Day 248: “Tomorrow Never Knows”

When was it recorded?   Apr. 6, 7 & 22, 1966

When was it first released, and on which album?   Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”

Who wrote it?   Lennon

Have I heard this song before?   Yes

What my research dug up:

Quoth Alan Pollack, “‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is a veritable kitchen-sink mix of just about every trick in the Beatles’ book to-date, including: an Indian drone, modal tune, bluesy instrumental, tape loops, ADT, vocals played through revolving speakers, distortedly close-up miking of instruments, and a psychedelically mystical ‘outlook.’ One of the amazing aspects of this song is the extent to which this collage not merely hangs together, but pulls into such a powerfully focused, unified effect.”

John wrote “Tomorrow Never Knows” after reading The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner (which they adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, obviously). According to the Beatles Bible, “It was intended as a guidebook for those seeking spiritual enlightenment through the use of psychedelic drugs,” which is exactly what John used it for.

So what does “Tomorrow Never Knows” have to do with the rest of the song? Nothing, really. John originally titled the song “The Void” but then realized this title “would be too far out for the majority of The Beatles’ 1966 fans” (Beatles Bible). Instead he borrowed a phrase from Ringo.

John first played the song for Brian Epstein, George Martin and the other Beatles at Epstein’s house. They took it to the studio soon after. In fact, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the first song recorded for “Revolver.” (Alan Pollack posits recording the album’s closing track first helped them greatly develop the rest of the record.)

Putting it lightly, the recording process was complex. The Beatles recorded three takes of the rhythm track Apr. 6, 1966. The first take appeared on “Anthology 2.”

The Fab Four instead used the third take as the basis for the final version. They spent five hours the following day overdubbing effects and loops.

“We did a live mix of all the loops. All over the studios we had people spooling them onto machines with pencils while Geoff did the balancing. There were many other hands controlling the panning. It is the one track, of all the songs The Beatles did, that could never be reproduced: it would be impossible to go back now and mix exactly the same thing: the ‘happening’ of the tape loops, inserted as we all swung off the levers on the faders willy-nilly, was a random event.” — George Martin

Quoth Wikipedia, “Five tape loops are audible in 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)”

A sixth loop — a finger rubbing the rim of a wine glass – is only audible in the stereo version.

John’s vocal track underwent many edits too. While it was double-tracked normally for the first half of the song, during the second half engineers ran his voice through a revolving Leslie speaker. Additionally, Ringo’s drum parts were compressed and echoed after recording.

More overdubs were added Apr. 22, and then the song was complete.

According to Wikipedia, the mono and stereo versions differ slightly – “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).”



Quoth Beatles Books, “John’s initial vision for the song may have been quite different than what eventually appeared on the ‘Revolver’ album (alas, no chanting monks), but he was quite pleased with the results at the time in interviews and, as most Beatles fans would attest, he perfectly captured the LSD-cum-enlightenment imagery he was looking for. Great other-worldly vocals – that’s what makes ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ a remarkable milestone in recorded music.”

There are so many great stories behind and quotes about the making of this song that I had to gloss over for brevity’s sake.  Of course a song this richly textured would have a deliciously layered background.  Do some more research if you have the time!




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