The Beatles in India

The Beatles with Maharashi

In early 1968, all four members of The Beatles traveled to northern India to attend a Transcendental Meditation training course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr all arrived at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh in mid-February with optimism and enthusiasm, they departed at different times and with differing opinions of the positivity of the experience. In any case, prolific songwriting took place in India, much of which would be reflected on The Beatles (white album), which was released later in 1968. In that sense, this historic event remains musically significant, no matter the actual merits of the Maharishi or Transcendental Meditation itself.

This trip followed the adventurous and tumultuous year of 1967. That year was the group’s first full year without touring, where they produced and recorded the iconic classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were the centerpiece of a worldwide television special, and starred in their third feature film, Magical Mystery Tour, and its recorded subsequent soundtrack. On the darker side, 1967 saw members of the group heavily experimenting in drug use and losing their long time manager Brian Epstein, which ultimately saw the band to begin fracturing professionally. Before departing for India, in what originally was to be a three month stay, the group recorded a few songs for single release. McCartney’s “Lady Madonna” was chosen as the A-side of the single, beating out Lennon’s “Across the Universe”, a version of which later appeared on  Let It Be. The single’s B-side was Harrison’s “The Inner Light”, which was partially recorded with several Indian classical musicians in Bombay, India in January during the sessions for Harrison’s Wonderwall Music soundtrack album. This is notable as the only Beatles studio recording to be made outside Europe and it set a nice vibe as the members publicly departed for India.

Beatles In India

A year earlier, Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd came across a newspaper advertisement for Transcendental Meditation classes and she and her husband soon became part of this movement. In the summer of 1967, Harrison had recruited the other members of the Beatles to attend a lecture that the Maharishi gave in London, followed by a 10-day Spiritual Regeneration conference in Wales. McCartney reflected that the group had been “spiritually exhausted” and, while at the conference, the group members committed to giving up drugs. However, their stay at the conference was cut short when news of Epstein’s unexpected death reached the group. Before departing Wales, the Maharishi invited the Beatles to stay at his ashram in Rishikesh in the near future.

The group arrived in India in mid-February 1968, along with their wives (or girlfriend in McCartney’s case), along with numerous assistants, reporters, celebrity meditators and even some contemporary musicians like Donovan and Mike Love from The Beach Boys. They flew into Delhi and then rode by taxi the 150 or so miles to Rishikesh, walking to the ashram by crossing a footbridge over the Ganges River and up a hill to the property.

Located in the “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas, this 14-acre ashram was built 5 years earlier in 1963 and it was funded through a $100,000 donation from American heiress. While there, life was comparable to that of a summer camp, starting with a communal breakfast followed by morning meditation and the occasional lecture from Maharishi. And at the end of the day, the musicians would often jam.

Beatles In India

Donovan taught John Lennon a guitar finger-picking technique that they later used on the songs “Julia” and “Dear Prudence”, the latter of which was a direct narrative about Mia Farrow’s sister who caused concern by locking herself inside and intensely meditating for weeks on end. Starr completed his first solo composition for the Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By”, which he had begun writing way back in 1963. McCartney was prolific as usual with songs forming from the parody “Rocky Raccoon”, which he wrote to entertain others at dinner, to “Mother Nature’s Son” which was directly inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures, to “Back in the USSR” which he wrote in Love’s presence as an interpretation of the Beach Boys style. In fact, plans were briefly discussed for a possible concert in Delhi to feature the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Donovan, and Paul Horn.

Compared to the regular attendees, the Beatles were given some additional perks such as heated tents and on-demand private lessons from the Maharishi. Still, Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen were never quite comfortable with the retreat as Ringo had food allergies and Maureen had a deathly fear of insects. So, after just 10 days, Starr was the first Beatle to leave on 1 March. McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher left a few weeks later in mid-to-late March, causing slight derision by Harrison and Lennon who questioned his commitment. Lennon had wanted to invite his new love interest, Yoko Ono, on the trip but feared a confrontation with his then-wife Cynthia and therefore declined to do so. Nevertheless, the Lennons effectively split up on this trip as John moved into his own room about a week into the retreat.

Beatles In India

In early April, the Maharishi announced plans to move the whole retreat to Kashmir, a higher and cooler altitude as the summer months approached. Lennon and Harrison were planning to follow this course to the end, but changed their plans abruptly on April 12th, following rumors of the Maharishi’s inappropriate sexual behavior towards female students. The night before Lennon and Harrison sat up late discussing the Maharishi and decided to leave first thing in the morning. The final two Beatles and their wives left hurriedly and while waiting for their taxis to take the long drive back to delhi, Lennon wrote “Sexy Sadie”, a direct indictment of the Maharishi.

With the Beatles’ quick departure and implicit denunciation of the Maharishi, his rapid rise to fame abruptly ended. Whether or not the rumors about his misconduct were in fact true, remain in dispute to this day. Harrison later apologized for his and Lennon’s abrupt departure and he would later organize a 1992 benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party. In 2007 McCartney took his daughter to visit the Maharishi, a year before his death in 2008. After a few years of abandonment, the ashram was opened to the public in 2015 and renamed Beatles Ashram.

Since they permanently gave up touring in 1966, this trip to India would be the last time all four Beatles traveled together outside of the UK. While their cohesion as a group began to deteriorate shortly after until they ultimately broke up two years later, the Beatles made a good faith effort to reach a higher understanding. In all, the group members wrote nearly 50 songs in India, some of which were published after the band’s breakup.


Beatles In India

List of songs written by the Beatles in Rishikesh, India 1968

Released on The Beatles (white album) 11/22/68:

  • “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
  • “Dear Prudence”
  • “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
  • “Wild Honey Pie”
  • “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
  • “I’m So Tired”
  • “Blackbird”
  • “Rocky Raccoon”
  • “Don’t Pass Me By”
  • “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”
  • “I Will”
  • “Julia”
  • “Yer Blues”
  • “Mother Nature’s Son”
  • “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
  • “Sexy Sadie”
  • “Long, Long, Long”
  • “Revolution” (1)
  • “Cry Baby Cry”

Released on Abbey Road 9/26/69:

  • “Mean Mr. Mustard”
  • “Polythene Pam”

Released on Anthology 3 compilation 10/28/96:

  • “What’s the New Mary Jane”, recorded during the White Album sessions in 1968
  • “Teddy Boy”, recorded during the Let It Be sessions in 1969

Released on recordings outside the Beatles:

  • “Sour Milk Sea” – written by Harrison, released by Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax as a single 8/26/68
  • “Junk” released on Paul McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney 4/17/70
  • “Look at Me” released on John Lennon’s album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 12/11/70
  • “Jealous Guy” (originally titled “Child of Nature”) released on John Lennon’s album Imagine 9/09/71
  • “Circles” released on George Harrison’s album Gone Troppo 11/05/82
  • “Cosmically Conscious” released on Paul McCartney’s album Off the Ground (The Complete Works) 2/02/93

Unreleased (as of 4/03/20)

  • “Dehradun” composed by George Harrison
  • “Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love” recorded at Rishikesh by several group members and Donovan 3/15/68

 

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Sunshine Superman by Donovan

Buy Sunshine Superman

Sunshine Superman by DonovanEnglish folk singer Donovan found a new voice with his eclectic and slightly psychedelic third album, Sunshine Superman. Originally released in the US in September 1966, the album would not be released in Donovan’s native country until much later due to a professional contractual dispute. This record is notable as one of the first pop albums to extensively use the sitar and other Eastern musical instrumentation while maintaining an overall radio-friendly sound.

Born Donovan Philips Leitch and of Scottish descent, Donovan’s initial breakthrough came in London in early 1965 with the folk-inspired single “Catch the Wind” and the subsequent acoustic folk albums What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid and Fairytale. However, Bob Dylan’s famed trip to the UK that spring pigeonholed Donovan as a British “Dylan clone” in the press, a label he desperately wanted to shake and establish his own distinct musical identity.

In late 1965, Donovan was introduced to producer Mickie Most who, in turn, collaborated Donovan with top-notch London session players such as future Cream bassist Jack Bruce and future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Further, the early 1966 sessions for Sunshine Superman branched Donovan’s music out into the realms of jazz, blues, Eastern music, and psychedelic pop. These sessions proved to be very prolific and included early recordings of several tracks which were omitted from this album but appeared on later studio albums and collections.


Sunshine Superman by Donovan
Released: August 26, 1966 (Epic)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood & EMI Studios, London, January-May 1966
Side One Side Two
Sunshine Superman
Legend of a Girl Child Linda
Three King Fishers
Ferris Wheel
Bert’s Blues
Season of the Witch
The Trip
Guinevere
The Fat Angel
Celeste
Primary Musicians
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Eric Ford – Guitars
Spike Healy – Bass
Bobby Orr – Drums

Released a few months before the album of the same name, “Sunshine Superman” made an immediate impact which launched it to the top of the charts as Donovan’s sole number one hit in the USA. The song is rhythm built with stand-up bass by Spike Healy along with a slight sitar by Shawn Phillips in a simple but clever arrangement with subtle psychedelic elements and a cool rock guitar lead. This first product of the artist’s collaboration with Most is a vanguard of the fusion of psychedelia in pop music.

“Legend of a Girl Child Linda” is a finger picked, traditional folk track with elongated vocals and fairy-tale like images painted by the thick lyrics. “Three King Fishers” is pure, Eastern-flavored folk with heavy reverb on the vocals and a delivery which foreshadows Syd Barrett on Pink Floyd’s debut a year later, while “Ferris Wheel” makes a slowly progressive entrance before (as its name suggests) it gives a sense of childhood adventure. “Bert’s Blues” closes the first side as a smokey yet truly sixties flavored jazz track with a fine arrangement including harpsichord and string quartet.

Donovan in 1966

“Season of the Witch” features a funky electric arrangement with a unique and weird vibe that was entertaining enough to make the song a minor hit in November 1966. “The Trip” features a bluesy acoustic rhythm in the intro which is soon joined by the deeper rhythms of bass and drums and a slight stream-of-consciousness lyrical delivery by Donovan. This forthright, acid-themed song gradually builds into a nice groove through its four minute duration with the inquisitive hook “What goes on?” being repeated throughout. After the subtle, finger-picked English style ancient folk of “Guinevere” comes an overtly psychedelic and strongly Eastern-influenced gem called “The Fat Angel”. The album closes strongly with “Celeste”, featuring somber but melodic vocals which perfectly accent the gentle strumming and somewhat spastic overlays of tones, making it spacey and Earthy all at once.

After its release in September 1966, Sunshine Superman was a huge success in America. Due to contractual disputes between Pye Records and Epic Records, it wouldn’t be released in the UK until mid 1967, after Donovan had already released a successful follow-up album, Mellow Yellow in the US.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

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Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

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