When The Beatles crossed paths with the psychedelic and mind-expanding drug LSD, the world wasn’t quite ready. The drug had become a fashionable party piece during the mid-sixties and when John Lennon and George Harrison took their first hit under the tutelage of the ‘Demon Dentist’ John Riley who, apparently, ‘dosed’ the two Beatles during a night on the tiles in 1965. Many people will point to the huge effect it had on the band most effectively when revisiting both the albums Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.
While the latter was Paul McCartney’s experience with the drug and the former more tightly associated with John Lennon, it was George Harrison who took on the affectations of acid most sincerely and soon found further spiritual connection after taking the hallucinogenic had opened his mind to a new world. “Having LSD was like someone catapulting me out into space,” the songwriter said, “The LSD experience was the biggest experience that I’d had up until that time.” Lennon and McCartney turned their attention to the music after their experience while Harrison turned his focus inwards.
After his experience with the drug, he continued to pursue his fascination with Eastern philosophies and encouraged the rest of the band to join him in a Transcendental Meditation course under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s guidance. He seemed intent on aligning himself with the new world he could now see more clearly, a world without the trappings of modern life or the weight of the ego. It was a viewpoint which would expand Harrison’s mind and open up his songwriting avenues. There was one song which saw the two intertwine most effectively, the brilliant ‘I, Me, Mine’.
The track has become synonymous with The Beatles iconography, least of all because it was the final song the group ever recorded, but because it did a grand job of letting Harrison eviscerate not only his own band but his bandmates’ fascination with themselves. Written at the end of 1968, Harrison originally brought the song to the Twickenham Studios in January 1969 as the group were filming for the failed Let It Be project saying, “‘I, Me, Mine’, it’s called. I don’t care if you don’t want it… It’s a heavy waltz.”
He and Ringo Starr put down something very raw before asking Paul McCartney to join in as the trio performed and Lennon and Yoko Ono danced away. By the time it was finished in 1970, so was the band. The song, therefore, remains a key piece of the puzzle as to figuring out the demise of The Beatles, it just so happens that the song is about the bandmates growing egos.
“Suddenly I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego,” Harrison said in his autobiography in 1980. He continued, sharing his distaste for the growing need to please oneself, “like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am’. It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego, it was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked.”
Never one to be dictated to, Harrison added: “But later, I learned from it, to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. Who am ‘I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came out of it, ‘I, Me, Mine’.” The song also contains some of Harrison’s key advice for living too, “The truth within us has to be realised. When you realise that, everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is, and can answer the question ‘Who am I?’”
The material was originally considered a mere filler piece but has since become one of the most beloved songs of The Beatles back catalogue. As Harrison succinctly describes it in Beatles Anthology, “‘I, Me, Mine’ is the ego problem. There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘i’ when people say ‘I am this’; and the big ‘I’ – ie duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling.”
It’s likely that with Harrison’s disposition for knowledge and his dislike of confinement, that Harrison may well have written a similar song without the use of drugs. But there’s no denying that while Lennon and McCartney were both cosmetically affected by the experience, it was George Harrison who used LSD to open his mind.