Song facts: Across the Universe

John Lennon was inspired to write the song after he felt he was being perpetually nagged by his wife Cynthia, one night in 1967. As Cynthia was telling him the same thing over and over, he came up with the lyrics, words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.

After Cynthia went to bed, Lennon proceeded downstairs to write his new song. He added some more lyrics on paper but the following morning completely forgot about them.

"I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she'd gone to sleep and I'd kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a 'Why are you always mouthing off at me?' or whatever, right? 
But the words stand, luckily, by themselves. They were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don't own it, you know; it came through like that. I don't know where it came from, what meter it's in, and I've sat down and looked at it and said, 'Can I write another one with this meter?' It's so interesting: 'Words are flying [sic] out like [sings] endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.' Such an extraordinary meter and I can never repeat it! It's not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn't want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn't get to sleep until I put it on paper, and then I went to sleep.
It's like being possessed; like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won't let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you're allowed to sleep. That's always in the middle of the bloody night, when you're half awake or tired and your critical facilities are switched off." - John Lennon
 John Lennon 1968. 

John Lennon 1968. 

 The Beatles recording Across the Universe at Abbey Road, February 4th 1968.

The Beatles recording Across the Universe at Abbey Road, February 4th 1968.

Recording

On February 4th 1968, two days after recording Lady Madonna, The Beatles recorded John Lennon's masterpiece. At this session the band worked out the basic track along with acoustic guitar, percussion and tambura. Two teenage fans, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease were invited from off the street to provide backing vocals. 

"There was a whole crowd of girls outside and Paul went out to find a couple of suitable ones. They were so excited. They couldn't believe they'd actually been invited by Paul not just inside the building but into the studio itself, to sing with The Beatles." - Martin Benge, engineer

Lennon wasn't happy with the feel of track, so several sound effects were added, including: humming, a harp-like sound and guitar. None of these were included in the final mix. The song was mixed to mono and as the band were due to travel to India they put it aside for the time being.

Even after The Beatles returned from India they had so many new songs to record that Across the Universe was still kept on the shelf. 

World Wildlife Fund version

 No One's Gonna Change Our World, 1969. 

No One's Gonna Change Our World, 1969. 

During the February recording sessions comedian Spike Milligan visited The Beatles in studio. Upon hearing Across the Universe he thought the song would be ideal for release on a charity album he was working on for the World Wildlife Fund. 

The Beatles later agreed to Milligan's proposal and in January of 1969, the best mono mix was chosen and remixed for Milligan's charity album. 

This version was released on No One's a Gonna Change Our World on December 12th 1969, and also appears on the Past Masters and Mono Masters singles albums.

Let It Be version

During the Let It Be sessions in January of 1969 The Beatles began working on the song again - John Lennon can be seen performing the song in the Let It Be documentary film. The band decided it should be released on their forthcoming Let It Be album.

When Phil Spector was enlisted to produce Let It Be in 1970, he went back to the February 1968 recording of Across the Universeremixed it and added orchestral and choral overdubs to the track. Spector also slowed the track down to near its original speed. 

Other versions

An alternative take from the February 1968 sessions was released on The Beatles' Anthology 2 album in 1996. This version contains a more prominent Indian feel with sitar and tambura.

A further remix of the 1968 recording took place at Abbey Road for the release of The Beatles' Let It Be... Naked album in 2003. The Naked version stripped out most of the instrumentation.  

"It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don't have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them." - John Lennon

Personnel

 No One's Gonna Change Our World/Past Masters version

  • John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar, electric Leslie-speaker guitar
  • Paul McCartney – piano
  • George Harrison – tambura, electric guitar
  • Ringo Starr – maracas, drums
  • Lizzie Bravo – backing vocals
  • Gayleen Pease – backing vocals

Let It Be version

  • John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar
  • George Harrison – tambura, sitar
  • Ringo Starr – maracas
  • Uncredited – strings and choir

Let It Be... Naked version

  • John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar, electric Leslie-speaker guitar
  • George Harrison - tambura

Production

  • George Martin – Hammond organ, producer (original 1968 version)
  • Phil Spector – producer (1970 version)
  • Ken Scott, Martin Benge – engineers (original 1968 version)
  • Jeff Jarratt – remix engineer (1969 No One's Gonna Change Our World version)
  • Peter Bown, Mike Sheady – recording & remix engineers (1970 Let It Be version)
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