The Making Of George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’

‘Within You Without You’ was recorded by George Harrison on March 15, 1967 and finished early the following month. It remains one of his most remarkable songs.

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The Beatles Sgt Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band
Cover: Courtesy of Apple

There are some who simply assume that George Harrison’s love for Indian music dates from around the time he and the other Beatles went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s lecture in London, on August 24, 1967. In fact, George’s interest was piqued in April 1965 when The Beatles were filming Help! in April 1965.

“We were waiting to shoot the scene in the restaurant when the guy gets thrown in the soup, and there were a few Indian musicians playing in the background,” Harrison recalled. “I remember picking up the sitar and trying to hold it and thinking, ‘This is a funny sound.’ It was an incidental thing, but somewhere down the line, I began to hear Ravi Shankar’s name. The third time I heard it, I thought, ‘This is an odd coincidence.’ And then I talked with David Crosby of The Byrds, and he mentioned the name. I went and bought a Ravi record; I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can’t explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn’t know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it. It just called on me… A few months elapsed and then I met this guy from the Asian Music Circle organization who said, ‘Oh, Ravi Shankar’s gonna come to my house for dinner. Do you want to come too?’”

George Harrison - Concert For George: Ravi's Orchestra

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In October 1965, George was first recorded playing sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ for Rubber Soul. “I went and bought a sitar from a little shop at the top of Oxford Street called Indiacraft – it stocked little carvings and incense,” he later said. “It was a real crummy-quality one, actually, but I bought it and mucked about with it a bit. Anyway, we were at the point where we’d recorded the ‘Norwegian Wood’ backing track and it needed something. We would usually start looking through the cupboard to see if we could come up with something, a new sound, and I picked the sitar up – it was just lying around; I hadn’t really figured out what to do with it. It was quite spontaneous: I found the notes that played the lick. It fitted and it worked.”

The second of George’s Indian-influenced songs was “Love You To,” recorded for Revolver. His third was “Within You Without You,” which opens the second side of the original Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the only track on the album not written by John Lennon or Paul McCartney.

George began writing “Within You Without You” on a pedal harmonium, and the song was simply labeled “Untitled” when he recorded it at Abbey Road Studios on the evening of Wednesday, March 15, 1967. As George later recalled, “I’d also spent a lot of time with Ravi Shankar, trying to figure out how to sit and hold the sitar, and how to play it. ‘Within You Without You’ was a song that I wrote based upon a piece of music of Ravi’s that he’d recorded for All-India Radio. It was a very long piece – maybe 30 or 40 minutes – and was written in different parts, with a progression in each. I wrote a mini version of it, using sounds similar to those I’d discovered in his piece. I recorded in three segments and spliced them together later.”

Within You Without You (Remastered 2009)

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George had an Indian friend playing tabla, and The Beatles’ engineer, Geoff Emerick, does a wonderful job of recording the instrument in a way that enhances the track. George was the only Beatle in the studio that day, and it’s him and Neil Aspinall playing tamburas, with the dilruba and swarmandal played by Indian musicians from the Asian Music Centre in Finchley Road, North London. Two more dilrubas (similar to a sitar but played with a bow) were overdubbed on March 22; violins and cellos were added on April 3. Later that evening, George recorded his lead vocals, a sitar part, and acoustic guitar. “Within You Without You” was finished and, according to John Lennon, was “one of George’s best songs. One of my favorites of his, too. He’s clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear.”

As a footnote, the version included on The Beatles’ Anthology 2 is purely instrumental and is slowed to its original key and speed. Later in the year 1967, George continued his exploration of Indian musical ideas when he began work on the soundtrack to the film Wonderwall.

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  1. ricky hay

    March 15, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    thanks XXX

  2. The Lisanator

    March 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Cool, I had always assumed that he just sang while Indians played their traditional instruments. Also had no idea that was a sitar on Norwegian Wood. George Harrison was so awesome! Thank you for this.

    • tony q

      March 16, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      When Ravi Shankar first heard Norwegian Wood he told his wife, “I thought he was more advanced than this.” When he listened to the Sgt. Pepper track he felt George had redeemed himself.

  3. John

    March 15, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Within You Without You is a great song and basically George’s first solo recording as Yesterday was Paul’s. Both released under The Beatles moniker!

  4. Steve Beach

    March 15, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    George was so under appreciated for so long…it’s a shame he barely got highlighted on Beatle recordings

    • Cloud

      March 16, 2015 at 2:45 am

      George Harrison was one of the music giants in how he was not afraid to try new things in his music. Too bad he was not given more songs on the Beatles albums.. that would have enhanced them greatly.

      • Ron dovzak

        March 16, 2018 at 2:57 am

        Don’t you think that George’s fingerprints are all over all the songs, whether written by him or not?

  5. Sherwin

    March 15, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    This song will last for centuries. That is because it speaks an eternal verity. Amazing message coming from a rock and roll star.

  6. Michael Browning

    March 15, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    I never underestimated George,s talent as a writer of both lyrics and music. In my opinion by far his best work is to be heard on the triple album : All Things Must Pass.

    • Donna Bagdonovich

      May 1, 2015 at 3:40 am

      George’s masterpiece

  7. Diane Young

    March 15, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    My favorite song of all time. The words are just
    awesome. Knowing the story behind the song only
    makes it better.

    • David Boothby

      March 16, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Didn’t he also do an Indian song called Inner Light…a b side


    March 15, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    It seems Ravi Shankar always gets the credit for teaching George Harrison the sitar when I have been told by Shambu Das,Ravi’s number 1 disciple, George learned a lot from Shambu Das.I know this because I was studying sitar at York University in Toronto from Shambu Das and also a friend of mine was studying from Shambu downtown and he told us stories about teaching George Harrison which I believe to be true.

  9. Robert

    March 16, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Why can’t we at least see the video or hear the song mentioned ??????
    What a slap in the face to George .

  10. Kragi B. Garcia

    March 16, 2015 at 1:41 am

  11. Rob

    March 16, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Outstanding effort George!

  12. Fabio

    March 16, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Great song !! One of my favourite

  13. paul clements

    March 16, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    The person on Dilruba was Amrit Gaajar.. l know this because my uncle drove Amrit to Abbey Rd. after work each evening from the Kodak Lab in Morden, South London. My uncle was allowed to sit in on the recording….. he also took some photos and collected all of The Beatles autographs!

  14. oscar carlos de souza

    March 15, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    George, sempre George, sem igual.

  15. Kim Andrews

    March 15, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    George’s addition of the sitar to the music recorded with the Beatles opened up my own door to the love of the sitar, Indian music, and later on, Indian culture and Sanaatan Dharma. Endless love to him for this!♡♡

  16. Julie Thompson

    March 15, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    I read just recently that when George was still in the womb. His Mother played all kinds of music for him invetro.One kind of music was East Indian music! Who knows where these stories come from but…..maybe that’s the unknown draw!

  17. Tim

    March 16, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Excellent article. I love reading about the mechanics behind the Beatles songs. I would appreciate if you could send me any more links in regards to this. Thanks.

  18. Frank Mertens

    March 15, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    This Song was composed in the house of Klaus Voormann , who owned a harmonium! The lyrics are also about a conversation between Klaus and George! We were talking about … Best friends , ever!

  19. Mean Mr. Mayonnaise

    March 15, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    it was always my favorite track on Sgt. Pepper and the most UN-Beatleish song on the album.

  20. Robert Tyler

    May 10, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    When I was 5,I used to tell people I was Paul McCartney, but but a couple years later end of 1967 I heard Within you and without you. I changed favorite Beatle to George Harrison !

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