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06th May, 2020

'Across The Universe' by Jon Keats - #LetItBe50

'Across the Universe' has always been one of my particular favourite John “Beatle” songs. Put simply, it’s a great song, but for me it is also a real insight into where he was at, during that particular period in his life. I love the feel and vibe created in the track; however, it  was another of those songs that John himself never quite seemed happy with the final result ('Strawberry Fields Forever' being another). 

It was a song that came to him in bed after an argument with then wife Cynthia. Apparently an endless stream of lyrics came flowing out following this argument and he felt compelled to get up and write them down, empty his head of this “mantra”. John later said he turned an irritated state into something more positive. It is a positive song, of course. The main refrain, “Jai Guru Deva Om” is indeed a mantra, intended to lull the mind into a higher consciousness and a song very much relevant at that time for John and The Beatles in general following on from the time spent with the Maharishi (another one later to be denounced as a “phoney” by John). Whilst in India, he purchased a set of brass bracelets with the mantra imprinted on them, their full meaning is “I give thanks to Guru Dev”. John was always looking for something or someone. 

The song itself was recorded in February 1968 and John originally wanted it to be the bands next single but they eventually opted for Paul’s 'Lady Madonna'. John was hugely disappointed with the recording, calling it a lousy track of a great song. He even referred to the original track as a real piece of s—t at one stage of the recording process! Failed attempts at John and Paul recording falsetto harmonies on the song saw them bring into the session a couple of the “Apple Scruffs” (the fans who waited patiently at all times outside the studios) to add their voices to the track. Those voices certainly add a different element, as well as the vast array of additional instruments you can hear. The song features Indian instruments, the svaramandal and tambura as well as violas and cellos. Sounds like they threw the kitchen sink at this song but having listened again to both the original track and the Phil Spector mix on Let it Be, it is still the simplicity of the song that shines through. John and his acoustic guitar. That and an astonishing vocal from John. You believe what he is saying, you are with him on this spiritual, three-and-a-half-minute journey and for that time, yeah, it makes you feel a little bit better, a calming moment in uncertain times perhaps and as relevant today as ever. It’s a beautiful, positive, uplifting song and what more can you ask for really?

John may not have been happy with the finished recording of the track but he did later acknowledge it as one his favourite Beatle tracks, possibly even his best lyrics. John was a poet, he always saw himself as a poet and he was proud that the lyrics on 'Across the Universe' stood up without the melody, it could be read as a poem. Speaking from experience it really does hold up as a poem. I have been lucky enough to perform this song musically many times over the years but alongside Julia Baird, John’s sister, I have read this “poem” as part of a show where we study John as the poet he truly was.

Fun facts relating to 'Across the Universe'!!

1.    In 2008, 'Across the Universe' became the first song 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 away from Earth. This was done to mark NASA’s 50th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the song itself. Apparently Paul described the transmission as an “amazing feat” adding, “Well done NASA, Send my love to the aliens!”

2.    'Across the Universe' is in the top five of requested John Lennon songs during my daily gigs in the Cavern Club. Number one spot of course is 'Imagine', followed by 'Woman'!

3.    One of the “Apple Scruffs” featured on the song, Lizzie Bravo, travels the world to this day discussing her time as a Beatle fan, camping outside the studio as well as her performance on the song. I have had the pleasure of spending time in her company in her native Brazil and she has some wonderful stories!!

About Jon 

Jon Keats is Director of Music and Events for the Cavern Club. Previous to this he was a freelance actor and musician. His first role after leaving drama college in 1990 was playing the part of John Lennon in the musical play “Imagine”. Jon is also a resident artist at the Cavern performing his solo show five times a week.

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