Written by John Lennon in India, ‘Dear Prudence’ was about Mia Farrow’s younger sister, who refused to leave her chalet at the meditation retreat in Rishikesh, and had to be coaxed out by Lennon and George Harrison.
Prudence Farrow had become infatuated with meditation, locking herself away from the rest of the group and falling into deep states against the advice of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
‘Dear Prudence’ is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in. They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. If she’d been in the West, they would have put her away.
We got her out of the house. She’d been locked in for three weeks and wouldn’t come out, trying to reach God quicker than anybody else. That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic. [Laughs.]
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Farrow later confirmed she was more fanatical in her pursuit of enlightenment than those around her.
Being on that course was more important to me than anything in the world. I was very focused on getting in as much meditation as possible, so that I could gain enough experience to teach it myself. I knew that i must have stuck out because I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so that I could meditate. John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing but they just weren’t as fanatical as me…
At the end of the course, just as they were leaving, George mentioned that they had written a song about me but I didn’t hear it until it came out on the album. I was flattered. It was a beautiful thing to have done.
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner
The song’s distinctive fingerpicked guitar style was taught to Lennon by Donovan, another guest at Rishikesh. The style was used on a number of other songs on the White Album, including ‘Julia’ and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’.
In the studio
The Beatles taped the song over three days in Trident Studios, an independent facility in London’s Wardour Street. Unlike EMI Studios, Trident had eight-track facilities available, which The Beatles had previously used for the recording of ‘Hey Jude’.
Work on ‘Dear Prudence’ began on 28 August 1968. Although the studio records note that The Beatles only recorded one take, the luxury of eight tracks meant they were able to piece together the song instrument by instrument, wiping previous attempts as they went along.
The next day McCartney recorded a bass part, Lennon manually double-tracked his lead vocals, and backing vocals and handclaps were performed by McCartney and Harrison. They were assisted with contributions from Mal Evans, recent Apple discovery Jackie Lomax, and McCartney’s cousin John.
In The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn notes that the end of the song originally featured applause from those who contributed backing vocals and handclaps, though it was left out of the final mix.
The recording of ‘Dear Prudence’ was concluded on 30 August, with a piano track and a very brief flugelhorn section. Both of these were performed by McCartney.