John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote countless songs for both The Beatles and some other artists. But Lennon said he peaked lyrically back in 1969 when he wrote a song for a charity compilation album: No One’s Gonna Change Our World. For their contribution to the album – which also included such artists as Lulu, Cilla Black, and Rolf Harris – The Beatles included the song Across the Universe.
The psychedelic Across the Universe was featured on the aforementioned compilation record but was later included in the band’s final album, Let It Be, a year later.
The same year, in 1970, Lennon was asked in an interview what his favourite Beatles tracks were. He revealed his top five were: Strawberry Fields Forever, I Want To Hold Your Hand, I Am The Walrus, Girl and Across The Universe.
He then went into some detail about the track. He said: “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it.”
Lennon continued: “See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.”
Although Across the Universe is full of emotionally visceral lyrics and a mystical tone, it was actually borne from a dreadful argument he had with his wife at the time, Cynthia.
Lennon married Blackpool local Cynthia in 1962 and had a son with her, Julian Lennon. Six years later, Lennon met Yoko Ono, divorced Cynthia, and married the artist in 1969. Six years after that, in 1975, Ono gave birth to Sean Ono Lennon.
But back in 1968, songwriting became Lennon’s method of dealing with the breakdown of his marriage to Cynthia.
Lennon told Playboy magazine: “I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated, and I was thinking. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream.”
The incredible first lyrics to Across the Universe were inspired by this exact moment. On the recorded track, Lennon croons: “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind / Possessing and caressing me.”
Lennon jumped into action and started writing straight away.
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Lennon continued: “I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than an irritated song. Rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ [The words] were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don’t own it you know; it came through like that.”
Although Across the Universe has gone down as one of The Beatles’ most famous songs, it never won any awards – but it was shot into the galaxy.
Across the Universe was not released as a single by the band, but its legacy has lived on past even some of the band members, before being used by NASA.
Across the Universe was transmitted towards the star Polaris, approximately 431 light-years away from Earth. This was the first time a song had ever been intentionally transmitted into deep space. The marketing event was approved by McCartney, Ono, and Apple Corps.