The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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"Sexy Sadie"

Lennon and Harrison's stay in Rishikesh came to an abrupt end in mid-April after a rumor swept through the ashram that the Maharishi had made sexual advances towards a blonde American woman who, depending on who's telling the story, may or may not have been Mia Farrow. The nasty tale has never been verified, and it seems likely that it was concocted by the infamous "Magic" Alex Madras, who felt the spiritual master challenged his own influence on the Fabs. In later years the band expressed serious doubts that the Maharishi ever acted in an untoward manner (Harrison dismissed the rumor as "total bullshit ... just ask Mia Farrow!" in the Anthology, while McCartney expressed his own belief that the story "was completely untrue" in Many Years From Now), but at time Lennon was particularly scandalized by the episode. He led the exodus of their remaining party, leaving a baffled Maharishi desperately asking why. "Well, if you're so cosmic, you'll know why," Lennon hissed back.

While waiting for his ride out of the camp, a disillusioned Lennon mulled over a song in his head. The words and melody bore traces of one of his favorite Motown tunes, 1961's "I've Been Good to You" by the Miracles, which opens with the lines, "Look what you've done, you've made a fool out of someone." Consciously or not, Lennon adapted the lyrics to address his former guru: "Maharishi, what have you done/You've made a fool of everyone." "I wrote it when we had our bags packed and were leaving. It was the last piece I wrote before I left India," he remembered in 1980. "I was just using the situation to write a song, rather calculatingly but also to express what I felt. I was leaving the Maharishi with a bad taste. You know, it seems that my partings are always not as nice as I'd like them to be ..." However, Harrison, the Beatle most taken with Eastern thought, blanched at Lennon's dressing down of the yogi. "I said, 'You can't say that, it's ridiculous,'" he recalled in the Anthology. "I came up with the title of 'Sexy Sadie' and John changed 'Maharishi' to 'Sexy Sadie.'" (Lennon did vent his spleen in private several weeks later, taping a venomous and widely discursive blues ballad, dubbed "The Maharishi Song" by bootleggers, in the music room of his Surrey estate.)

Any libelous references had been successfully excised from "Sexy Sadie" by the time the track was demoed at Kinfauns several weeks later. Lennon took the lead on double-tracked guitar and vocals, backed by McCartney and possibly Starr, who added a soft percussive bed of maracas and bongos. Lyrically complete, the song is structurally a bit of a dirge at this early stage, meandering between verse and chorus without any dynamic shifts before finally petering out. A lengthy instrumental coda was added when the group tackled the song in the studio that July, during which time Lennon shared a verse that revealed the fury that forged the song: "You little twat/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Oh, you cunt."

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