Sexy Sadie

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 19, 24 July; 13, 21 August 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar, Hammond organ
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, piano
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

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.

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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 the 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 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 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. Lennon recorded another lead vocal, and organ, bass, tambourine and two sets of backing vocals were added.

17 responses on “Sexy Sadie

  1. john

    Seems to me the piano part on “sexy sadie” sounds distorted. Do ya think they recorded it at one speed & then slowed it down for the vocals to get this sound? George’s “isn’t it a pity” version 2 has even more of this sound to it. Anyone out there to enlighten me?

  2. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

    Just adding a bit of info. At 2:55 there’s a cut, around 39 seconds. The song it would last 3:58. In Bootlegs there’s is the complete version.

  3. TheOneBeatleManiac

    Again, as happened on Don’t Pass Me By, the song was cut from 3:58 to 3:16.
    They cut around 39 seconds of instrumental ending.
    The cut is on 2:55 but it’s unoticable.
    In several bootlegs of White Album is the complete version.

    1. Julio

      I used to think this song was just you know pretty good but I have recently ,after 34 years of listening to the white album, suddenly fallen in love with like never before. It is just beautiful. I love the sarcasm of “How did you know, the world was waiting just for you”. I could write more but I won’t.

  4. brian

    I am curious more about how George felt about this song? There is a reference about it in the article and all, but he seemed to be the most involved in the whole India thing. Even if he did get him to change the title, wouldn’t it bother you to play on a song that is mocking a person that you respect so much? Or is changing the title enough for him? Was he also in any way offended/scandalized by the behavior. Was a pass ever really made at anyone? If there had been would that have been any sort of corruption or abuse of power? I know little about that religion, so could be that Paul is right. As long as he was not in any way using his power unethically to meet women wouldn’t he have the right to a consensual interest in someone. Or would it bother John because of how old he was (of course, Paul ended up marrying someone like 25 years younger, than him later in his life)? Or because he is obviously in a position of teacher/master and to take a woman from this is sort of like the same thing as a college instructor using his position to influence students (while they are in the class and prone towards admiration). Any links to this subject in more detail somewhere else on the website forum, or good articles about what exactly did or did not happen in India, and if the leader was an honest and sincere man, or in any way corrupt/abusing power on some level?

    I guess this article deals with some of my questions.
    I suppose I was just curious if history rendered any specific answers as to the integrity of Maharishi and if he actually had acted inappropriately, or i fit was a rumor. Even that last conversation Lennon recalls with him, seems to not be very detailed. Though I guess George was somewhat convinced that something was wrong.

    1. Blabberering

      All I can say is I feel blessed I never met John Lennon. As much as I love satire I would hardly say that Maharishi deserved his rath. I imagine that the Beatles used there fame to get woman just as this teacher had. If anyone wants to take issue with Maharishi about something I would say they should slam him for allowing the TM movement to ban Andy Kaufman from one of there retreats. But I don’t think he did anything out of line at that camp in 1968, but seeing as I was less than 2 years old when it happened I wasn’t there.

    2. Sam

      Hi. You raise good questions. I have just posted a comment. I don’t know where all my research is, but I think the guru was guilty. I did a lot of good research three years ago.

  5. James Ferrell

    I love this song. In the final version, the singer’s attitude towards Sexy Sadie doesn’t really seem scathing. It seems more wistful and admiring. And the “you’ll get yours yet” line sounds like the inevitable fate of any superstar after the press turns on her.

    This and “I’m So Tired” have the same cool chord change–I to V/III ( Gmaj to F#maj and Amaj to G#maj, respectively). I love it and can’t off the top of my head think of another song built from this change. Can you?

    1. Peter Kruger

      Martha My Dear has the same change right at the beginning of the intro as well as the verse. Eb to D7.
      Also the chords in the bridge where the lyrics go ‘Sexy Sadie, she ‘s the greatest of them all” The chords go A7, Ab, G.
      The Ab chord ( a combination of piano and guitar )has a dominant 7th at the bottom and a major 7th on top ( technically Ab7-15 chord! ) is a real unique harmony when placed after the A7 and before the G–which subliminally gives this song-if not the entire album–a sound purely of its own.
      And this is what I feel actually gave the Beatles the musical power they had. Everything they did sounded like it came from no where else–even when they did a lot of covers earlier in their career.

  6. Benoît Nof

    In order to be complete and correct, it would be also interesting to quote what Yoko One has said to Rolling Stone Magazine in 2008 about this song and the Maharishi : “If Lennon were alive today, says Yoko Ono, he probably would have reconciled with the man he accused of having “made a fool of everyone.” “John would have been the first one now, if he had been there, to recognize and acknowledge what Maharishi has done for the world and appreciate it,” she says”.

  7. Sam

    Sexy Mia. Sexy Prudence.

    That’s my thinking in the matter. How the Maharishi rationalized everything.

    I would have to dig up my research, but three years ago, I read a lot, plus used a lot of reason, and my keen understanding of that era’s culture, as well as that of India.

    Of course, I wasn’t there, and please understand that a huge percentage of entertainers’ public statements, are not to be fully believed.

    But the entire culture then, was just to have, well, “relations”, with anyone, anytime, for any reason, and people did. I don’t believe in that.

    Consider: There is this famous guru. They are all involved in so much 60s thought. If, in fact, he took Mia, Prudence, another girl, or whoever, into the cave or whatever it was, to ostensibly meditate, his rationale was going to be, to do “it” with her, not mediate only.

    What the Sam Hill, should they have expected? They should have known this might happen.

    I mean, come on. Most religious guru types, or cultists, do this.

    Further, as much as John was given to doing the bizarre or unusual, I cannot accept that he would write, and record a song, to chastise, or to get back at someone, unless the facts were true.

    Of COURSE, everyone is going to deny it, just as several people who knew John Phillips, steadfastly deny what he did, to his daughter.

    Lastly, remember that all the people on that India trip, were into LSD, etc, either then, or in general, and that distorts all realms of reason, decency, and truth.

  8. Tom

    this is one of my favorite Beatles songs. One of the most beautiful ones in my opinion.
    I just thought:
    This doesn’t fit for Maharishi. I suppose John was projecting his own Image onto Maharishi.
    The song makes completely sense, if he’s singing about himself and the attractive image he created with the beatles. Maybe he wasn’t aware himself.

  9. Graham Paterson

    Love this John Lennon song. Lennon at his “acerbic”best as Joe said. In later years he would write “How Do You Sleep?” and “Steel and Glass” in the same vein.George Harrison and Paul McCartney disagreed with his view of events regarding the Maharishi. But whatever the truth this song is another great song off the “White Album”.

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