The Beatles undertook a dramatic transformation over their ten years of existence, but the greatest changes began to occur in 1966 after visiting India to seek spiritual enlightenment outside of hallucinogenic chemicals.
Beginning with their first visit to the country in 1966, their spiritual quest in India under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught them the powers of Hindu values and the benefits of transcendental meditation. During 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.
It was around this time too that The Beatles’ music began to deviate more toward the avant-garde, with increasingly experimental compositions and subject matter blended into their songs. Revolver, released in 1966, seemed to mark this turning point for the Beatles with its psychedelic tendencies that dipped a toe in the bathtub of Sgt. Pepper and The Magical Mystery Tour.
Undoubtedly the most psychedelic and experimental track on the album was its closer, Tomorrow Never Knows. The track, penned by Lennon, opens with George Harrison’s India-inspired tambura intro before Lennon sings the opening lyrics: “Turn off your mind/Relax and float downstream/It is not dying”.
The busy, pioneering arrangement garnered its unique sound from Paul McCartney’s idea of recording multiple tape loops to phase in and out of the track while recording.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is widely admired as one of The Beatles’ greatest achievements in the studio as they skillfully traversed the fine line between accessibility and avant-garde. However, it seems that not everyone was particularly happy with the song.
In the 1968 book The Beatles: The Authorised Biography, which includes captions penned by the band members, Lennon addressed ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as a good idea that wasn’t executed quite how he would have liked.
“Often the backing I think of early on never comes off,” he explained. “With ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, I’d imagined in my head that in the background you would hear thousands of monks chanting. That was impractical of course, and we did something different.”
While chanting monks were impractical, the final product didn’t have that je ne sais quoi as far as Lennon was concerned, and he ultimately returned to his initial idea, but all too late. “It was a bit of a drag, and I didn’t really like it,” he continued. “I should have tried to get near my original idea, the monks singing. I realise now that that was what I wanted.”
Listen to The Beatles’ classic, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, below and try to imagine it with chanting monks, as Lennon would have wanted.