"Tomorrow Never Knows" is the final track of The Beatles' 1966 studio album Revolver but the first to be recorded. Credited as a Lennon/McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon. An innovative recording, it contributed to Revolver's reputation as one of the group's most influential and expressive albums.[1] Music critic Richie Unterberger of Allmusic said it was "the most experimental and psychedelic track on Revolver, in both its structure and production."[2]

The song has a vocal put through a Leslie speaker cabinet (which was normally used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ) and uses automatic double tracking (ADT) to double the vocal image. Tape loops prepared by Paul McCartney were mixed in and out of the Indian-inspired modal backing underpinned by Ringo Starr's irregular drum pattern.


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John Lennon wrote the song in January 1966, with lyrics adapted from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, which in turn was adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although Peter Brown believed that Lennon's source for the lyric was the Tibetan Book of the Dead itself, which, he said, Lennon read whilst consuming LSD,[3] George Harrison later stated that the idea for the lyrics came from Leary's, Alpert's and Metzner's book[4] and McCartney confirmed this, stating that he and Lennon had visited the newly opened Indica bookshop — Lennon was looking for a copy of The Portable Nietzsche— and Lennon had found a copy of The Psychedelic Experience that contained the lines: "When in doubt, relax, turn off your mind, float downstream".[5]

Lennon bought the book, went home, took LSD, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the book.[6][7] The book held that the "ego death" experienced under the influence of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is essentially similar to the dying process and requires similar guidance.[8][9]


The title never actually appears in the song's lyrics. In an interview McCartney revealed that, like "A Hard Day's Night", it was taken from one of Ringo Starr's inimitable intentional malapropisms.[10] The piece was originally titled "Mark I".[11] "The Void" is cited as another working title but according to Mark Lewisohn (and Bob Spitz) this is untrue, although the books, The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles and The Beatles A to Z both cite "The Void" as the original title.[3]

When the Beatles returned to London after their first visit to America in early 1964 they were interviewed by BBC Television. The interview included the following:

  • Interviewer: "Now Ringo, I hear you were manhandled at the Embassy Ball. Is this right?"
  • Ringo: "Not really. Someone just cut a bit of my hair, you see."
  • Interviewer: "Let's have a look. You seem to have got plenty left."
  • Ringo: (turns head) "Can you see the difference? It's longer, this side."
  • Interviewer: "What happened exactly?"
  • Ringo: "I don't know. I was just talking, having an interview (exaggerated voice). Just like I am NOW!"
  • (John and Paul begin lifting locks of his hair, pretending to cut it)
  • Ringo: "I was talking away and I looked 'round, and there was about 400 people just smiling. So, you know — what can you say?"
  • John: "What can you say?"
  • Ringo: "Tomorrow never knows."

(John laughs)[12]



Lennon first played the song to Brian Epstein, George Martin and the other Beatles at Epstein's house at 24 Chapel Street, Belgravia.[13][14] McCartney remembered that, even though the song's harmony was mainly restricted to the chord of C, Martin accepted it as it was and said it was "rather interesting". The song's harmonic structure is derived from Indian music and is based upon a C drone. The "chord" over the drone is generally C major, with some changes to B flat major.[15][16]

The 19-year-old Geoff Emerick was promoted to replace Norman Smith as engineer on the first session for the Revolver album. This started at 8 p.m. on 6 April 1966, in Studio Three at Abbey Road.[5] Lennon told producer Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks, which left Martin the difficult task of trying to find the effect by using the basic equipment they had. Lennon's suggestion was that he be suspended from a rope and—after being given a good push—he would sing as he spun around the microphone. This idea was rejected by Martin, but when asked by Lennon about it, he would only reply with, "We're looking into it."[17] Emerick finally came up with the idea of wiring Lennon's vocal through a Leslie rotating speaker, thus obtaining the desired effect without the need of a rope.[5][18] Emerick made a connector to break into the electronic circuitry of the cabinet and then re-recorded the vocal as it came out of the revolving speaker.[19][17]


As Lennon hated doing a second take to double his vocals, Ken Townsend, the studio technical manager, created the first ADT system, taking the signal from the playback and recording heads and delaying them slightly. By altering the speed and frequencies he could create various effects, which The Beatles used throughout the recording of Revolver.[20] Lennon's vocal was clearly double-tracked on the first three verses of the song: the effect of the Leslie cabinet can be heard after the (backwards) guitar solo.[21]

The track included the highly compressed drums that The Beatles currently favoured, with reverse cymbals, reverse guitar, processed vocals, looped tape effects, a sitar and a tambura drone.[18] McCartney supplied a bag of ¼ inch audio tape loops he had made at home after listening to Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower. McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops.[16]

The numerous tapes McCartney supplied were played on five individual BTR3 tape machines, and controlled by EMI technicians in studio two at Abbey Road on 7 April.[22][18] The four Beatles controlled the faders of each machine while Martin varied the stereo panning.[23] The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration (0:07)[24][25] Martin explained that the finished mix of the tape loops could never be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.[26]

The tape loops contained:

  • A "seagull" or "American Indian" whooping effect (which was McCartney shouting/laughing).
  • An orchestral chord of B flat major (from a Sibelius symphony) (0:19)
  • A Mellotron Mk.II, played with the "flute" tape set (0:22)
  • Another Mellotron played in 6/8 from B flat to C, using the "3 violins" tape set (0:38)
  • A sitar-like ascending scalar phrase (actually played on an electric guitar, reversed and severely sped up), recorded with heavy saturation and acceleration (0:56)
  • The guitar solo from The Beatles' Taxman was also superimposed onto the second half of the instrumental break. The solo was cut up, reversed and transposed down a tone.[27][28]

The Beatles further experimented with tape loops in "Carnival of Light", an as-yet-unreleased McCartney piece recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions, and in "Revolution 9", released on The Beatles (album).[29]

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). On the stereo version a little feedback comes in after the guitar solo which was edited out of the mono mix.


The Love album remixEdit

In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatles music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd.[30] On the Love album, the rhythm to "Tomorrow Never Knows" was mixed with the vocals and melody from "Within You Without You", creating a different version of the two songs. The soundtrack album from the show was released in 2006.[31][32] The Love remix is one of the main songs in The Beatles: Rock Band music video game.[33]

Extracts and references in other musical worksEdit

File:Beatles love.jpg

The Chemical Brothers' first UK number one "Setting Sun" features a similar drumbeat. Their later single Let Forever Be also has some similarities. Both records feature Noel Gallagher on vocals, who is known for his appreciation of Beatles' music. Lawyers for the (then) three remaining Beatles later wrote to the Chemical Brothers, claiming that they had sampled "Tomorrow Never Knows". Virgin Records hired a musicologist to prove that they had not sampled the song.[citation needed]

The Rutles' song "Joe Public" is based on this song.

Cover versionsEdit




External linksEdit

Boys  • Do You Want to Know a Secret  • I Saw Her Standing There  • Twist and Shout
A Hard Day's Night  • Can't Buy Me Love  • I Wanna Be Your Man  • I Want to Hold Your Hand
Eight Days a Week  • I Feel Fine  • If I Needed Someone  • I'm Looking Through You  • Ticket to Ride
And Your Bird Can Sing  • Day Tripper  • Drive My Car  • Paperback Writer  • Taxman
ABBEY ROAD '66-'67
Getting Better  • Good Morning  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds  • Sgt. Pepper / With a Little Help from My Friends
Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows  • Yellow Submarine
ABBEY ROAD '67-'68
Back in the U.S.S.R.  • Dear Prudence  • Hello, Goodbye  • Hey Bulldog  • I Am the Walrus  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
ABBEY ROAD '68-'69
Birthday  • Come Together  • Helter Skelter  • Here Comes the Sun  • Octopus's Garden  • Revolution  • Something
Dig a Pony  • Don't Let Me Down  • Get Back  • I Me Mine  • I Want You (She's So Heavy)  • I've Got a Feeling
The End
All You Need Is Love
Maxwell's Silver Hammer  • Oh! Darling  • Because  • You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King / Mean Mr. Mustard  • Polythene Pam / She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End  • Her Majesty  • Medley
Fixing a Hole  • She's Leaving Home  • Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!  • Within You Without You
When I'm 64  • Lovely Rita  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)  • A Day in the Life
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)  • You Won't See Me  • Nowhere Man  • Think for Yourself
The Word  • Michelle  • What Goes On  • Girl  • In My Life  • Wait  • Run for Your Life

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