“Across the Universe” by The Beatles

Readers who are familiar with The Beatles – or perhaps have read our analyses of some of the other songs they dropped circa the late 1960s – would know that around that time the Fab Four were akin to, most simply put, hippies. 

Hippyism was, within the context of 1960s’ era music, sorta what materialism is to the 21st century industry. And The Beatles, collectively speaking, were deeper into it than most of their contemporaries, considering that their wealth and fame afforded them the opportunity to interact with one of the top gurus of the day, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, quite extensively

“Jai Guru Deva, Om”

And Yogi’s influence is found on this song most specifically, from a lyrical perspective, in the chorus with the phrase “jai Guru Deva, om”. The first part of that line is actually in Sanskrit and can be interpreted in different ways. But it is generally considered to be a shoutout to one Guru Dev. Dev was the late-19th century monk who schooled Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Maharishi is also noted as being the founder of transcendental meditation. Out of all of the Eastern spiritual philosophies which permeated into the mainstream consciousness during the days of hippyism, transcendental meditation was perhaps the most pronounced. 

For instance, Stevie Wonder gave it a major shoutout on his 1973 track “Jesus Children of America”. And in terms of the aforementioned “om”, that’s a term, also originating from the East, that you’re likely personally familiar with as being associated with achieving a meditative state.

But that is not to say that this song is promoting the act of meditation per se. Instead the lyrics are highly metaphorical and point to three main ideas. 

The Three Ideas

One is that the vocalist is like in tune with the universe. Or put differently, he is holistically appreciative of all of the natural forces, so to speak, that exist around him, including the likes of astronomical bodies.

Second would be that John Lennon was apparently an advocate of what some may term as the Free Love, which was more or less a component of hippyism. And accordingly what he is most appreciative of is the likes of the “sounds of laughter” and “limitless undying love”. 

And relatedly, the third main point is that “nothing’s gonna change (his) world”. Or phrased alternatively, John was not going to let any type of negativity destroy his universally-loving disposition.

Song’s Title (“Across the Universe”)

Meanwhile the titular phrase is featured a handful of times in the lyrics, most notably in the second verse. And what it seems to allude to is the vocalist receiving messages, from a “they” or “it”, from “across the universe”. 

Of course that is a very poetic statement, just as many of the ideas above are also presented. But most basically explained, it would appear that the narrator feels he has a higher calling. Or another way of putting it is that his all-loving, highly-cognitive and peaceful belief system is not a product of this world. Instead it is a spirit, if you will, that he is receiving from elsewhere.

Takeaway

So “Across the Universe” may not be one of those Beatles’ songs that caused the powers-that-be to spaz due to lyrics perceived as being based on getting high or what have you. But out of all Fab Four songs, we have studied thus far, this is perhaps the one with the most straightforward hippy-inspired sentiment.

The Beatles, "Across The Universe" Lyrics

Release of “Across the Universe”

This song originally came on 12 December 1969. It was part of a project entitled “No One’s Gonna Change Our World”. Said project is actually a compilation album that features a few acts, perhaps most notable besides the Beatles, the Bee Gees. And by the looks of things, neither “Across the Universe” nor any other tracks from that album were released as singles.

“Across the Universe” subsequently went on to make an appearance on a few of The Beatles’ own projects, including most importantly the quartet’s final group album, “Let It Be” (1970). But to note, in that instance it was a re-rendering of the original tune.

The release of the original version of this classic, as featured on “No One’s Gonna Change Our World”, was backed by a label known as Regal Zonophone. And the mix that appears on “Let It Be” was issued by Apple Records. The latter label is a label The Beatles themselves founded in 1968.

Writing of “Across the Universe”

John Lennon (1940-1980) came up with the first line on this song while lying in bed next to his wife at the time, Cynthia Powell, whom he was married to from 1962 to 1968. And he said in receiving that phrase, which he lyrically fleshed out into the entire “Across the Universe”, he “kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream”. 

However, Lennon is not the only credited writer of this song. The other credited writers include Lennon-McCartney. Lennon-McCartney is a composite of himself and Beatles’ bandmate Paul McCartney.

Lennon went on to celebrate the wording of this piece from a lyrical perspective. He once stated that it ranks amongst the best lyrics he’s ever written. He also referred to it as “good poetry”, i.e. ‘words that stand without a melody’. What he basically meant by that was that song’s lyrics are poetic even devoid of music.

John Lennon describes "Across The Universe"

Recording

This track was recorded in February of 1968. Concurrently the band recorded the following songs:

  • Lady Madonna 
  • The Inner Light

Both tracks were released shortly that same year, as well as “Hey Bulldog”, a track they put out in 1969.

“Across the Universe” was subjected to some additional changes in early 1969. This was after The Beatles had agreed to have it featured on “No One’s Gonna Change Our World”. Said charity album is actually a product of the World Wildlife Fund. 

So accordingly, one of the later additions made was adding the sound effect of birds to the track. Meanwhile, the version that went on to be featured on “Let It Be” was a remix of the original recording of “Across the Universe” from 1968.

Also as to be expected considering how legendary The Beatles are, other versions/remixes of this tune, which apparently were never intended to see the light of day, still ended up being included on part of some of their subsequent anthology albums, as well as a remix of the Let It Be album that came out in 2003 entitled “Let It Be… Naked”.

This is one Beatles’ track in which all four core members of the crew participated. This is so especially on the versions that were released in 1969, 1970 and later on a 1988 project entitled “Past Masters”.

Lennon disliked the Song’s Recording

Reportedly this is a song that Lennon was never actually pleased with recording-wise. Or more specifically he found the recording of “Across the Universe” wanting and even accused Paul McCartney of ‘subconsciously trying to destroy’ it. He also accused the other musicians involved involved in the project as being unserious when it came to laying down tracks Lennon had personally written. 

In other words, he was convinced that The Beatles were more interested in working on McCartney’s songs than his own.

Backup Singers on “Across the Universe”

Relatedly, the original recording of “Across the Universe” features a couple of female backup vocalists. These two individuals, Gaylene Pease and Lizzie Bravo, were not professional singers. They were actually teenaged Beatles’ fans who were hanging out around the studio the group was recording in. 

In fact the latter actually came all the way from Brazil to London so that she could be close to the Fab Four. And they were brought into Abbey Road Studios by McCartney. This was because Lennon was not pleased with the vocals Macca was laying down. 

According to some accounts, they were promptly “ushered out of the studio” after laying down said vocals. However, according to the ladies’ own recollection of the whole experience they actually spent a considerable amount of time with The Beatles.

Various Renditions of “Across the Universe”

This song may not be one of the most popular Beatles songs amongst us laymen. However, their musical colleagues seem to be quite fond of it considering some of the covers that have been dropped. For instance, David Bowie came out with a version in 1975. The said version actually featured John Lennon. 

Later on, Fiona Apple dropped her own rendition in 1998. And during the 2005 Grammy Awards, the supergroup Velvet Revolver, alongside Stevie Wonder and a few other well-known musicians also recited this song. 

The other well-known musicians who participated in the Grammy version of the song include:

  • Alicia Keys
  • Bono
  • Slash
  • Norah Jones

And they did so in honor of those who died during that terrible tsunami that rocked Sumatra in late 2004.

That rendition by Stevie Wonder and co. went on to be released as a charity single. It was so good that it subsequently appeared on the top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100. In doing so, it marked the first and apparently only time to date that “Across the Universe” has charted.

More Interesting Facts about “Across the Universe”

In February of 2008, i.e. 40 years after Across the Universe was recorded, in celebration of this anniversary NASA literally transmitted this song across the universe, i.e. towards a star named Polaris which is 400+ light years away.

This tune is also noted as being a personal favorite of Liam Gallagher of Oasis fame. It is one of the songs that inspired him to become a songwriter himself.

Spike Mulligan (1918-2002), an actor/comedian that Lennon was reportedly quite fond of, was at Abbey Road during the one of the studio sessions for this classic. He was present as a guest of the Fifth Beatle, aka George Martin (1926-2016).

In 2007, a romantic musical full-length came out heavily featuring the works of The Beatles. Actually over 30 of their tunes were incorporated into the flick. Thus it was a Beatles’ tribute film. And the movie is actually entitled “Across the Universe”.

“Across the Universe”, i.e. the version featured on “Let It Be”, was produced by Phil Spector (1931-2021). But apparently the original was rather produced by George Martin.

Across The Universe

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Maharishi M. Yogi (1918-2008) was an internationally renowned Indian guru who accordingly interacted with other celebrities besides The Beatles, such as members of The Rolling Stones. He was seemingly the quintessential Indian holy man of his day, one of the figures who Mike Myers parodied on his 2008 film “The Love Guru”. And his teacher, the aforementioned Guru Dev, lived from 1871 until 1953.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
This is a picture of Maharishi taken somewhere in 1978. He lived from 1918 to 2008. He was 90 years old when he died.

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