ed. note: This post was originally written for WNCX.com and published on 6.3.11. Killer.
The Beatles‘ landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turned 44 this week. Released on June 1, 1967, the album was highly regarded, winning four Grammy awards and reaching Diamond certification by the RIAA (over 10 million units sold).
When most think of this album, one quickly thinks of the title track and opening song on the album, one of the Beatles’ most popular. Flip the record over, however, and the first song on side two sticks out to the listener as a bit of an oddity. Inspired by Indian classical music and composed and written by George Harrison, “Within You, Without You” began as a mind-boggling 30-minute opus and was whittled down to the five minutes that appear on the album.
What makes the song even more unusual was the fact that Harrison is the only Beatle to appear on the track, providing vocals to go with his tambura and sitar playing. Harrison reportedly wrote his musical arrangement in Indian script so that the Indian musicians that played the song on the album could do so without a problem. A host of violins and cello round out the atmospheric feel of the song, one thatJohn Lennon later proclaimed in later interviews “one of George’s best.”
Harrison was originally introduced to Indian classical music by David Crosby of The Byrds during the Beatles’ American tour in the summer of ’65. A fascination with the sitar eventually blossomed into an embrace of Indian culture as well as its dominant religion, Hinduism. Harrison came to master the sitar through practice and friendship with the legendary Indian sitarist, Ravi Shankar. Shankar is often credited for bringing Indian music to the western world, a feat that might not have been as pronounced had it not been for his friendship with Harrison and the Beatles.
Despite the album’s far-reaching successes, not all who listened initially liked what they heard. In particular, The New York Times music critic Richard Goldstein felt that the album “reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, and a 41-piece orchestra,” adding that it was an “album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent.” Perhaps he felt there were a few too many violins on “Within You, Without You”? Whatever the case may have been, there was no stopping the album from becoming a success, no matter what any myopic music critic could pen to paper.
George Harrison may have died in 2001, but his spirit lives on in the insightful music that he left behind. So on this, the 44th year after the release of Sgt. Pepper, give the album a listen, and celebrate rock history!