The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” Was Rooted In Two Major Conflicts of John Lennon’s Life

While the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” evokes a nirvana-esque image of weightlessly floating through the cosmos, the song’s creation and final production was rife with conflict. As the song’s main composer, John Lennon, would later explain, he first had the idea for the iconic track after a lengthy argument with his first wife, Cynthia Lennon.

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The Beatles originally released “Across the Universe” in 1969 as part of a charity compilation titled ‘No One’s Gonna Change Our World.’ One year later, producer Phil Spector encouraged the band to revisit the track for their final studio album, ‘Let It Be.’ Lennon, who likened the process of writing “Across the Universe” to a possession, never felt like the band allowed the song to live up to its full potential.

The Surprising Origins Of The Song’s First Verse

“Across the Universe” emphasizes a feeling of tumbling through zero gravity from the first line, both in lyrical content and meter. Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, the song begins. They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume Lennon was talking about something more transcendental, like meditation, he was actually referring to his wife.

According to Lennon, the idea came after Cynthia Lennon irritated John right before bed. “She must have been going on and on about something, and she’d gone to sleep, and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream,” he explained to David Sheff in All We Are Saying (via Beatles Bible). “I went downstairs, and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right?”

John Lennon Felt Compelled To Write “Across the Universe”

Amidst the extensive discography of the Beatles, “Across the Universe” stands alone in composition and feel. According to Lennon, it’s because he didn’t want to write it—a greater force beyond his control told him to write it. “I can never repeat it,” the musician admitted to Sheff. “It’s not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it. I was just slightly irritable, and I went downstairs and couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper. Then, I went to sleep.” 

Lennon told Sheff that the urge to write “Across the Universe” felt similar to a metaphysical entity possessing him or serving as a medium for something metaphysical. “The thing has to go down,” he insisted. “It won’t let you sleep. So, you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep. That’s always in the middle of the bloody night when you’re half awake or tired.”

He Never Felt Like the ‘Let It Be’ Version Met Its Full Potential

After the Beatles’ included “Across the Universe” in the 1969 charity compilation, Lennon assumed that would be the last time they used his song. However, producer Phil Spector encouraged the band to take another look at it for ‘Let It Be,’ which they released the following year. But even then, Lennon wasn’t happy with the song’s final product.

“The guitars are out of tune, and I’m singing out of tune because I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it,” he lamented to Sheff. Lennon never felt like the band fully committed to the song in the right way. Lennon’s feelings toward his composition are even more disheartening when one considers what he had to say about the track in a Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner in 1970.

“It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written,” the former Beatle said. “In fact, it could be the best. 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.”

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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