The Beatles’ trip to India was a huge piece of news back in 1968. The Fab Four were at the height of their powers and making their way to such an exotic and comparatively unchartered location, which was more than enough to keep the world captivated. While the focus of their trip was to gain some inward perspective while studying transcendental meditation under the tutelage of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the retreat also offered the band an opportunity to write some songs—and boy did they.
Having completed Sgt. Pepper and in need of some respite or, at the very least, a little perspective, the group headed to India’s beautiful Rishikesh. Their movements towards the retreat came after their denunciation of drugs in favour of transcendental meditation and were largely pushed forward by George Harrison who, besotted by India, helped to bring its traditions into the Western consciousness. The fact that it provided The Beatles with one of the most fruitful songwriting periods of their careers is just an added extra.
The Beatles had first brought Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to the attention of the British public when they attended a seminar of his in Bagnor, Wales in 1967. It was a huge event that saw The Beatles time cut short following the tragic death of their manager and friend Brian Epstein. After completing the film Magical Mystery Tour, the group gathered and were intent on making their way to India to take part in the new age TM courses.
Harrison and John Lennon, in particular, were huge fans of the meditation practice and became spokesmen for the Maharishi’s Spiritual Regeneration Movement and, in turn, gave the guru a huge dose of fame as he quickly became aligned with the biggest band on the planet. The band members arrived in India around mid-February in 1968 along with their wives, girlfriends, assistants, friends and reporters. It was a free-love free-for-all.
As well as the Fab Four, there were around 60 other people training to be TM teachers as well as Beach Boys Mike Love, Donovan, Mia Farrow and many more. As with every spiritual teaching, each member of the group enjoyed the course in their own way. Ringo was comfortable enough to leave on March 1st after only ten days while McCartney left to follow-up on some business dealings later that month. Harrison and Lennon only left on April 12th after accusations about the guru’s sexual misconduct began to swirl.
It was also the place where The Beatles, every single member of the band, found their songwriting knack. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and even Ringo Starr all created songs while out in India. In fact, many of the songs would end up on the following albums The White Album and Abbey Road, with some even making it to the bandmates solo records.
From The White Album, a bunch of classics were written in the hills of northern India, From big hitters like ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ and ‘Blackbird’ to the wild and wonderful ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In fact, one of the most interesting songs on the album, ‘Dear Prudence’, was written by Harrison and Lennon while they were trying to calm down Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence. Lennon and Harrison had become close with Prudence after she revealed that she had come to India following a traumatic experience with LSD, they were even assigned as her “team buddies” by the Maharishi. It was a responsibility the duo took very seriously and when they were asked to coax Prudence out of her room and partake in the group’s activities.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Donovan was also present at the retreat and remembered in a later Mojo article that “we were diving deep inside ourselves, not just for 20 minutes in the morning and the evening, but we had days of it… deep exploration of the deep psyche… So Prudence was in deep, and this [song] was John’s way of saying, ‘Are you OK in there?’” There was also the song Lennon wrote when he was “feeling suicidal” and “trying to reach God”, ‘Yer Blues’ which would become a Beatles classic.
In fact, most of The White Album was written while in India with a few of Lennon’s more throwaway songs like ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ and ‘Polythene Pam’ were later featured on the 1969 classic album Abbey Road but perhaps the most interesting is the songs which would eventually end up on the group’s solo albums after The Beatles split up.
There was a song called ‘Child of Nature’ which would end up becoming not only a classic track on Lennon’s solo album Imagine but a defining anthem about the man himself when it was re-worked into ‘Jealous Guy’. Equally, McCartney’s ‘Teddy Boy’ is also a piece that was born in the hills of India.
The period of songwriting is undoubtedly one of the band’s most fruitful and the bloew playlist, compiled from the complete list of released songs written while is Rishikesh, is simply perfect.
Every song The Beatles wrote in India:
Released on The White Album
‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’
‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’
‘Cry Baby Cry’
‘Don’t Pass Me By’
‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey’
‘I’m So Tired’
‘Long, Long, Long’
‘Mother Nature’s Son’
‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?’
‘Wild Honey Pie’
Released on Abbey Road:
‘Mean Mr. Mustard’
Released on solo albums:
‘Child of Nature’ on Imagine
‘Circles’ on Gone Troppo
‘Cosmically Conscious’ on Off the Ground: The Complete Works