The Beatles: When George Harrison Finally Got on the B-Side of a Fab 4 Single

When you dig into the unmatched success of The Beatles, you can’t help noticing how the group (and its producer) shied away from releasing George Harrison songs as singles. If you’re looking for a Harrison song on the A-side of a Beatles single, you have to wait until Abbey Road (1969).

That’s when “Something” went out as a double A-side release with John Lennon’s “Come Together.” Abbey Road was, of course, the last album the Fab Four recorded. Given the dearth of quality Harrison material on Let It Be (1970), “Something” (or “Here Comes the Sun”) represented Harrison’s last shot at an A-side.

Harrison had landed his first B-side of a single just the year before. That happened when The Beatles released “Lady Madonna,” a Paul McCartney composition, in March ’68. Harrison’s B-side on the single never went out on a Fab Four studio album, and it was unique for several other reasons.

George Harrison’s ‘The Inner Light’ was his 1st song on a Beatles single

George Harrison and his wife Pattie Harrison posing for the camera in India, 1966
Beatle George Harrison and his wife Patti Boyd wearing traditional Indian attire in Bombay, 1966 | Bettmann

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The bluesy “Lady Madonna” featured McCartney’s lively piano part and an arrangement featuring four saxophones. Following the Beatles’ ’67 experiments in psychedelia, the track seemed to herald a new approach for the band in ’68.

But Harrison, who’d recorded Indian compositions on two Beatles records (including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), kept heading down the same path on the B-side. “The Inner Light,” which fans found when they flipped over “Lady Madonna,” couldn’t have been more different from the A-side.

For starters, none of The Beatles played instruments on “The Inner Light,” and Ringo Starr didn’t contribute at all to the track. Harrison took the lead vocal, and he was joined by McCartney and John Lennon, who provided backing vocals on the song.

The rest of the band consisted of Indian musicians, who performed on flute, harmonium, sarod, and tabla (as well as a few other exotic instruments). Harrison recorded the backing track while working in India on the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall.

‘The Inner Light’ was the 1 Beatles studio track recorded outside of Europe

The Beatles standing around a microphone in a recording studio
1968: The Beatles record voices in a studio for ‘Yellow Submarine.’ | Keystone Features/Getty Images

“Inner Light” was unique for more than the Indian instrumentation and minimal participation from the other Beatles. The track stands as the only Fab Four recording made outside of Europe. While The Beatles almost always recorded in London studios, they did lay down “Can’t Buy Me Love” in Paris.

Other than that, they didn’t record in any sort of studio during their ’68 trip to Rishikesh, India. (The band wrote many of the songs later recorded for The White Album while there.) Meanwhile, Harrison’s Wonderwall Music album became the first solo album by a Beatle.

Buoyed by “Lady Madonna,” which began running its run up the Billboard Hot 100 in March, “The Inner Light” also managed to break into the U.S. pop charts. For one week at the close of March ’68, Harrison’s track reached No. 96 on Billboard top singles chart.