34 days into the new year, The Beatles finally held their first recording session of 1968. First up was Paul’s new tune, “Lady Madonna,” which would be released as a single in March. Later they did a couple takes of John’s “Across the Universe,” which would have a long and tortured history and never quite find a definitive form that pleased its author.

The Beatles Bible describes the recording of “Lady Madonna” thusly:

Three takes of the rhythm track were recorded in the afternoon session, with Paul McCartney on piano and Ringo Starr playing drums with brushes. In the evening a range of overdubs were added to take three: Rickenbacker bass guitar by McCartney, more drums by Starr, and fuzz guitars by John Lennon and George Harrison both fed through the same amplifier. These overdubs were recorded onto tracks two and three of the four-track tape.

McCartney then recorded the first of two lead vocal tracks, with harmony backing by Lennon and Harrison, onto track four. At the beginning of the overdub Harrison and Starr were captured munching on a bag of crisps.

As for “Across the Universe,” you can hear one of today’s takes on Beatles Anthology 2. This version is arguably better than the two that would be officially issued, one on a benefit album for the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain in 1968, another on Let It Be in 1970. It is more polished than the former and less overwrought than the latter, and distinctly more Indian-flavored than either.

It’s a bit odd that at this early stage “AtU” already includes the phrase “Jai Guru Dev,” although The Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh was still some weeks in the future. A reference to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s own spiritual master, Guru Dev, this was used in the Maharishi’s camp as more or less an equivalent to “aloha” — an all-purpose greeting and farewell. It’s likely that if John had written the song post-Rishikesh, when he was disillusioned with all things Maharishi, he would not have included it.

John was later heard to complain of “Across the Universe,”

The Beatles didn’t make a good record of it. I think subconsciously sometimes we – I say “we,” though I think Paul did it more than the rest of us; Paul would… sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song.

And it’s true that “AtU” always seems to hint at some possibility that no recording has ever 100% captured — neither the several extant Beatles versions nor the many covers, from David Bowie’s bombastic reading to Cilla Black’s chirpy acoustic take. (Others who have recorded it include Roger Waters, Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, and… um… Scorpions? Yes, it’s true. And their cover may be the best of the bunch. Weird.)

Maybe one of these days some genius will come along and rectify that. Until then, we will have to make do.

0 0 votes
Article Rating