With lyrics based on the Taoist guide to living Tao Te Ching, ‘The Inner Light’ was written by George Harrison and first released as the b-side of ‘Lady Madonna’.
On 29 September 1967, Harrison and John Lennon had appeared on The Frost Programme to talk about Transcendental Meditation. The programme was a success and they were invited back on 4 October to take part in a further discussion.
Among the other guests was Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar at Cambridge University, who later sent Harrison a copy of his anthology Lamps Of Fire. Mascaró highlighted a passage within it from chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching, which he suggested could be set to music. The original words were:
Without taking a step outdoors
You know the whole world;
Without taking a peep out the window
You know the colour of the sky.
The more you experience,
The less you know.
The sage wanders without knowing,
Sees without looking,
Accomplishes without acting
On 26 March 2020 Harrison’s son Dhani posted a new recording of ‘The Inner Light’ on The Beatles’ official YouTube channel.
It came with the announcement that George Harrison’s Material World Foundation was donating $500,000 to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, Save the Children, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) charities in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The foundation pledged to donate an additional $1, up to $100,000, for every fan performance of ‘The Inner Light’ posted on social media with the hashtag #innerlight2020. Celebrities taking part in the challenge included Jeff Lynne, Anoushka Shankar, Jools Holland, Mick Fleetwood, Jewell, and Moby.
These lyrics sung by George are a positive reminder to all of us who are isolating, quarantined or respecting the request to stay in our homes. Let’s get and stay connected at this difficult time. There are things we can do to help and we invite you to share your Inner Light.
In the studio
In 1967 George Harrison was invited by director Joe Massot to write a score for his film Wonderwall, starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowran. The soundtrack took three months to record, during which time Harrison recorded a number of instrumental pieces at EMI’s studio in Bombay, India.
Harrison flew out on 7 January 1968. The sessions for the Wonderwall Music album, which featured local musicians, lasted for five days, at the end of which Harrison produced a number of further ragas for possible use by The Beatles. The basic track of ‘The Inner Light’ was thus recorded on 12 January; take six became the basis of the released version.
The song was returned to back in Abbey Road on 6 February 1968, when Harrison recorded his lead vocals. He needed some encouragement from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to do this, as the song was above his usual range.
George had this big thing about not wanting to sing it because he didn’t feel confident that he could do the song justice. I remember Paul saying, ‘You must have a go, don’t worry about it, it’s good’.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
‘The Inner Light’ was completed with the addition of backing vocals from Lennon and McCartney, recorded quickly in the early afternoon of 8 February 1968.
The Beatles all regarded ‘The Inner Light’ highly, and it was released as the b-side of ‘Lady Madonna’ in March 1968 – the first time a song by George Harrison had appeared on a Beatles single.
An excerpt from the recording also appeared as a transition, alongside Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’, on the 2006 remix album Love.
Harrison’s debut solo album Wonderwall Music was reissued in September 2014 with three bonus tracks including an alternate instrumental take of ‘The Inner Light’.
In November 2018 the super deluxe 50th anniversary reissue of the White Album included the instrumental backing track of take six of ‘The Inner Light’.
The western music for Wonderwall was recorded in London featuring Clapton. On my record of Wonderwall I can hear occasional traffic sounds when I use my headphones. This song should have been a single with Across The Universe since both songs were worked on the same week and both songs contain Indian influences.
It’s brilliant song. I don’t know much about music industry or recording session. But listening to it feels like getting your soul cleaned. And it’s about Taoism. Guess what? I’m from China(well, I stay in China, never been abroad). Though I was not touched by the lyrics but the amazing automosphere it created in the first place. I was not primarily a Harrison fan, but he’s having me a bit more everyday.
And I love this site. I’ve been secretly hanging around here for nearly 1 year. It’s a great site, so much to explore. Thanks, Joe and every body.
In my opinion, even John or Paul didn’t write a melody as beautiful as George’s The Inner Light. It is SO Indian in style with its its pedal-tone chord and the melody gently rising and falling above (like a butterfly).
When released on CD (Past Masters Volume 1, 1988) it was given a new lease of life. The clarity of the recording brought out the beauty in George’s single-track vocal and the tabla playing on the track.
You can almost smell the incense.