The Beatles in India

Whenever you feel like cribbing over the dead music scene in India. Or whenever you feel that the real sense of spirituality that India is known for doesn’t exist. Consider this.

One of your favourite bands, The Beatles, came to India in search of enlightenment to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation training session at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram. Also, do you know this is said to be one of the band’s most productive periods. They came in February 1968 and joined a group of 60 people attending a training session on being TM teachers. This is one of those things that defined and changed the western world’s perception and attitude towards Indian spirituality and encouraged more travellers and artists to come to this part of the world. Now, when you come to think of this, the Beatles played a huge hand in getting India and the western world closer to each other, along with their ways, arts, culture and other influences.

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While The Beatles were here, they wrote a lot of music wherein John Lennon, Paul Mcartney and Harrison wrote a number of songs and Ringo Starr finished his first. “The White Album”, one of The Beatles’ best albums had eighteen songs out of these written here in India. “Abbey Road” featured two and the rest were used for various solo projects.

So much for the ‘No country for artists’ label, huh?
What was supposed to be a ten day session was cut short by the death of Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager. With the desire to learn more, they did not lose touch with the Maharishi and kept in touch. They arranged to stay and spend some time at his teaching centre located near Rishikesh, in the Himalayan foothills.

The Experience
Your experiences and events that happen in your life are the biggest factors in influencing your music. If you’re a musician or an artist, you might have gone through this. This is why as we grow up, our tastes change and grow, our playing style not only improves, but changes and evolves. In short words, we change directions and morph according to different experiences. This is the beauty of music. A lot of people are inclined towards the idea that The Beatles’ experience in India influenced their music largely and gave it an ethereal direction.

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At the training session, in the period of time The Beatles stayed at the ashram, they met a lot of new people. They were there with their wives and girlfriends. They also met the Scottish singer and songwriter, Donovan. Donovan taught Lennon a new technique of fingerpicking. Lennon then passed it on to Harrison. This technique was then implemented on “Julia” and “Dear Prudence”, which defined the sound of these songs. “Dear Prudence” was composed to lure Prudence Farrow out of her intense meditative state. Lennon later said: “She’d been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anyone else”. As I said, the stay at the ashram turned out to be the band’s one of the most musically happening periods. According to Lennon, he wrote some of his “most miserable” and some of his “best songs” while he was in Rishikesh. Lennon and Mcartney spent most of the time composing rather than meditating and Starr also wrote his first composition called “Don’t Pass Me By”.

Lennon said: “We wrote about thirty new songs between us. Paul must have done about a dozen. George says he’s got six, and I wrote fifteen”. Most of the songs became part of the album The Beatles (aka “the White Album”), while others were included in Abbey Road, and other solo albums by the members. It is highly noticeable how a lot of the song heavily included Eastern musical influences.

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If you’re wondering what songs were written in India by the Beatles, collectively and individually, here’s a compilation.

Recorded for The Beatles:

Back in the U.S.S.R.
Blackbird
Cry Baby Cry
Dear Prudence, which was titled after Prudence Farrow, who would not “come out and play”
Don’t Pass Me By, which was written by Starr
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
I Will
I’m So Tired
Julia
Long, Long, Long
Mother Nature’s Son, which was inspired by one of Maharishi’s lectures
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Revolution
Rocky Raccoon, co-written with Donovan and inspired by Bob Dylan’s new album John Wesley Harding, that they heard for the first time at Rishikesh
Sexy Sadie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill which is based on the son of an American student who went tiger hunting
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
This was based on two monkeys mating on the road. So much for inspiration.
Wild Honey Pie
Yer Blues

Recorded for Abbey Road:
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam

Recorded for solo records and others:
Child of Nature, which was reworked as “Jealous Guy” for Lennon’s Imagine.
Circles, on Gone Troppo in 1982.
Cosmically Conscious, on Off the Ground in 1993.
Dehradun, Harrison’s song which was never released.
Junk
Look at Me, on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in 1970.
Not Guilty, on George Harrison in 1979.
The Rishikesh Song, which is also called “The Happy Rishikesh Song” but was never released.
Sour Milk Sea, which was performed by Jackie Lomax and released on a single.
Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love. This was recorded on tape at Rishikesh.
Teddy Boy, written on McCartney in 1970.
What’s the New Mary Jane, officially released on the 1996 compilation Anthology 3.

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