Today the “Lady Madonna”/“The Inner Light” single was released in the UK (it would come out in the U.S. three days later). As the first new Beatles product of 1968, it could hardly help but shift a lot of units; but despite spending two weeks at #1 in Britain, it was the first Beatles single since “Eleanor Rigby” not to top the U.S. charts, peaking at #4.

Its relative lack of success may have had something to do with the fact that it was a throwback to the 1950s, something that would not become trendy until the mid-1970s. In the moment, it didn’t sound like the psychedelia that had been dominating youth culture of late (cover art notwithstanding), nor like the folkier type of thing that had characterized some recent releases and would influence the White Album. In a contemporary review, Melody Maker’s Chris Welch said, “Best bit is the piano intro, then you can have fun wondering why Paul sounds like Ringo … then go out and buy another record.”

Also, though I love “The Inner Light,” it makes for an incongruous combination. It might have made more sense to put out two singles, backing “Lady Madonna” with “Hey Bulldog” and combining “Across the Universe” and “The Inner Light.” But that would have required recording a version of “Across the Universe” that was more to John Lennon’s liking, which would have been difficult under current circumstances.

Truth is, the Beatles camp was in complete chaos, with no set plans for the future and the Apple Boutique continuing to hemorrhage cash left and right. In the wake of the Magical Mystery Tour fiasco, with Brian Epstein dead and everyone except Ringo off navel-gazing in Rishikesh, the future of the band must have seemed in doubt. And with nothing more in the pipeline after “Lady Madonna,” and no indication of when the three non–Ringos might return from India, I imagine that the suits at the record company were freaking out a little bit.

It’s enough to make you wonder, was Magic Alex — who would soon arrive at the ashram to start stirring up trouble — on the payroll of Parlophone and/or Capital? Well, it’s a theory — something to think about while we await new developments.

 

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