John Lennon’s most acerbic song on the White Album, ‘Sexy Sadie’ was a barbed tribute to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and was written during Lennon’s final hours in India.

That’s about the Maharishi, yes. I copped out and I wouldn’t write ‘Maharishi, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone.’ But now it can be told, Fab Listeners.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

Shortly after Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr left India, Lennon’s friend Alexis Mardas, also known as Magic Alex, arrived.

Mardas had previously been known as Lennon’s ‘guru’, and was reportedly alarmed at seeing his influence upon Lennon waning. He is said to have started a rumour that Maharishi had made a sexual advance towards one of the women on the meditation course.

Alexis and a fellow female meditator began to sow the seeds of doubt into very open minds… Alexis’s statements about how the Maharishi had been indiscreet with a certain lady, and what a blackguard he had turned out to be gathered momentum. All, may I say, without a single shred of evidence or justification. It was obvious to me that Alexis wanted out and more than anything he wanted The Beatles out as well.

Mia Farrow has occasionally been identified as the object of the Maharishi’s desires, but McCartney and Harrison both denied this.

It was a big scandal. Maharishi had tried to get off with one of the chicks. I said, ‘Tell me what happened?’ John said, ‘Remember that blonde American girl with the short hair? Like a Mia Farrow lookalike. She was called Pat or something.’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘Well, Maharishi made a pass at her.’ So I said, ‘Yes? What’s wrong with that?’ ‘He said, ‘Well, you know, he’s just a bloody old letch just like everybody else. What the fuck, we can’t go following that!’

They were scandalised. And I was quite shocked at them; I said, ‘But he never said he was a god. In fact very much the opposite. He said, “Don’t treat me like a god, I’m just a meditation teacher.” There was no deal about you mustn’t touch women, was there? There was no vow of chastity involved.’ So I didn’t think it was enough cause to leave the whole meditation centre.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Regardless of its veracity, the rumour gave Lennon an excuse to leave India. As he waited to leave, he began writing the song that would become ‘Sexy Sadie’.

That was written just as we were leaving, waiting for our bags to be packed in the taxi that never seemed to come. We thought: ‘They’re deliberately keeping the taxi back so as we can’t escape from this madman’s camp.’ And we had the mad Greek with us who was paranoid as hell. He kept saying, ‘It’s black magic, black magic. They’re gonna keep you here forever.’ I must have got away because I’m here.
John Lennon, 1974

Lennon began singing his ode to the Maharishi as he and George Harrison drove to Delhi.

John had a song he had started to write which he was singing: ‘Maharishi, what have you done?’ and I said, ‘You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous.’ I came up with the title of ‘Sexy Sadie’ and John changed ‘Maharishi’ to ‘Sexy Sadie’. John flew back to Yoko in England and I went to Madras and the south of India and spent another few weeks there.
George Harrison

The opening lines may have been inspired by Smokey Robinson’s song ‘I’ve Been Good To You’, which begins with the lines: “Look what you’ve done/You made a fool of everyone”. One of Lennon’s favourites, the song was briefly busked by The Beatles during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969.

Derek Taylor recalled Lennon scratching the lyrics to ‘Sexy Sadie’ into a piece of wood in the Apple offices. The wood was kept by Maureen Starkey, and was later sold to a Beatles collector.

The Beatles recorded a demo of ‘Sexy Sadie’ at George Harrison’s Esher bungalow in May 1968, along with 22 other contenders for the White Album.

In the studio

Although it was originally titled Maharishi, it was never recorded as that. However, during the first session for ‘Sexy Sadie’, on 19 July 1968, Lennon demonstrated to McCartney how it was originally conceived:

You little twat
Who the fuck do you think you are?
Who the fuck do you think you are?
Oh, you cunt
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions
Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles spent much of the session jamming and rehearsing ‘Sexy Sadie’, but eventually taped 21 takes of the song. According to Lewisohn, these varied between 5’36” and 8’00”.

Take six from this day – featuring just vocals, electric guitar, drums and organ – was released on 1996’s Anthology 3. Slower than the final version, the distinctive piano part is absent, as is the extended winding finale.

The group began a remake on 24 July, recording 23 takes. None of these were used, however, and on 13 August 1968 they began a third attempt. They recorded eight takes, numbered 100-107, the last of which was the basis for future overdubs.

‘Sexy Sadie’ was completed on 21 August. John Lennon recorded another lead vocal, and organ, bass, tambourine and two sets of backing vocals were added.

Previous song: ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’
Next song: ‘Helter Skelter’
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