Famously, The Beatles were their own harshest critics. Over the years following the demise of the band in 1970, each member of the group was more than willing to give their thoughts on any chapter of their back catalogue. Whether it be John Lennon calling ‘It’s Only Love’ “abysmal” or Ringo Starr saying ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was the “worst track we ever had to record”, The Beatles were not afraid to tear into their work.
The critiques that The Beatles fired at their own creations also ranged in severity, and it seems that almost half their discography was picked apart by the band at different points. Another song that wasn’t safe from the firing line was a fan favourite from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This time, it was the ‘Quiet One’ George Harrison doing the critique.
The song in question is the raga inspired journey ‘Within You Without You’. A popular number given its deeply psychedelic and trippy feel, Harrison looked back on it with some regret during a 1979 interview with Rolling Stone’s Mick Brown. The admission came when he was asked whether the band were against him wanting to introduce the sitar into the band’s sound. “Not a lot, because at that time it was all experiments and stuff,” Harrison responded. “In fact, I think it was John who really urged me to play sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood,’ which was the first time we used it,” he added.
Harrison then explained that Paul McCartney had a slightly different opinion of the sitar. “Now, Paul has just asked me recently whether I’d written any more of those ‘Indian type of tunes,'” the beatle said. “He suddenly likes them now. But at the time, he wouldn’t play on them. ‘Within You Without You’ was just me and some Indian musicians in the studio by ourselves. It sounds a bit dopey now in retrospect, except the sitar solo’s good”.
Seemingly, Harrison’s thoughts on ‘Within You Without You’ would change over time. In a 1987 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Harrison revealed that he liked most of Sgt. Pepper’s first side and then labelled the track “the little Indian one” which “is really strange and unique”.
In Jann Wenner’s classic interview with John Lennon in 1970, Lennon said that ‘Within You Without You’ was the best thing Harrison had ever written. In David Sheff’s All We Are Saying, Lennon is quoted as saying: “(It’s) One of George’s best songs. One of my favourites of his, too. He’s clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent; he brought that sound together”.
Personally, I think ‘Within You Without You’ is one of the most interesting takes The Beatles ever recorded. Every time you revisit the number, there’s a different angle to the song that you find. It clearly reflects their commitment to artistic progression and personal enlightenment and its genius.
Listen to ‘Within You Without You’ below.