John Lennon penned a catalogue of songs with and without The Beatles that live on decades after his premature death. It’s hard to picture a time when his words won’t continue to dominate popular culture, but despite the riches of musical material, it is one song that filled him with more pride than most.
The bespectacled Beatle spoke at length following the group’s demise, unequivocally sharing his honest thoughts about their arsenal of songs. He berated an enormous amount of tracks that the band produced, with large numbers written off by Lennon as “lousy” or “garbage”. Yet, his more fascinating comments come from when the singer spoke about the moments that filled him with immense pride.
Let It Be was a controversial way for The Beatles to end their supreme reign, and many thought that the album was too polished in comparison to other releases. One person who undoubtedly had that feeling was Lennon, who once opened about the difficulties they faced while creating it. He once admitted, “We were going through hell. We often do. It’s torture every time we produce anything,” he said, adding: “The Beatles haven’t got any magic you haven’t got. We suffer like hell anytime we make anything, and we got each other to contend with. Imagine working with The Beatles, it’s tough.”
However, not every track on the album was a source of anguish for Lennon, and the lyrics for ‘Across The Universe’ remained precious to him long after its creation. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1970, he said: “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it.”
He elaborated, “See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.”
Unfortunately, despite the superlatives that Lennon had to say about the lyrical content of ‘Across The Universe’, he felt as though The Beatles never did the song justice in the studio, and it didn’t come out the way that he initially envisaged, which would turn out to be a deep regret for the singer.
“It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it,” he told David Sheff a decade later in 1980. “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.”
Lennon was mentally checked out of The Beatles during the recording process and just wanted it all to be over. As he mentioned, the track had originally been shared to fans in 1968 as a charity release, and if it were up to him, ‘Across The Universe’ would never have made its way on Let It Be.
In fact, Lennon went as far as harshly claiming that Paul McCartney carried out an act of “subconscious sabotage” of the song during the same interview with Sheff. He said, “Paul would sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song usually, we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s songs; when it came to mine somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage.”
It seemed as though Lennon felt a sense of remorse over not standing his ground for the Let It Be version of ‘Across The Universe’ and letting his creative vision erode in exchange for an easier life. If you ask me, there was no need for him to lose sleep over the final recording of the track, but, then again, Lennon was his harshest critic.