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This was one of the more frustrating episodes in The Beatles’ recording career — worse, in its way, than the “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” debacle. Over the course of two days they attempted 99 takes of George’s song “Not Guilty” (most of them incomplete, but still), which in the end would be cut from the album and remain unreleased. It’s a bit of a tragedy, really — a song with great potential that was poisoned by infighting and general apathy.

According to yon Wikipedia, George wrote “Not Guilty”

following the Beatles’ Transcendental Meditation course in Rishikesh, India. As the Beatle who had been most interested in [the Maharishi’s] course, Harrison felt responsible for his bandmates’ experience there. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney had each left the ashram early and returned to England, while Harrison and John Lennon stayed on, only to then depart hurriedly after hearing of alleged impropriety between the Maharishi and a female student. In an interview with Billboard editor Timothy White in 1999, Harrison referred to “the grief I was catching” from Lennon and McCartney post-India, and explained the message behind the song: “I said I wasn’t guilty of getting in the way of their career. I said I wasn’t guilty of leading them astray in our going to Rishikesh to see the Maharishi. I was sticking up for myself …”

The words are as follows:

Not guilty
For getting in your way
While you’re trying to steal the day.

Not guilty
And I’m not here for the rest,
I’m not trying to steal your vest.
I am not trying to be smart,
I only want what I can get.
I’m really sorry for your aging head.
But like you heard me said:
Not guilty.

No use handing me a writ
While I’m trying to do my bit.
I don’t expect to take your heart.
I only want what I can get.
I’m really sorry that you’re underfed.
But like you heard me said:
Not guilty.

Not guilty
For looking like a freak,
Making friends with every Sikh.
Not guilty
For leading you astray
On the road to Mandalay.
I won’t upset the apple cart.
I only want what I can get.
I’m really sorry that you’ve been misled.
But like you heard me said:
Not guilty.

The references probably would have gone over the heads of most listeners, but Paul and John knew exactly what he was saying. That may be why they showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for “Not Guilty,” even more than most George songs. But George was not to be deterred; he flogged the band through take after take after take, perhaps by way of attaining a measure of revenge.

In a different universe, “Not Guilty” could have been a winner. It had a solid melody and a breezy charm that belied the hostility underneath. At the time of the Esher demos back in May, it had sounded like this:

At the time George referred to it as “a jazz number … that would make a good rocker.” Unfortunately, when it came time to record for real, he did not choose to go in either of those directions. The only example of the studio version in circulation is the one that appeared on Anthology 3 in 1996. This is not exactly what “Not Guilty” would have sounded like if it had appeared on the White Album; it is an edit created by Geoff Emerick, who apparently cut out major parts of the song. Various critics have called it a “bastardization,” “mangled,” and guilty of “superfluous edits.” But at the moment it’s all we have to go by.

Listening to it, you can hear why “Not Guilty” didn’t make the album. It’s got a bunch of good ideas, but the performance drags. In the end even George had to admit that it was not up to snuff, and John and Paul were all too happy to see it shelved.

In 1979 George recorded this super-mellow version:

By then the issues that had inspired it were long in the past, and George was not guilty of anything but needing material for his next record. And that’s the end of the “Not Guilty” saga — at least until the track listing for the 50th anniversary White Album rerelease is announced. Stay tuned.