep and true, and the music is so hypnotic yet soothing. This is the song that made Sgt Peppers, and the only song that seperates me from Sgt Peppers and Revolver. This song made me love The Beatles, and made George Harrison my favourite Beatle. Nothing can be in league of these lyrics.

    1. Joseph Brush

      George should have had more spiritual conversations with Klaus Voorman, which was the circumstance that inspired this song.
      I believe this song and Day In The Life are the two main reasons that Pepper deserves its reputation.
      When I first heard Pepper in the spring of 1967, these two songs struck me as the pillars of the album.
      They still resonate.

      1. Andrew Goulding

        While I can’t disagree with you:
        1 the acid of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
        2 the suburban melodrama of She’s Leaving Home (with those glorious second vocals) &
        3 the brooding menace of Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite
        all add to the album’s unique overall effect.

        1. Joseph Brush

          Very good addition to my comment.
          These five songs we’ve mentioned together, plus Good Morning, Good Morning, are the main Pepper songs for me.

    2. Dylan

      Yeah, this song is horribly underrated. The writing is just unbelievable, and there is no better LSD song in my opinion. Very beautiful and true. I’d like to hear any argument against this song.

      1. George Demake

        I apologize, my first reply came out of order and is intended for the comment that nothing can be in a league with these lyrics. For the record, I don’t see “Across The Universe as an LSD song, and Love Within You Without You.

  4. Dylan

    I don’t understand these problems with George’s writing. I think several Harrison songs surpass McCartney/Lennon in lyricism, and Within You Without You is just beautiful. It is one of the most soothing, if not the most soothing Beatles song ever created. Give me the man a little more credit.

  5. Jamie

    Absolutely fantastic. If it werent for the fact that Sgt. Pepper obviously had to be the opening track on.. well, Sgt. Pepper, I would have liked for this to be the opening track. It would have made a nice transition between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper when listening to them back to back, as I so often do ;) It’s so smooth, it’s like listening to silk in musical form :)

  6. Julio

    Does george actually play the sitar on this? He struggles with the guitar until 1969 but picks up the sitar so quickly. It just does not make sense that he would be so compentent at the sitar so fast.

  7. Leo-Howler-Sitar

    Definetely George’s best and most famous work with the sitar, and my favorite song off of Sgt. Pepper’s. I understand George was rather uninterested with the majority of the album and this song is his amazing contribution to it… not to say his guitar/sitar/tampura work throughout the rest of the album isn’t also important.

    I must ask, aren’t there two harp lines in this song just before the tabla comes in, as well as after the instrumental bridge and just before George begins singing again? Or is that just creative use of the sitar?

  8. vonbontee

    That’s either a regular harp or an Indian ‘swarmandal’. And it may or may not have echo, but I don’t think it’s two separate lines. (But I’m relying on memory here – I’ll have to give a proper listen later on!)

  9. Carge77

    Count me as another one who found this to be a singular track within the context of Pepper’s; I definitely agree that this is right near the top of George’s catalog, if not at the top.

    I always thought Lucy was facile and somewhat insipid, nothing more than an attempt to be deliberately ‘out there’…Within You is, as someone above mentioned, the *real* exploration of the confluence of late sixties drug experimentation and spirituality.

    Also…for all you fans of this track…I highly recommend you check out the Easy Star All-Stars “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band”. The album is a track-for-track re-creation (*not* a re-mix, an actual re-creation) of Pepper’s, featuring a number of reggae and dub artists.

    The version of Within You, Without You is pretty stellar…the vocalist is Matisyahu, who’s main schtick is a whole reggae/hebrew spiritualism crossover (sounds strange, I know). Anyway, he absolutely nails this track; it’s by far the best of the re-creations on the album (2nd best is Kirsty Rock on ‘She’s Leaving Home’). His treatment of the song is pretty inspiring.

  10. Chris

    As with (actually) many Beatles songs, this one is one I have never appreciated until I started to pick up musical instruments myself. I’ve never played a sitar, but I’ve been playing guitar lately and you gain large respect for those who are talented on musical (especially stringed) instruments.

    This song is haunting and I believe that is entirely do to George’s philosophical lyrics and the Indian backing track.

  11. Gaura

    When George wrote “and to see you’re really only very small” refers to how the Vedic literatures refers to the soul or atma as being the size of one ten thousandth the tip of a hair in size. It is a statement meant to humble us, to give up our false pride that we think that we are so “big”, deluded by false pride. The teachings that George delved into are not “Hindi” as mentioned above. The Vedic literatures were compiled in Sanskrit over 5000 yrs ago, and Hindi is a much later derivative of it. The word Hindu was fabricated by the Muslims who lived north of the Sindhu or Indus River, who referred to those south of that river as “Hindus”. It is inaccurate and sectarian.

  12. Jay S

    How this song is positioned on Pepper (Side 2, cut 1) interests me. The opening lyric “we were talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion” can plausibly be interpreted as a reference to the songs from Side 1, which deal with themes of isolation and fantasy. It seems to me the songs which follow WYWY deal with more hum-drum, reality-based themes like aging (When I’m 64), meter maids, daily routine (GMGM) and “I read the new today oh boy”. That this songs seems to serve as a natural “bumper” between the two sides of the album may be (a) happy coincidence, (b) very clever positioning by the boys or GM in selecting the order of the cuts, or perhaps someone would like to chime in with another explanation.

    Btw, Joe, only recently found your website and really enjoy it. Thanks!

  13. SmartMart

    I was one of many people who didn’t think too highly of “Within You, Without You” when the album first came out. It took about 6 months for it to grow on me and, having done so, it remains one of my favourite Beatles’ tracks. The whole album was – and still is – astonishing, and I don’t understand the detractors who want to diss such a groundbreaking work of art.

  14. Billy Boy

    This song might have been the reason the Beatles broke up- Not because of Yoko.
    They must have realized after listening to this masterpiece that they probably only scratched the surface of what they could really do. An entire world must have opened up for them. It was probably at this point that each of them started to think to themselves,
    “I don’t need the others to play on my song” and that’s where it probably started to unfold. Regardless, this is an important piece of music and a beautiful one at that.

  15. Auntie Maine

    Billy Boy, I agree with you. Anyone who blamed the breakup of the Beatles on Yoko had not been paying attention.

    Besides, when you have that many brilliant musicians in the same room, it’s awfully hard for things to hang together for long. Look at Buffalo Springfield for another example.

    It’s amazing the Beatles stayed together as long as they did.

  16. FrankDialogue

    Quote “I believe this song and Day In The Life are the two main reasons that Pepper deserves its reputation.
    When I first heard Pepper in the spring of 1967, these two songs struck me as the pillars of the album.
    They still resonate.”

    Very good point…A stunning piece of work from George Harrison, and still a high point in the use of Indian music in the pop realm, if you can call it pop music.

  17. robert

    In 1967 listening to Sgt Pepper in our basement for the very first time, our jaws were slack already as we flipped side one over to side two – at this point no idea what to expect. Then the opening sitar notes and tabla sounds – George’s voice – we knew, there was no turning back . . .

  18. appmanga

    A beautiful melding of Eastern and Western instruments. And part of George’s dissatisfaction stemmed from his spiritural awakening and how his music fit into it, as well as his dissatisfaction with his role in the group

  19. Don Green

    I’ve been playing this song for weeks. I love it, although my family has tired of my efforts. I should mention that I play an open back banjo, and with a mute attached. The drone works, it works very well. I can’t imagine that a guitar works as well.

  20. Dreww

    Wow, my take is a little different. This is possibly my least favorite of any Beatles song. Musically it is so tedious as to be mind-numbing. The melody is annoying and never goes anywhere. The song is way too long.

    I am fine with Indian music, and the general message of the song. But the words sound like they were copied out of some book or guru. So heavy handed! And I can only think of one element I like of the entire musical arrangement- a little repeating sitar line early in the instrumental break.

    And I think George was deservedly treated as the second-tier songwriter in the band. If I remember correctly, all he came up with in the incredibly fertile 1967 was this and Blue Jay Way.

    It has always seemed to me that if they took this out of Sgt Pepper and put back in the first two songs recorded for the project- Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields- Sgt Pepper would have truly deserved all the hype still made about it. This song may be nice for musical diversity but in my opinion it really cramped the album.

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