John Lennon wrote this song after having an argument with his wife Cynthia. He said, "I was lying next to me first wife in bed, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she'd gone to sleep and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song... it drove me out of bed. I didn't want to write it, but I was slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn't get to sleep until I'd put it on paper."
The refrain "Jai Guru Deva Om" is a mantra intended to lull the mind into a higher consciousness. The words are in Sanskrit, and they mean "I give thanks to Guru Dev," who was the teacher of The Maharishi. The "Om" at the end is the drawn out "oooohm" used in meditation to relate to the natural vibration of the universe. While visiting the Maharishi in Rishikesh, John purchased a set of brass bracelets with the words "Jai Guru Dev" imprinted on them. The bracelets are now in the possession of Julian Lennon
and were on display at the "White Feather-The Spirit Of John Lennon" exhibit at the Beatles Story in Liverpool.
This first appeared on No One's Gonna Change Our World, a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund (They're the ones who sued the World Wrestling Federation and made them stop using "WWF"). Bird noises were dubbed in to this version to create a nature theme.
This song is often cited as an example of tensions between Lennon and McCartney over treatment of each other's songs. When The Beatles went to record it in February of 1968, both Lennon and McCartney decided they wanted falsetto harmonies on the song. No matter what he did, John said he was sounding out of tune, so Paul went outside and grabbed two "Apple Scruffs" named Lizzie Bravo and Gaylene Pease to add the background harmonies. John is quoted again about that, saying, "the original track was a real piece of s--t. I was singing out of tune, and instead of getting a decent choir, we got fans from outside. They came in and were singing all off-key. Nobody was interested in doing the tune originally." In another interview, he said, "The Beatles didn't make a good record of it. I think subconsciously sometimes we - I say 'we' although I think Paul did it more than the rest of us - Paul would, sort of subconsciously, try and destroy a great song... meaning we'd play experimental games with my great pieces, like 'Strawberry Fields,' which I always thought was badly recorded."
The two young women Paul grabbed off the street to sing backup appear on the World Wildlife recording of the song, but not on the version on Let It Be.
For a while, this was not going to be part of Let It Be. The album was going to be called "Get Back" and was supposed to be recorded in front of a live audience for a TV special, with film footage of The Beatles practicing the songs in the studio used for a companion special. When things didn't go well, they decided to scrap the TV project but use the footage for their last movie, which became Let It Be. The tapes of them practicing in the studio would be worked into an album to go with the film. The first version of the album did not include this, but when the movie was edited, it included a scene where The Beatles play this, so it was added to the album.
While the Let It Be movie and album were being sorted out, The Beatles recorded their last album, Abbey Road, and then broke up. George Harrison and John Lennon asked Phil Spector to take the tapes from the Let It Be project and produce the album from them. Spector took out the bird sounds, slowed the tape down, and added an orchestra and choir. The result was a very lush arrangement using his "Wall Of Sound" technique.
This was later recorded by David Bowie with Lennon on guitar. It appears on Bowie's 1975 album Young Americans.
This was originally going to be the B-side to "Lady Madonna
," but "The Inner Light" was chosen instead.
Paul played piano on both recordings of this song. One version for the World Wildlife Fund (with the Apple Scruff harmonies) and the other for what became the Let It Be LP, with Phil Spector adding the choir, which John really loved.
In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon disclosed that this is one of his favorite Beatles records as, "It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best." He added: "It's good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don't have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them."
Fiona Apple covered this in 1999. Other notable artists to record the song include Cilla Black, Jackson Browne and Laibach. Rufus Wainwright also recorded it for the I Am Sam soundtrack.
At the 2001 John Lennon tribute special at Madison Square Garden, Sean Lennon performed this with Moby and Rufus Wainwright. Moby wore one of John's shirts that Sean gave him.
This was a huge influence on Liam Gallagher from Oasis. It turned him on to The Beatles and inspired him to write songs.
At the 2005 Grammy awards, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Tim McGraw, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones and members of Velvet Revolver played this as a tribute to tsunami victims in Asia. The single was sold to raise money for the victims, and peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first chart appearance for the song. It also held the record for a time of the fastest selling download on iTunes.
On February 4, 2008 "Across The Universe" became the first track to be beamed directly into space. It was transmitted through NASA's antenna in the DSN's Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex, towards the North Star, Polaris, 431 light-years from Earth. The broadcasting of the Fab Four song was done to mark both NASA's 50th birthday and the 40th anniversary of "Across The Universe." Paul McCartney described the transmission as an "amazing feat" adding, "Well done, NASA. Send my love to the aliens!"
This song was the title for the 2007 movie, Across the Universe
, who's plot line was centered around songs by the Beatles. Across the Universe stars Jim Stirges and Evan Rachel Wood.