The Top 20 Beatles Songs, #8: “Across The Universe”

Photo by UPI. Public Domain.
Photo by UPI. Public Domain.
Photo by UPI. Public Domain.

“Across the Universe”

Album: Let It Be (1970)

Composer: Lennon/McCartney

“Across the Universe” captures the free-spirited vibe of the Beatles around the time of their spiritual journey to India. The drone of a tambura, an Indian string instrument, gives the song an ethereal quality. In between verses that detail “images…which dance” and “thoughts” that “meander,” John chants a Sanskrit mantra, “Jai guru deva om.” The first three words essentially mean “Victory to God divine,” while the “om” is understood to be the very sound of the universe. This leads off the symphonic chorus in which John manages to sound both passive and assertive when repeating, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.”

After an argument with his wife Cynthia, where he felt he had been submitted to “words…flying out like endless rain,” John seemed to channel the impetus for the song. He swore: “The words are purely inspirational and were given to me…I don’t own it; it came through like that.” After hammering out some chords on the piano, he presented the song to the band and they soon recorded it.

Initially, the band released the song on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund that also featured the Bee Gees and the Hollies. This version was complete with animal noises. A year later, after more or less forgetting the single, the Beatles teamed up with producing mastermind Phil Spector to retool the track for Let It Be. The version we know today is one that John considered one of his best. It is so widely treasured (and aptly named) that, last year, it became the first song enjoyed in deep space. John might not have dreamed of such a literal realization of his work, but on its 40th anniversary, “Across the Universe” was beamed in the direction of the star Polaris for intergalactic enjoyment.

16 Comments

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  1. I hope you are saving the Billy Preston influenced songs for the top 10. The Beatles music was always evolving, going to different levels. I think this list should be about songs that took the Beatles to a different dimension. “Two of us” and “Julia” should not be on this list. They are great songs, but greatest Beatles’ songs? I would use as criteria – influence on song in music world, popularity, and analysis of words and music. Before this list is finished, I want you to go re-watch the Get Back sessions and the rooftop concert. Watch “Don’t Let Me Down.” It is so good on so many levels. Also, “I want you (she’s so heavy)” is the only Beatles song that influenced heavy metal genre. I hope it’s in the top 10 also. Please consider a redaction of your previous submissions.

  2. Across The Universe is a great song. It has a very natural vibe in the Wild Life version. It conjures in my mind the Beatles in India better than any White Album songs (and John wrote it before going to India, to boot!) The Phil Spector version changes it a lot (different speed and pitch, and a shift of focus from the Beatles musicianship to the new ochestrated arrangment.) This version is incomparable to any other Beatles song except maybe Let It Be. John and Paul both present reflectful songs. Both have great arrangments. John is confident that “nothing [will] change [his] world. Paul is told to just “let it be.”

    Musically, the Beatles give a peaceful droning background, for John to meditate over with his words. It finally fades away, as if John has finally immersed fully into his meditation, and is turned off to the world. In Let It Be, the music is much more responsive, George’s solo saying what perhaps Paul can’t put into words, and the music swelling as the song concludes.

  3. John’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is certainly one of their greatest, but wouldn’t you say Paul’s “Helter Skelter” also influenced heavy metal? (Maybe even John’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.)

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