When was it recorded? Jan. 12 and Feb. 6 & 8, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Mar. 15, 1968 as the B-side to the “Lady Madonna” single
Who wrote it? Harrison
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
Much like the first George song I wrote about, “All Things Must Pass,” “The Inner Light” is kind of a reinterpretation of a preexisting spiritual poem/hymn.
According to The Beatles Bible, George met Juan Mascaró, a Sanskrit scholar and translator at Cambridge University, during his second appearance on “The Frost Program” on Oct. 4, 1967. Later…
“…He wrote me a letter later saying ‘…a few days ago two friends from abroad gave me the recording of your song ‘Within You, Without You.’ I am very happy, it is a moving song and may it move the souls of millions; and there is more to come, as you are only beginning on a great journey.’ He also sent me a copy of a book called ‘Lamps of Fire’ and in his letter he says ‘…might it not be interesting to put into your music a few words of Tao, for example number 48, page 66 of the book?’ And that’s where the words to ‘The Inner Light’ come from; it’s a translation from the ‘Tao Te Ching’.” — George Harrison (I Me Mine)
So to recap, George met Mascaró, who sent him Lamps on Fire by the Taoist Tao Te Ching and suggested the 47th chapter (quoth Wikipedia “sometimes titled ‘Viewing the Distant’ in translations”) would make a cool song. For what it’s worth, he was right.
“48. The Inner Light
Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of my window
I can know the ways of heaven
For the farther one travels
The less one knows
The sage therefore
Arrives without travelling,
Sees all without looking,
Does all without doing.” — The Tao Te Ching XLVIII
Also in 1967, director Joe Massot asked George to score his film “Wonderwall.” From what I can gather, it’s about a reclusive scientist who falls in love with a model named Penny Lane. Massot “promised to use whatever Harrison created” (Wikipedia), so George went to Bombay in Jan. 1968 to record for three months.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “[George] flew out on 7 January 1968. The sessions for the ‘Wonderwall Music’ album, which featured local musicians, lasted for five days, at the end of which Harrison produced a number of further ragas for possible use by The Beatles. The basic track of ‘The Inner Light’ was thus recorded on 12 January.”
George brought the track back to Abbey Road Feb. 6. According to Robert Fontenot for About.com, “Harrison was reluctant to sing the lead, thinking it out of his range, but was convinced by John and Paul to give it a try anyway.” John and Paul added harmonies Feb. 8 and completed the song later that afternoon.
According to Fontenot, “The finished product was so favored by John and Paul that they encouraged its release on a Beatles single.” “The Inner Light” was the first song George wrote to be featured on a Beatles single.
Originally the song was released only in mono. According to Wikipedia, “The mono mix features an extra horn riff during the intro and overdubbed vocals, whereas the stereo mix lacks the extra horn and features a single vocal track.”
As a B-side, “The Inner Light” charted on the American Billboard Hot 100 at #96, staying there for only one week.
Quoth Fontenot, “‘The Inner Light’ took the longest of all Beatles non-album cuts to make it on a compilation.” It first appeared in 1971 on “Por Siempre Beatles,” available only in Spain. Next it showed up on “Rarities” from the 1978 Beatles Collection in America and Britain. According to Wikipedia, “The first stand-alone American album to feature ‘The Inner Light’ was ‘The Beatles Rarities, which was released in 1980.’ ‘The Inner Light’ is available on CD on ‘Past Masters: Volume Two’ and ‘Mono Masters.’” Here’s the stereo version from “Past Masters Vol. 2.”
Groovy! I like this one a lot.