The Beatles song George Harrison thought “was a bit passé”

Over the course of their reign, The Beatles each had their unique viewpoints and challenges when it came to composing songs. Moreover, despite creating some of the most iconic songs in music history, each member encountered their own spiritual awakenings, which inspired and shaped their unique approaches to music. During the White Album sessions, for instance, George Harrison had a particularly productive experience following his stay in Rishikesh, which allowed him to evolve as a songwriter and a guitarist after two years of studying the sitar.

During their stay in Rishikesh, the band studied Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi following Harrison’s encouragement to develop an interest in meditation and Indian culture. After the trip, in 1968, Harrison wrote ‘Not Guilty’, a song based on a variety of complex, conflicting events and opinions between himself and his bandmates John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney.

After Starr and McCartney left the ashram early, McCartney wanted to focus on the band’s new business venture at Apple Corps, while Harrison and Lennon stayed on but left abruptly upon hearing rumours of impropriety. This also marked The Beatles’ final group activity outside of their music and contributed to a prolonged disagreement among Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison until the band’s breakup in April 1970.

Although Harrison explained in his 1980 autobiography that ‘Not Guilty’ is about “Paul-John-Apple-Rishikesh-Indian friends”, he confirmed a more comprehensive source of inspiration when speaking as part of The Beatles’ Anthology, where he said the track was released as ‘Take 102’. “It was after we got back from Rishikesh in the Himalayas on the Maharishi trip, and it was for the White Album,” he recalled. “We recorded it, but we didn’t get it down right or something. Then I forgot all about it until a year ago when I found this old demo I’d made in the sixties.”

“The lyrics are a bit passé – all about upsetting ‘Apple carts’ and stuff – but it’s a bit about what was happening at the time,” remembered Harrison. The song showcases Harrison’s life at the time, reflecting on his difficulties within the band along with his pursuit of enlightenment. Discussing the lyrics, he added: “‘Not guilty for getting in your way/While you’re trying to steal the day’ – which was me trying to get a space.”

He added: “‘Not guilty/For looking like a freak/Making friends with every ‘Sikh/For leading your astray/On the road to Mandala’ – which is the Maharishi and going to the Himalayas and all that was said about that. I like the tune a lot; it would make a great tune for Peggy Lee or someone.”

Ultimately, Harrison’s ‘Not Guilty’ captures his frustration with his role in the band and his defence of the counterculture of the 1960s. Despite its complexity with different time signatures, the song’s power is evident. Although the singer would go on to include it on his self-titled album in 1979, ‘Not Guilty’ is the ultimate reflection of Harrison’s need to pursue his own vision, marked by the band’s determination to perfect the tune over 103 takes.

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