In the mid-1960s, The Beatles became one of the earliest pioneers of psychedelic music following their quest for spiritual enlightenment outside of hallucinogenic drugs. Their quest began with a trip to India following suggestions from George Harrison, who was particularly interested in eastern culture.
Beginning with their first visit to the country in 1966, their odyssey in India under the mentorship of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught them the powers of Hindu teachings and the benefits of transcendental meditation. Over this period, The Beatles brought eastern beliefs and values to the western culture, incorporating Indian influences into their music through the use of the sitar and lyrics inspired by Hindu incantations.
This spurred a prevailing change in rock music as it encouraged people to open their minds to new ideas not just in life but to new innovative and creative ideas in music. This period marked the beginning of psychedelic and experimental music in the mainstream; something that would encourage people to push creative boundaries and has undoubtedly had a singular impact on the burgeoning evolution of abstract art over the past fifty years.
The mid-to-late-‘60s has become one of the most important moments, not just for the Beatles, but for music history as a whole, with countless subsequent artists to this day having been inspired by their unrelenting creativity. However, it appears that some musicians have also been held back by The Beatles’ success during this time. As much as the Fab Four have inspired rock artists over the past 50 years, often artists have attempted to escape the domineering shadow of the Beatles by pushing the boundaries of rock music in their own way.
Slash of Guns N’ Roses once revealed that he fell victim to the cold of the Beatles’ shadow when he looked to use the sitar in some of his musical ideas. He explained that as much as he enjoyed using the instrument and loved its distinctive sound, he found himself avoiding it because the music would immediately sound like one of George Harrison’s sitar contributions.
Slash did use the sitar in ‘Spirit Love’ on his recent solo album, 4, but in an interview with Music Radar earlier this month, the guitarist admitted it was hard to avoid the Harrison comparison. “I laughed because, when you said George Harrison, that was the one thing I was trying for it not to sound like!” he told interviewer Jonathan Horsley. “It’s true, though! That’s what happens whenever you record sitar; it just becomes that cliche.”
He continued: “I think I got away with it this time. There are other times where it has come up. I have a real double-gourded sitar that I got from India but I can never use it because any time I have ever even attempted to record with it it just sounds so Ravi Shankar.”
Slash hoped his approach made the instrument sound differently enough. “I recorded the sitar through my Marshall, the same setting as my guitar, so it sounds like a sitar but it also sounds like a fucking monstrous sitar or something,” he explained.
Listen to Slash’s heavy-rock use of the sitar in ‘Spirit Love’ below.