One of The Beatles finest ‘lost’ recordings, ‘Not Guilty’ was recorded during the White Album sessions, but remained unreleased until Anthology 3 in 1996.

‘Not Guilty’ was written by George Harrison. A demo was recorded in May 1968 at Kinfauns, his home in Esher, Surrey, where The Beatles convened to try out their bumper crop of songs written during or immediately after their trip to India.

Actually, I wrote that in 1968. It was after we got back from Rishikesh in the Himalayas on the Maharishi trip, and it was for the White Album. We recorded it but we didn’t get it down right or something. Then I forgot all about it until a year ago, when I found this old demo I’d made in the Sixties. The lyrics are a bit passé – all about upsetting ‘Apple carts’ and stuff – but it’s a bit about what was happening at the time. ‘Not guilty for getting in your way/While you’re trying to steal the day’ – which was me trying to get a space. ‘Not guilty/For looking like a freak/Making friends with every Sikh/For leading your astray/On the road to Mandalay’ – which is the Maharishi and going to the Himalayas and all that was said about that. I like the tune a lot; it would make a great tune for Peggy Lee or someone.
George Harrison
Rolling Stone, April 1979

Lyrically, the song is largely in defence of the 1960s counterculture, although references to Harrison’s frustration at his often marginal role within the group can be detected.

Not guilty
For getting in your way
While you’re trying to steal the day …

I won’t upset the apple cart
I only want what I can get
I’m really sorry that you’ve been misled
But like you heard me said:
Not guilty

At the time of its recording, relations within the group were becoming increasingly strained, with The Beatles often working alone and choosing not to help each other. For John Lennon and Paul McCartney this was less of an issue, but Harrison needed the rest of the group’s support to have his songs considered.

Part of the problem may have been the complexity of the song, with numerous time signature changes and half-bars which derailed many of The Beatles’ attempts. However, the result was far from disastrous, and would arguably have made a better inclusion on the White Album than a number of other songs.

‘Not Guilty’ was eventually re-recorded by Harrison for his self-titled 1979 album, in a mellower version featuring acoustic guitar and Fender Rhodes electric piano, the latter played by Steve Winwood.

In the studio

The song was recorded at Abbey Road in August 1968. The Beatles taped over 100 takes of ‘Not Guilty’, but even the best of these failed to win a place on the White Album.

The Beatles began work on ‘Not Guilty’ on 7 August 1968. They recorded 46 takes of the rhythm track, comprising guitar, bass, electric piano and drums. The first 18 of these were devoted to the introduction alone; beyond that, just five takes were complete.

The next day the group recorded takes 47-101 of the rhythm track. For these John Lennon switched from electric piano to harpsichord. Take 99 was deemed the best of the day.

On 9 August a reduction mix was made to free up space on the tape. Take 99 became 102, and onto this a range of overdubs were added.

In a session lasting more than six hours, extra lead guitar, bass and drum parts were recorded. The distinctive lead guitar riffs and solo were recorded by George Harrison in the studio control room, with his amplifier stack turned up high in the studio below.

George asked us to put his guitar amplifier at one end of the echo chambers, with a microphone at the other end to pick up the output. He sat playing the guitar in the studio control room with a line plugged through to the chamber.
Brian Gibson, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Work on ‘Not Guilty’ finished on 12 August, with the recording of a second lead vocal by Harrison. As with the previous lead guitar overdub, he opted to tape his performance in the control room.

George had this idea that he wanted to do it in the control room with the speakers blasting, so that he got more of an on-stage feel. So we had to monitor through headphones, setting the monitor speakers at a level where he felt comfortable and it wouldn’t completely blast out his vocal.
Ken Scott, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

A rough mono mix was made at the end of the session, but the song was later rejected for the White Album.

In the early 1980s, Geoff Emerick made a stereo mix, editing roughly a minute from the running time, for EMI’s aborted Sessions album. The 3:22 mix, which faded the song out early, was eventually released in 1996 on Anthology 3.

In 2018, on the super deluxe edition of the White Album, the full version of take 102, lasting 4:28, was released, as was the remastered Esher demo.

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