‘Within You Without You’ was composed on a harmonium following a dinner party at the London home of Klaus Voorman, the German artist and musician whom The Beatles first met in Hamburg. Written by George Harrison, it was the only non Lennon–McCartney song on the Sgt Pepper album.
The song was Harrison’s second full-blown Indian recording, after Revolver’s ‘Love You To’. Although regarded by some as a dull interlude in the otherwise masterful Sgt Pepper, ‘Within You Without You’ encapsulated the exploration of spiritual themes that had become popular in 1967’s Summer of Love.
Clear references to the counterculture (‘Are you one of them?’) and the LSD-related ego death (‘And to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you’) can be found amid the more other-worldly exploration of spiritual philosophy and religious teachings.
The laughter at the end of the track was Harrison’s idea. While some listeners initially thought it was the sound of the other Beatles mocking his songwriting effort, it was in fact meant to lighten the mood after five minutes of sad, almost mournful, music.
‘Within You Without You’ came about after I had spent a bit of time in India and fallen under the spell of the country and its music. I had brought back a lot of instruments. It was written at Klaus Voormann’s house in Hampstead after dinner one night. The song came to me when I was playing a pedal harmonium.
I’d also spent a lot of time with Ravi Shankar, trying to figure out how to sit and hold the sitar, and how to play it. ‘Within You Without You’ was a song that I wrote based upon a piece of music of Ravi’s that he’d recorded for All-India Radio. It was a very long piece – maybe 30 or 40 minutes – and was written in different parts, with a progression in each. I wrote a mini version of it, using sounds similar to those I’d discovered in his piece. I recorded in three segments and spliced them together later.
The Anthology 2 album, released in 1996, featured an instrumental version of ‘Within You Without You’ slowed down to its original key and speed. The song also featured on the 2006 remix album Love, in which it was blended to the rhythm track of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
One of George’s best songs. One of my favourites of his, too. He’s clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent; he brought that sound together.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In the studio
George Harrison was the only Beatle present during the recording of ‘Within You Without You’. He and Neil Aspinall played tamburas while Indian musicians performed traditional instruments.
Recording began on 15 March 1967. Initially it had the working title Untitled, and on the first day just one take of the basic track was taped. Although Harrison claimed that the song was recorded in three parts and later edited together, it was in fact taped as one, initially lasting six minutes and 25 seconds.
The Indian musicians were recruited from the Asian Music Circle in Finchley, north London. They were Anna Joshi and Amrit Gajjar on dilruba, Buddhadev Kansara on tamboura, and tabla player Amiya Dasgupta. Another two dilruba parts were overdubbed on 22 March.
On 3 April – the final day of recording for Sgt Pepper, apart from the album’s run-out groove gibberish taped on 21 April – George Martin conducted eight violinists and three cellists playing a score written to Harrison’s suggestions.
That evening Harrison also recorded his lead vocals, a sitar part and some acoustic guitar, and ‘Within You Without You’ was complete. The final mixes of the three parts were edited together on 4 April 1967.