Sunday, April 12, 2009

Within You Without You

Happy Easter, all! There aren't any Beatles songs that seem particularly Eastery to my mind, but "Within You Without You" seems like a decent spiritual choice for this HarriSunday.

I am on the record as sometimes being annoyed by "Within You Without You"-- not only is it smarmy in its indictment of how shallow I apparently am, it has always sounded less musically engaging than to me George's other Indian forays. "The Inner Light" and "Love You To" are interesting blends of Indian classical music with certain pop structural elements, whereas "Within You Without You" eschews pop sensibilities almost entirely. It was originally a half-hour-long jam session, so we can at least be grateful that George cut it to an already quite-long-for-a-Beatles-song five minutes for the Sgt. Pepper album.

But... I don't know. Maybe it's just that it's a really pretty day and my houseguests are sweetly doing dishes for me while I write this post and I'm feeling generally quite good about things, but I'm digging "Within You Without You" more than I frequently do. Although I think it's using a traditional Indian scale pattern (I'm too unfamiliar with Indian music theory to know for sure), I'm pretty sure the melody also nods heavily to the Mixolydian mode, a western mode that you hear alluded to in a lot of Beatles songs thanks to copious flatted sevenths. (The Beatles heart the flatted seventh, for real. Check out Alan W. Pollack for exhaustive explorations of this phenomenon.) Point is, I'm listening to the melody, and not only is it really pretty, it sounds recognizably Beatley in a way that I seem to never have noticed.

And although there's a lot more that could be said, I sort of feel more like sitting back and letting the life flow on within me and without me. You know what I mean? I just can't get annoyed by it today. If George is going to wag his finger at me, at least he's doing it in a more beautiful way than he did in freaking "Piggies."

"Within You Without You," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, June 1, 1967; in the U.S. June 2, 1967.


  1. My mother always told me, If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing. So, regarding this song, I am speechless.

  2. It's funny...the very first time I listened to Sgt. Pepper, when I was around eleven or twelve, I was eager to hear "When I'm 64" (being somewhat familiar with it), so listening to this song (and the two or three times I thought it was going to end but didn't) drove me up the wall.

    But as time has gone by, I've come to like "64" less and "Within You" more. I appreciate the melody and the spirituality behind the words. (Plus, I get a kick out of the way George paraphrases a Bible quote--"gain the world but lose their souls"--in this very Eastern song. He is, after all, the same guy who sang "Hallelujah" alongside "Hare Krishna" on "My Sweet Lord"...)