The Paul McCartney Project

Tomorrow Never Knows

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the Revolver (UK Mono) Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1966
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Tomorrow Never Knows” is the final track of the Beatles’ 1966 studio album Revolver but the first to be recorded. Credited as a Lennon–McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon.

The song has a vocal put through a Leslie speaker cabinet (which was normally used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ). Tape loops prepared by the Beatles were mixed in and out of the Indian-inspired modal backing underpinned by Ringo Starr’s constant but non-standard drum pattern.

It is considered one of the greatest songs of its time, with Pitchfork Media placing it at number 19 on its list of “The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s” and Rolling Stone Magazine placing it at number 18 on its list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs.

Inspiration

John Lennon wrote the song in January 1966, with lyrics adapted from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, which was in turn adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although Peter Brown believed that Lennon’s source for the lyrics was the Tibetan Book of the Dead itself, which, he said, Lennon had read whilst consuming LSD, George Harrison later stated that the idea for the lyrics came from Leary, Alpert, and Metzner’s book; Paul McCartney confirmed this, stating that when he and Lennon visited the newly opened Indica bookshop, Lennon had been looking for a copy of The Portable Nietzsche and found a copy of The Psychedelic Experience that contained the lines: “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream“.

Lennon bought the book, went home, took LSD, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the book. The book held that the “ego death” experienced under the influence of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is essentially similar to the dying process and requires similar guidance. This is a state of being known by eastern mystics and masters as samādhi (a state of being totally aware of the present moment; a one-pointedness of mind.).

Title

The title never actually appears in the song’s lyrics. In an interview Lennon revealed that, like “A Hard Day’s Night“, it was taken from one of Ringo Starr’s malapropisms. The piece was originally titled “Mark I“. “The Void” is cited as another working title but according to Mark Lewisohn (and Bob Spitz) this is untrue, although the books The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles and The Beatles A to Z both cite “The Void” as the original title.

When the Beatles returned to London after their first visit to America in early 1964 they were interviewed by David Coleman of BBC Television. The interview included the following exchange:

  • Interviewer: “Now, Ringo, I hear you were manhandled at the Embassy Ball. Is this right?”
  • Ringo: “Not really. Someone just cut a bit of my hair, you see.”
  • Interviewer: “Let’s have a look. You seem to have got plenty left.”
  • Ringo: (turns head) “Can you see the difference? It’s longer, this side.”
  • Interviewer: “What happened exactly?”
  • Ringo: “I don’t know. I was just talking, having an interview (exaggerated voice). Just like I am NOW!”
  • (John and Paul begin lifting locks of his hair, pretending to cut it)
  • Ringo: “I was talking away and I looked ’round, and there was about 400 people just smiling. So, you know – what can you say?”
  • John: “What can you say?”
  • Ringo: “Tomorrow never knows.”
  • (John laughs)

Musical structure

McCartney remembered that even though the song’s harmony was mainly restricted to the chord of C, Martin accepted it as it was and said it was “rather interesting“. The song’s harmonic structure is derived from Indian music and is based upon a high volume C drone played by Harrison on a tamboura. The “chord” over the drone is generally C major, but some changes to B flat major result from vocal modulations, as well as orchestral and guitar tape loops. The song has been called the first pop song that attempted to dispense with chord changes altogether. Here, the Beatles’ harmonic ingenuity is nonetheless displayed in the upper harmonies – “Turn off your mind“, for example, is suitably a run of unvarying E melody notes, before “relax” involves an E-G melody note shift and “float downstream” an E-C-G descent. “It is not dying” involves a run of three G melody notes that rise on “dying” to a B♭, creating a ♭VII/I (B♭/C) ‘slash’ polychord. This is a prominent device in Beatles songs such as “All My Loving“, “Help!“, “A Hard Day’s Night“, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)“, “Hey Jude“, “Dear Prudence“, “Revolution” and “Get Back“.

Recording

Lennon first played the song to Brian Epstein, George Martin and the other Beatles at Epstein’s house at 24 Chapel Street, Belgravia.

The 19-year-old Geoff Emerick was promoted to replace Norman Smith as engineer on the first session for the Revolver album. This started at 8 pm on 6 April 1966, in Studio Three at Abbey Road. Lennon told producer Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks, which left Martin the difficult task of trying to find the effect by using the basic equipment they had. The effect was achieved by using a Leslie speaker. When the concept was explained to Lennon, he inquired if the same effect could be achieved by hanging him upside down and spinning him around a microphone while he sang into it. Emerick made a connector to break into the electronic circuitry of the cabinet and then re-recorded the vocal as it came out of the revolving speaker.

As Lennon hated doing a second take to double his vocals, Ken Townsend, the studio’s technical manager, developed an alternative form of double-tracking called artificial double tracking (ADT) system, taking the signal from the sync head of one tape machine and delaying it slightly through a second tape machine. The two tape machines used were not driven by mains electricity, but from a separate generator which put out a particular frequency, the same for both, thereby keeping them locked together. By altering the speed and frequencies, he could create various effects, which the Beatles used throughout the recording of Revolver. Lennon’s vocal is double-tracked on the first three verses of the song: the effect of the Leslie cabinet can be heard after the (backwards) guitar solo.

The track included the highly compressed drums that the Beatles currently favoured, with reverse cymbals, reverse guitar, processed vocals, looped tape effects, a sitar and a tambura drone. The use of these ¼-inch audio tape loops resulted primarily from McCartney’s admiration for Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower. McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops. After experimentation on their own, the various Beatles supplied a total of “30 or so” tape loops to Martin, who selected 16 for use on the song. Each loop was about six seconds long.

The tape loops were played on BTR3 tape machines located in various studios of the Abbey Road building and controlled by EMI technicians in Studio Two at Abbey Road on 7 April. Each machine was monitored by one technician, who had to hold a pencil within each loop to maintain tension. The four Beatles controlled the faders of the mixing console while Martin varied the stereo panning and Emerick watched the meters. Eight of the tapes were used at one time, changed halfway through the song. The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration. According to Martin, the finished mix of the tape loops could not be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.

Five tape loops are audible in the finished version of the song. Isolating the loops reveals that they contained:

  • A “laughing” voice, played at double-speed (the “seagull” sound)
  • An orchestral chord of B flat major (from a Sibelius symphony) (0:19)
  • A fast electric guitar phrase in C major, reversed and played at double-speed (0:22)
  • Another guitar phrase with heavy tape echo, with a B flat chord provided either by guitar, organ or possibly a Mellotron Mk II (0:38)
  • A sitar-like descending scalar phrase played on an electric guitar, reversed and played at double-speed (0:56)

The Beatles further experimented with tape loops in “Carnival of Light“, an as-yet-unreleased piece recorded during the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions, and in “Revolution 9“, released on The Beatles. Also, on the same album, is Blackbird, where the tweeting birds are actually tape loops. The opening chord fades in gradually on the stereo version while the mono version features a more sudden fade-in. The mono and stereo versions also have the tape-loop track faded in at slightly different times and different volumes (in general, the loops are louder on the mono mix). On the stereo version a little feedback comes in after the guitar solo, exactly halfway through the song, but is edited out of the mono mix.

Lennon was later quoted as saying that “I should have tried to get my original idea, the monks singing. I realise now that’s what I wanted.” Take one of the recording was released on the Anthology 2 album.

Interpretation

Harrison questioned whether Lennon fully understood the meaning of the song’s lyrics:

You can hear (and I am sure most Beatles fans have) “Tomorrow Never Knows” a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming. So the song starts out by saying, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying.”

Then it says, “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void – it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within – it is being.” From birth to death all we ever do is think: we have one thought, we have another thought, another thought, another thought. Even when you are asleep you are having dreams, so there is never a time from birth to death when the mind isn’t always active with thoughts. But you can turn off your mind, and go to the part which Maharishi described as: “Where was your last thought before you thought it?”

The whole point is that we are the song. The self is coming from a state of pure awareness, from the state of being. All the rest that comes about in the outward manifestation of the physical world (including all the fluctuations which end up as thoughts and actions) is just clutter. The true nature of each soul is pure consciousness. So the song is really about transcending and about the quality of the transcendent.

I am not too sure if John actually fully understood what he was saying. He knew he was onto something when he saw those words and turned them into a song. But to have experienced what the lyrics in that song are actually about? I don’t know if he fully understood it.” […]

The Love album remix

In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatles music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd. On the Love album, the rhythm to “Tomorrow Never Knows” was mixed with the vocals and melody from “Within You Without You“, creating a different version of the two songs. The soundtrack album from the show was released in 2006. The Love remix is one of the main songs in The Beatles: Rock Band . […]

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

The final track on Revolver, Tomorrow Never Knows, was definitely John’s. Round about this time people were starting to experiment with drugs, including LSD. John had got hold of Timothy Leary’s adaptation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a pretty interesting book. For the first time we got the idea that, as with ancient Egyptian practice, when you die you lie in state for a few days, and then some of your handmaidens come and prepare you for a huge voyage. Rather than the British version, in which you just pop your clogs. With LSD, this theme was all the more interesting. […]

I remember John coming to Brian Epstein’s house at 24 Chapel Street, in Belgravia. We got back together after a break, and we were there for a meeting. George Martin was there so it may have been to show George some new songs or talk about the new album. John got his guitar out and started doing ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and it was all on one chord. This was because of our interest in Indian music. We would be sitting around and at the end of an Indian album we’d go, ‘Did anyone realise they didn’t change chords?’ It would be like ‘Shit, it was all in E! Wow, man, that is pretty far out.’ So we began to sponge up a few of these nice ideas.

This is one thing I always gave George Martin great credit for. He was a slightly older man and we were pretty far out, but he didn’t flinch at all when John played it to him, he just said, ‘Hmmm, I see, yes. Hmm hmm.’ He could have said, ‘Bloody hell, it’s terrible!’ I think George was always intrigued to see what direction we’d gone in, probably in his mind thinking, How can I make this into a record? But by that point he was starting to trust that we must know vaguely what we were doing, but the material was really outside of his realm. […]

People tend to credit John with the backwards recordings, the loops and the weird sound effects, but the tape loops were my thing. The only thing I ever used them on was Tomorrow Never Knows. It was nice for this to leak into the Beatle stuff as it did.

We ran the loops and then we ran the track of Tomorrow Never Knows and we played the faders, and just before you could tell it was a loop, before it began to repeat a lot, I’d pull in one of the other faders, and so, using the other people, ‘You pull that in there,’ ‘You pull that in,’ we did a half random, half orchestrated playing of the things and recorded that to a track on the actual master tape, so that if we got a good one, that would be the solo. We played it through a few times and changed some of the tapes till we got what we thought was a real good one.

I think it is a great solo. I always think of seagulls when I hear it. I used to get a lot of seagulls in my loops; a speeded-up shout, hah ha, goes squawk squawk. And I always get pictures of seasides, of Torquay, the Torbay Inn, fishing boats and puffins and deep purple mountains. Those were the slowed-down ones.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] mono 6 Jun 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PMC 7009 Revolver 1966, matrix XEX 606-1.
  • [b] mono 6 Jun 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PMC 7009 Revolver 1966.
    US: Capitol T 2576 Revolver 1966.
  • [c] stereo 22 Jun 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PCS 7009 Revolver 1966.
    US: Capitol ST 2576 Revolver 1966.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46441 2 Revolver 1987.

Mono [a] is extremely rare, and is believed to have been manufactured on only the first day of UK pressing. Most copies have matrix 606-2 or 606-3 on side B, and are the standard version heard on all copies of other countries’ pressings. [a] is mono remix 11 while the standard version is remix 8. In the rare [a], the vocal is louder and clearer over the effects, the fade is slightly longer and has more piano, and the effects are faded up quite differently (whereas [b] and [c] are pretty similar).The similarity in the tape loop effects in [b] and [c] suggest that they were recorded into one of the 4 tracks of the master. The general trend is that in mono the transition is faster, so sound comes up to full volume almost suddenly and then goes completely out. Mono [b] starts with the loop track at full volume while stereo [c] fades in on it. The guitar sound in the break sounds more processed and full in mono [b]. At the start of the second vocal section stereo has a feedback whistle in “love is all and love is everyone” while [b] does not.

Last updated on May 10, 2016

Lyrics

Turn off your mind, relax
And float down stream
It is not dying
It is not dying

Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within
It is being
It is being

That love is all
And love is everyone
It is knowing
It is knowing

That ignorance and hate
May mourn the dead
It is believing
It is believing

But listen to the
Color of your dreams
It is not living
It is not living

Or play the game
Existence to the end
Of the beginning
Of the beginning

Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning

Officially appears on


Revolver (UK Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

3:00 • Studio versionB • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Lead guitar, Tape loops
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Tambourine, Tape loops
John Lennon:
Organ, Tape loops, Vocals
George Harrison:
Guitar, Sitar, Tambura, Tape loops
George Martin:
Piano, Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 07, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (US Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

3:02 • Studio versionB • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Lead guitar, Tape loops
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Tambourine, Tape loops
John Lennon:
Organ, Tape loops, Vocals
George Harrison:
Guitar, Sitar, Tambura, Tape loops
George Martin:
Piano, Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 07, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (US Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:59 • Studio versionC • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Lead guitar, Tape loops
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Tambourine, Tape loops
John Lennon:
Organ, Tape loops, Vocals
George Harrison:
Guitar, Sitar, Tambura, Tape loops
George Martin:
Piano, Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 07, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jun 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Revolver (UK Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

3:00 • Studio versionC • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Lead guitar, Tape loops
Ringo Starr:
Drums, Tambourine, Tape loops
John Lennon:
Organ, Tape loops, Vocals
George Harrison:
Guitar, Sitar, Tambura, Tape loops
George Martin:
Piano, Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 07, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Apr 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Recording:
Jun 22, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Anthology 2

Official album • Released in 1996

3:15 • OuttakeD • Mark I, take 1

George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Apr 06, 1966
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Love

Official album • Released in 2006

0:00 • Studio version • This track combines the vocals and the dilruba from "Within You Without You" with the bass and drums from "Tomorrow Never Knows."

George Martin:
Producer
Giles Martin:
Producer
Paul Hicks:
Remix engineer
Sam Okell:
Remix engineer assistant
Chris Bolster:
Remix engineer assistant
Mirek Stiles:
Remix engineer assistant

Session Mixing:
Circa 2004-2006
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Bootlegs


Complete Acetate Collection 1961-1970

Unofficial album

3:04 • Studio version


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

0:12 • Alternate take • Take 1 Partial stereo


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

3:14 • Alternate take • Take 1 stereo


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

2:05 • Alternate take • Monitor Mix Of Take 1 mono


Revolver Sessions

Unofficial album

2:53 • Alternate take • Monitor Mix Of Take 3 mono


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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