The Beatles song George Martin called “not commercial by any means”

News The Beatles song George Martin called “not commercial by any means”

For the first half of The Beatles’ career, George Martin may as well have been their songwriting coach. John Lennon and Paul McCartney may have been the two forces that were pushing everything along, but Martin was the one who could help flesh out the arrangements and turn them into pop marvels, whether that was playing a bit of piano or hiring an entire orchestra to add depth to a ballad. Martin was still keen on dealing with something off the beaten track, and when he heard ‘Within You Without You’, he knew the piece wasn’t exactly going to be the next million-seller like ‘She Loves You’.

Although Lennon and McCartney had been the primary bosses of the group, George Harrison was slowly coming into his own in the background. Since he didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, Harrison typically wrote songs the hard way, woodshedding as hard as he could until he got something out of it.

While this often resulted in great works like ‘Taxman’ and ‘If I Needed Someone’, his fascination with Indian music was also creeping up in the background. There may have been a flirtation with a sitar here and a tabla there, but ‘Within You Without You’ was one of the band’s first full dives into Indian music.

In keeping with the piece’s theme of spiritual movement, the beginning of the Sgt Pepper classic began with the death of ‘Only A Northern Song’. It may have had Harrison’s cynical wit about it, but Martin didn’t like working on it, telling Martin Scorsese, “I said, ‘George, honestly, you can do something better for this record because it’s going to be an astonishing record. Do you mind going away and thinking about it and coming up with something else?’”.

‘Within You Without You’ certainly was more inspired than his initial offering, but Martin admitted that it was challenging adjusting his Western ears to the sounds of Indian music. He explained, “This was not a commercial song by any means, but it was very interesting. He had a way of communicating music through the Indian system… You had to get inside that and find out what it was about, so it was like a puzzle with George.”

Although there are some Beatles fans who claim the Indian detour takes away from the magic of Pepper, the departure was sorely needed for that side of the record. For everyone complaining that McCartney’s whimsical side was getting out of hand, hearing a five-minute song centred around one chord and multiple sitar solos was a way of breaking up the playful side of the album.

While Lennon is known as the group’s resident poet when talking about the Fabs, Harrison matches him in this piece, talking about the vast complexities of life and how life will continue to move whether you’re a part of it or not. This also started something even bigger for Harrison, eventually making a full Indian song in India on ‘The Inner Light’.

Martin may have struggled to figure out the mechanics of making an Indian-inspired Beatles song, but this was just a small look at what Harrison could do. He was moving beyond the depths of traditional rock and roll, and his connection with Eastern musical vocabulary would become a fixture of his solo career throughout the rest of his life.

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