The Beatles flirted with India for a while and it showed – in their facial hair, their clothes, their fascination for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and spiritualism, and yes, their music. I list here nine songs by The Beatles, that were in some way influenced by India – either the composition itself or the instruments used or the song lyrics.
|Across the Universe||Does have Indian influences, specially Lennon's chanting of "Jai Guru Deva"||Sitar, Tanpura||Hard to decode the lyrics but the "Jai Guru Deva, Om" indicates that the song is about the spiritual strength the Beatles gained from their association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi|
|Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown)||Not sure about Indian influence on the composition but it's hard to ignore the sitar||Sitar||No|
|Within You, Without You||It is an Indian composition with no Western influence. George Harrison arranged the song with Indian musicians. No other Beatle was involved.||Tanpura, Sarangi, Jal tarang, Tabla, Sitar||Does not apply since this is an instrumental piece|
|Love You To||Very strong Indian influence. George's vocal sounds like Indian chants.||Sitar, Tabla, Tanpura||No|
|The Inner Light||Could easily be a song from a Hindi movie of the '60s||Sarod, Pakhavaj, Sehnai, Sitar, Sarangi, Dholak, Harmonium||No|
|Lucy in the sky with diamonds||None||A hint of Tanpura||No|
|Sexy Sadie||None||None||Sexy Sadie" equals "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" in this song. The Beatles express their disappointment with Maharishi when he was accused of sexual misconduct with a female disciple (Mia Farrow?).|
|I Am The Walrus||None||None||A part of lyric goes 'Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna'. Interesting trivia about the genesis of this line in this John Lennon interview|
|My Sweet Lord||A hint of Indian chants in the chorus||None||George Harrisson expresses his love for Indian Gods. "Hare Krishna..." chorus. "Guru Brahma…" chorus.|
|India, India||None||Tabla||Lennon asks India for spiritual enlightenment…and goes on to say that he knows he can't get it here (the song was written in India) because he left his heart in England and he needs to go where his heart is.|
|Tomorrow Never Knows||A tanpura drone plays throughout the song. A sitar-type guitar is mixed. There's also a brief Carnatic-sounding violin in the mix.||Tanpura, Sitar-style guitar||No|
The last two are not technically Beatles songs – “My Sweet Lord” is a George Harrison solo and “India, India” a John Lennon home recording released as a solo. They still belong in this list in my opinion.
Do you know any other songs that belong in this list?
And, here’s a list of Bollywood songs that are influenced by The Beatles.
[Updated Feb 16, 2011 – Added “I Am The Walrus”. Thanks to Abhinav’s tip.]
[Updated Dec 17, 2012 – Added list of Bollywood songs influenced by The Beatles.]
[Updated Mar 16, 2015 – Added “Tomorrow Never Knows” based on input from Tom C on email. As Tom points out, this was a glaring omission. I realize now that my music library only had an unmixed version of “Tomorrow Never Comes” from the Anthology album and not the final, mixed version from Revolver. Fixed that.]