Follow by Email

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lady Madonna b/w The Inner Light

As 1968 began, with the failure of the Magical Mystery Tour film still fresh in their minds and their fledgling company Apple to run, the Beatles unexpectedly decided to go to India for ten weeks to study transcendental meditation.  Back in August of '67, the group had cut short a retreat in Bangor, Wales with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when they received news of manager Brian Epstein's death, but the guru had extracted a promise from them before their departure.  Thus, the trip to India.

They knew from past experience, however, that they could not afford to disappear from the record-buying public for too long a spell, so they convened at Abbey Road Studios on February 3rd for the express purpose of recording a single which could be released during their absence.  John, Paul and George each had a composition to be recorded, but after a few days of work, John was unhappy with the recording of his song Across the Universe and withdrew it from consideration, relegating it to the vault among the few other unreleased Beatles recordings.

Lady Madonna - After a year of psychedelic recordings, the Beatles return to good old rock 'n roll with this piano boogie number, and it is interesting to note that it is not Lennon leading the way - rather, it is McCartney.  The basic track was simply Paul on piano and Ringo on drums, using brushes for a change.  After overdubbing the usual instruments, as well as a second piano part and drums played with sticks, Paul added his fabulous Elvis/Fats Domino lead vocal.  Four saxophones were eventually added to the mix, but for the instrumental break, a sax solo sits alongside backing vocals by Paul, John and George in which they cupped their hands around their mouths in order to sound like horns.

The lyrics are quite astonishing.  The Beatles were not exactly feminists at this stage in their lives - far from it, in fact - yet here is Paul celebrating single motherhood.  In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley also points out the nursery rhyme aspect of the song.  The overall analogy is to The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, but we also have the "See how they run" reference to the farmer's wife from Three Blind Mice.  And, of course, the days of the week lists play right into that childlike quality.  Aretha Franklin did an excellent cover version of this for the title song of the American sitcom Grace Under Fire in the 1990s.

The Inner Light - This is Harrison's first song to make it onto a single by the Beatles.  Early in the group's career, he had had a few lead vocals on singles in the US, and other countries, no doubt, but not until 1968 did he get this one on the official catalog as released in the UK.  This is the third and final Indian number that he recorded during his time with the group.  He had been approached in late '67 to compose the soundtrack for a film called Wonderwall (and I honestly do not know of anyone who has actually seen the film), so he traveled to EMI's studios in Bombay in January '68 to enlist several Indian musicians to play the themes he had written.  They worked so quickly and efficiently that he had time left over to record a few ragas for possible future use by the Beatles. 

Back in England less than a month later, he added lyrics and a vocal line to one of these ragas and came up with this song, with the lyrics based on a version of the Tao Te Ching.  For some reason, he was quite nervous when it came time to record his vocal, but according to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Paul urged him on.  John and Paul added harmony vocals for the final line, thus making it a true Beatles recording.

When the single was released in mid-March, it went to number one in the UK, but peaked at number four in the US.  Lady Madonna later appeared on the US compilation album Hey Jude in early 1970.  The Inner Light was only available as this B-side during the group's career.  It did not appear on an album until 1979 on the UK release Rarities, and in 1980 on the US version of Rarities.

This was the last record to be issued by the group on the Parlophone label in the UK and the Capitol label in the US.  By the time of the next release in the summer of 1968, the Beatles had their own label.

No comments:

Post a Comment