Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Across the Universe"

"Across the Universe" is a song by the British rock band The Beatles. Written by John Lennon, and credited to Lennon/McCartney. The song first appeared on the charity album No One's Gonna Change Our World in December 1969, and later, in modified form, on their final album to be released, Let It Be.


One night in 1967, the phrase "words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" came to Lennon after hearing his then-wife Cynthia, according to Lennon, "going on and on about something". Later, after "she'd gone to sleep—and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream", Lennon went downstairs and it turned into a song. He began to write the rest of the lyrics and when he was done, he went to bed and forgot about them.

In the morning, Lennon found the paper on which he had written the lyrics and took them down to his piano, where he began to play chords, and find pitches to match the words. The flavor of the song was heavily influenced by Lennon's and The Beatles' interest in Transcendental Meditation in late 1967–early 1968, when the song was composed. Based on this he added the mantra Jai guru deva om to the piece, which became the link to the chorus. The Sanskrit phrase is a sentence fragment whose words could have many meanings, but roughly translate to "Victory to God divine","hail to the divine guru", or the phrase commonly invoked by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi "All Glory to Guru Deva" then the mystic syllable om, which is theoretically the cosmic sound of the universe and used by monks during meditation.

The song's lyrical structure is straightforward: three repetitions of a unit consisting of a verse, the line "Jai guru deva om" and the line "Nothing's gonna change my world" repeated four times. The lyrics are highly image-based, with abstract concepts reified with phrases like thoughts "meandering", words "slithering", and undying love "shining". The title phrase "across the universe" appears at intervals to finish lines, although it never cadences, always appearing as a rising figure, melodically unresolved.

In his 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon referred to the song as perhaps the best, most poetic lyric he ever wrote. He also expressed pride in the meter of the main verses, commenting on how unique it was to his compositions and how he could not duplicate it.

The recording and version history

In February 1968, The Beatles convened at the EMI Abbey Road studios to record a single for release during their absence on their forthcoming trip to India. Paul McCartney had written "Lady Madonna" and John, "Across the Universe". Both tracks were recorded along with Lennon's "Hey Bulldog" and the vocal track for George's "The Inner Light" between the 3rd and 11th of February.

Whilst the basic track was successfully recorded on February 4, Lennon wasn't satisfied with the feel of the track. Several innovations were tried, including blowing through comb onto paper and humming to add texture to the track, and the addition of a pedal guitar and tambora. In the end, according to Lennon, McCartney persuaded John to call in the services of Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, two of the so-called Apple scruffs (the female fans who collected outside the studio) to add harmony vocals. Lennon later cited what he considered the substandard recording of the song as evidence of McCartney's "subconscious sabotage" of his compositions. (citation needed)

The track was mixed to mono and put aside as the group had decided to release "Lady Madonna" and "The Inner Light" as the single. On their return from India the group set about recording the many songs they had written there, and "Across the Universe" remained on the shelf. In the autumn of 1968 The Beatles seriously considered releasing an EP including most of the songs for the Yellow Submarine album including "Across the Universe" and went as far as having the EP mastered. However, the recent trip to India had soured Lennon on transcendental meditation and eastern spiritualism, and the song's mantra-type refrain already seemed outdated. His White Album contributions had an angrier, harder edge, reflective of his renewed personal assertiveness (which had been submerged with his heavy LSD use) and the growing political and social turmoil of 1968.

During the February 1968 recording sessions, Spike Milligan dropped into the studio and on hearing the song suggested the track would be ideal for release on a charity album he was organising for the World Wildlife Fund. At some point in 1968 The Beatles agreed to this proposal, and the track was mixed into stereo for the first time by George Martin. The original mix (mono and stereo) is 3:37. For the 'wildlife' album it was deemed appropriate to add sound effects of birds at the beginning and end of the track. After the effects were added the track was sped up; so that even with 20 seconds of effects the track is only 3:49. The song was first released in this version on the Regal Starline SRS 5013 album No One's Gonna Change Our World, in December 1969.

Though never satisfied with the recording, Lennon was still attached to the song, and the group rehearsed it extensively during the Get Back/Let It Be album sessions of January 1969; footage of John playing the song appeared in the Let It Be movie. Bootleg recordings from the sessions include numerous full group performances of the song, usually with Lennon/McCartney harmonies on the chorus. To ensure the album tied in with the film it was decided the song must be included on what by January 1970 had become the Let It Be album. Also, Lennon's contributions to the sessions were sparse, and this unreleased piece was seen as a way to fill the gap.

In early January 1970 Glyn Johns remixed the February 1968 recording. The new mix eliminated the Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease vocals as well as the sound effects on the World Wildlife Fund version. As neither of the Glyn Johns Get Back albums were officially released, the version most people are familiar with came from Phil Spector, who in late March and early April 1970 remixed the February 1968 recording yet again and added orchestral and choral overdubs. Spector also slowed the track to 3:47, close to its original speed.

An unreleased February 1968 alternate take of the song (recorded before the master), sans heavy production, appeared on Anthology 2 in 1996. This is often referred to as the "psychedelic" recording, due to the strong Indian sitar and tanpura sound, and illustrates the band's original uncertainty over the best treatment for the song.

The February 1968 master was remixed again for inclusion on Let It Be... Naked in 2003, at the correct speed but stripped of most of the instrumentation.

Transmission into deep space

On February 4, 2008, at 00:00 UTC, NASA transmitted "Across The Universe" in the direction of the star Polaris, 431 light years from Earth. The transmission was made using a 70m antenna in the DSN's Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex, located outside of Madrid, Spain. It was done with an "X band" transmitter, radiating into the antenna at 18 kW.

This was done to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song's recording, the 45th anniversary of the Deep Space Network (DSN), and the 50th anniversary of NASA. The idea was hatched by Beatles historian Martin Lewis, who encouraged all Beatles fans to play the track as it was beamed to the distant star. The event marked the first time a piece of music had ever been intentionally transmitted into deep space, and was approved by Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and Apple Records. (The first musical interstellar message was "1st Theremin Concert to Aliens", section 2 of the Teen Age Message.)

Complete recording and mixing history

* 4 February 1968: Takes 1-7 Recorded. Overdub onto Take 7. Reduction into Take 8. Overdub onto Take 8. Sound Effects Takes 1-3.
* 8 February 1968: Overdub onto Take 8. Mono mixing from Take 8.
* 2 October 1969: Overdubs onto Take 8. Stereo mixing from Take 8. Version released on the album No One's Gonna Change Our World.
* 5 January 1970: Stereo mixing from Take 8. Version to have been released on the 5 January Get Back album.
* 23 March 1970: Stereo mixing from Take 8.
* 1 April 1970: Reduction into Take 9. Overdub onto Take 9.
* 2 April 1970: Stereo Mixing from take 9. Version released on the Let It Be album.


* John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Wah-Wah Electric Guitar
* Paul McCartney - Piano, Organ, Background Vocals (Past Masters Only)
* George Harrison - Sitar
* Ringo Starr - Marracas
* George Martin - Organ (Past Masters Only)
* Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Peese - Background Vocals (Past Masters Only)

Album: No One's Gonna Change Our World
Released: 12 December 1969
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, 4 February 1968
Genre: Psychedelic folk
Length: 3:49
Writer: Lennon/McCartney

Album: Let It Be
Released: 8 May 1970
Recorded: 4 February 1968
Genre: Psychedelic folk
Length: 3:49
Writer: Lennon/McCartney


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