Following the decidedly silly "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" comes George's sole songwriting contribution to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, "Within You, Without You." An Indian raga with ultra-philosophical leanings, the song has few fans among Beatles listeners, but still forms an important junction on the album between the bouncier, more rambunctious first half and the nuanced, more cynical ending.

Musically, this song has often taken an unfair beating from both camps of its possible admirers: Beatles fans were turned off by the sine wave instrumentations and slow, sweeping melodies and browbeating lyrics, while true fans of Indian and Eastern music saw through George's misguided interest and proclaimed the song to be overly simple, too much grounded in the pop music of the day to really accurately show a raga at work. The song itself is stuck in one chord the entire time (C# major in the Mixolydian scale, albeit with a constantly flat sixth), and the melody simply moves in tandem with the sitar, reaching high points at the ends of the "verses" (this song has no apparent verse-bridge structure common in The Beatles' work). The strings - a decidedly Western arrangement - serve more as harmonic balance than to actually accentuate the solemn and earnest nature of the song.

Lyrically, the song espouses a number of subcontintental religious views: the connection between all things ("the love we could all share"), self-realization ("no one else can make you change") and the continuity of life ("life flows on"). In a somewhat striking change from his earlier scathing diatribe against taxes on "Taxman," here George calls out those who would "gain the world and lose their soul," saying they're missing the point of existence. By far the most serious of the songs on Sgt. Pepper's and in the entire Beatles canon, the song still manages to play a little pun with its title - life flows within you and "without you," a little jab at the death Westerners have come to fear so much. The laughter at the end of the track no doubt takes this into account, as well as providing a self-deprecating counterpoint to the high concept of the song and its implications. George wrote the song in one night at a party at Klaus Voorman's house on a creaky harmonium amidst a good number of pot smokers. He later had this to say about the song:

We're all one... The realization of human love reciprocated is such a gas. These vibrations that you get through yoga, cosmic chants and things like that, I mean it's such a buzz! It buzzes you out of everywhere. It buzzes you right into the astral plane.

For the Paul is dead crowd, note that on the cover the words "Without You" are right next to Paul's head. Also, the lyrics could easily be said to apply to Paul's passing - George is singing about someone who is no longer with him ("we were talking", "it's far too late when they pass away") and the somber tone of the song give it an extra weight of someone personal passing away.

Although the song doesn't lend itself to many covers and interpretations, Sonic Youth's 1988 version, replacing the sitars and Indian sounds with guitar skronk and feedback, is a testament to the vigor and creativity of the song and The Beatles as a group.

George's pet project through and through, it is the only song in which no other Beatle except George appears - John outright refused to help with the song, calling it a "waste of time." Recorded mostly on March 15, 1967, George provided lead vocals and tamboura (with Beatles roadie Neil Aspinall on tamboura as well), along with several session musicians from the Asian Music Circle on the other Indian instruments. Two weeks later on April 3, George Martin used a small string section to provide the backing cello and violin sections in the song.

Within You, Without You

We were talking
about the space between us all

And the people
who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse of truth
then it's far too late
when they pass away

We were talking
about the love we could all share

when we find it
To try our best to hold it there

with our love, With our love
We could save the world
if they only knew

Try to realize it's all within yourself
no one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small
and life flows on within and without you

We were talking
about the love that's gone so cold

and the people
Who gain the world and lose their soul

then you may find
peace of mind
is waiting there

And the time will come
when you see we're all one
and life flows on within and without you

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite | When I'm Sixty-Four

CST Approved

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