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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Across the Universe

Like a few other songs released at the end of the Beatles' career, this much-loved composition by Lennon has a long and complex history.  It merits its own entry here due to its unique first release a few months after the single Something/Come Together.

Across the Universe was recorded in February of 1968 at the sessions specifically designated to create a single which would be released while the group was in India.  Lennon was unhappy with the recording of his song and pulled it from consideration; the ensuing single thus became Lady Madonna b/w The Inner Light.  But what, exactly, was wrong with the recording?  John simply felt that it never quite achieved what he was hearing (but could somehow not communicate to the group) in his head.

Anthology 2 presents take two, which has become my favorite version.  John is still learning how to sing the song, with its tricky meter and breathing patterns.  George plays what sounds like an autoharp, but is probably the high end of the strings on his sitar.  The take is more ethereal than any that followed, suiting the lyrics perfectly in my opinion.  The basic track of the master, take seven, is not significantly different, but overdubs changed the recording in a number of ways.  John and Paul decided that high female harmonies would be a good idea, so Paul went outside and brought in two of the always-present Apple Scruffs to sing on the track.  Thus, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease found their way into Beatles lore.  John, Paul and George added backing vocals and John played a tone pedal guitar part, completing the track.

The song almost surfaced a year later, when plans to release a Yellow Submarine EP with Across the Universe as a bonus track were briefly considered.  At some point, the group agreed to donate the song to a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund.  When the release date for that album was imminent, producer George Martin added bird sound effects to the beginning and end of the track, and for some reason, he decided to speed up the entire recording by a semi-tone.  Other acts, including the Bee Gees, the Hollies and Cilla Black were represented on the collection, but landing the Beatles was such a coup that the album was titled No One's Gonna Change Our World, slightly altering the lyrics of Lennon's refrain.  It was released on December 12th, 1969.

Less than a month later, producer Glyn Johns was in the studio creating a different version out of the same master recording.  The plan for a Get Back album had not died, especially since the documentary film of those January '69 sessions was nearing completion.  In that film, John was seen playing Across the Universe, so it would have to appear on the accompanying album, but there was no proper recording of the song as it was performed in the film.  Glyn Johns returned to the master and eliminated the Beatles' backing vocals, almost (but not completely) removed the female harmonies, and presented the song at its original tempo.  His work went unused, however, as the Beatles once again rejected his proposed Get Back album.   

The World Wildlife Fund version of the song later appeared on both the UK and US versions of the  compilation Rarities.  One more version of the song would be created before the group officially disbanded. 

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