Story of the Song: Across the Universe by The Beatles in 1968 and Beady Eye in 2011

Robert Webb
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:31

Beady Eye's choice of song for their charity release in support of the Japanese disaster relief effort is more than appropriate.

Written by John Lennon and recorded by The Beatles in February 1968, "Across the Universe" was the original pop fund-raiser. Lennon originally pitched the song, which some heard as meandering and platitudinous, as the next Beatles' single, but lost out to an unsympathetic Paul McCartney and the pummelling "Lady Madonna". Instead it was donated to the World Wildlife Fund, at Spike Milligan's behest, for the 1969 charity album 'No One's Gonna Change Our World'. The spiritual strumalong nestled awkwardly amid comedy rousers by Bruce Forsyth and Rolf Harris.

The lyrics came to Lennon as he lay awake one night in 1967, after arguing with Cynthia Lennon. "It drove me out of bed," he said, recalling how he threw back the sheets to commit a rough draft to paper. "I didn't want to write it. I was just slightly irritable and couldn't get to sleep." The song found its proper shape following Lennon's sojourn with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and was finally given official Beatles release two years later on 'Let It Be', where it sat just as uncomfortably as it had on the WWF compilation. In the hands of producer Phil Spector, Lennon's woozy, wordy lullaby was stretched and smothered in strings. Many hated it, McCartney included, although it resurfaced on The Beatles' "Blue Album", 1967-70 in 1973. An early take closed 'Anthology 2' in 1996 and the original mix was exhumed for McCartney's 2003 revisionist 'Let It Be... Naked'.

It's been covered by many, including Rufus Wainwright and Laibach, and also helped inspire Pink Floyd's 1971 track "Echoes" (whose lyrics can happily be sung to the melody of "Across the Universe" – Roger Waters even tweaked Lennon's line "exciting and inviting me" to "inviting and inciting me"). David Bowie cut a blue-eyed Seventies soul take for 1975 album 'Young Americans', with Lennon on backing vocals and guitar. The former Beatle loved it. "I'd never done a good version of that song myself," Lennon later said of his collaboration. "It's one of my favourite songs, but I didn't like my version of it." Bowie reckoned he "hammered the hell" out of it: "I think I sing very well at the end of it."

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