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The Beatles song David Bowie thought was "fabulous" but he needed to "hammer the hell out of it"


The Beatles are obviously one of, if not the most influential band in modern music history. Their music has made the state of rock and pop music what it is today, and their ability to reach such a wide audience will go down in history for generations. Some of these same things can be said of iconic singer, songwriter, musician, and artist David Bowie.

John Lennon and David Bowie first met one another in 1974 at a party thrown by the actress Elizabeth Taylor. Bowie describes, “We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. I think we were polite with each other, in that kind of older-younger way. Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.” Later the duo would work on Bowie’s classic song ‘Fame’ but by 1975, Bowie had recorded a version of the Beatles’ ‘Across The Universe’ with John Lennon for the Young Americans album.

However, this doesn’t mean things were entirely perfect from the jump. Whenever an artist takes on a new song, it’s expected that they will make a few shifts to it in order to make it suit their style even if it is the Beatles. Given Bowie’s desire to make everything shine in his image, he was always destined to change the make-up of the track.

Bowie said of the song,” ‘Across The Universe’… was a flower power sort of thing John Lennon wrote. I always thought it was fabulous, but very watery in the original, and I hammered the hell out of it. Not many people like it. I like it a lot and I think I sing very well at end of it. People say I used John Lennon on the track… but let me tell you… no one uses John Lennon. John just came and played on it. He was lovely.”

This certainly isn’t a criticism of Lennon or ‘Across the Universe’, clearly. He called the song fabulous and worked closely with Lennon for his adaptation. This may have even been welcome on a number of accounts, considering that John Lennon wasn’t too happy with the original recording of the song in 1968. “It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as the Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ’cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.”

The track also came from a pretty bleak time in Lennon’s life, when he was struggling within the confines of his first marriage. The singer was enduring a particularly tough night when, miraculously, these lyrics emerged: “I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream,” he told David Sheff in 1980.

Regardless, there’s something special in hearing both versions of the song. It seems that David Bowie is among the few who could deliver on a satisfying Beatles cover—a fact that is most certainly thanks to his friendship and understanding of the iconic Beatle.

If you want to take a listen to David Bowie’s version of ‘Across the Universe’, you can hear it down below.