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The Beatles Songs: Sexy Sadie

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Sexy Sadie

The piece of wood in which John Lennon carved the lyrics to "Sexy Sadie"

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Sexy Sadie

Working title: Maharishi Written by: John Lennon (100%)
(credited as Lennon-McCartney)

Recorded: August 13 and 21, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: August 21, October 14, 1968
Length: 3:12
Takes: 117

Musicians:

John Lennon: lead and backing vocals (double-tracked), acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200)
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills"), organ (Hammond RT-3)
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar (1966 Gibson Les Paul Standard SG)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • Visual artist "Magic" Alex Mardas, who'd met the band during one of his New York City exhibits in 1966, first convinced George Harrison's wife Patti to see a lecture by spiritualist Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had been lecturing on a new consciousness-raising technique called "Transcendental Meditation." Patti eventually convinced the Beatles to attend one of his lectures in Bangor, Wales, at which the Yogi himself invited the band to visit him at his ashram in Rishikesh for further study and meditation.
  • The band had all arrived there, with wives in tow, by February 19, 1968, where they studied and meditated with band associates like Mal Evans, fellow musicians like Donovan and Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and other celebrities such as actress Mia Farrow. They each brought their own personalities to the experience: Ringo and wife Maureen, not that interested in raising consciousness and upset by the Indian food at any rate, left at the end of the month. McCartney, also typically, got a feel for the scene and, feeling he'd learned all he could, left a few weeks later, before the planned retreat was over. Lennon, the most philosophical of the group, and Harrison, the most spiritual, stayed on. John, for his part, half-joked that the Maharishi would "slip him the answer" to the universe.
  • Mardas soon arrived himself and, according to many of the attendees, began to turn John and George away from the Maharishi; Mardas, who was a part of the newly-launched electronics arm of the Beatles' main company, Apple, was thought to have been worried that the guru would take the band's fortune for himself. (Alex denies this version of events.) For whatever reason, rumors began circulating that the Maharishi had made a pass at one of the guests -- not Farrow, as is often thought, although she later speculated that he had a sexual interest in her, but another female participant. Lennon grew more and more incensed, feeling another one of his idols had let him down, and approached the spiritual master angrily. When he was asked the problem, Lennon replied, "If you're so cosmic, you'll know why." He left soon after, just after writing a bitter song called "Maharishi." He played it for George during the long ride to the airport, and Harrison felt it was unnecessarily vicious and silly.
  • Once all the band members had arrived back in England, Lennon carved the lyrics into a block of wood at Apple headquarters, but was soon convinced by George to change the title and some of the harsh lyrics. Harrison's suggestion for a title, "Sexy Sadie," was adopted, and the song was demoed at his home. Attempts at finding a suitable arrangement were futile on July 19, and again at the July 24 session. Finally, on August 13 they recorded a version they were happy with, featuring Paul on piano and George on lead. (The band then began work on "Yer Blues.") On the 21st, John recut his lead vocal, Paul added bass and organ, and Ringo tambourine. Backing vocals, run through the Leslie speaker of the studio's Hammond RT-3, completed the track.

Trivia:
  • John first broached the subject of the Maharishi in a semicomic talking blues he recorded at home, explaining his ashram experiences to Yoko Ono; it bears no relation to the finished song "Sexy Sadie." "Was he a sex maniac," asks Yoko? "I couldn't say that, but he wasn't holy," sings John. The original lyrics to the finished song were previewed for Paul during take 6 of recording, and they're very profane and angry, including the phrase "Who the f*** do you think you are." The finished product is still pretty bitter, even vengeful, with lines like "You'll get yours yet / However big you think you are."
  • Other lyrics, like "We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table," make it seem as if Mardas had the right idea about the guru; many of the guests at the ashram were uncomfortable with the special attention he lavished on the Beatles, including the band members themselves. For his part, Paul never thought sexual attraction was a violation of the Maharishi's principles, and couldn't understand why John had turned on him. None of the members studied under him again, however.
  • The final mix of "Sexy Sadie" snips off a full minute of music from the original, mainly another pass at the bridge, this time without vocals. Earlier, slower attempts at the song ran as long as eight minutes.
  • Charles Manson, the sociopath mastermind behind the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969, had previous nicknamed one of his female "family" members "Sadie" after this song. He felt the lyrics of the "White Album" were coded messages about an apocalyptic race war and his participation in it.
  • Although "take 117" was the final one made, only about 50 takes of the song were actually attempted. The engineers began numbering the takes at 100 for the final remake, perhaps to avoid confusion with earlier attempts.
  • The mono mix omits the first three notes of the bass, as well as a cymbal tap in the intro.
  • The opening lines -- "Sexy Sadie, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone" -- were almost certainly taken from one of John's favorite Smokey Robinson and the Miracles tunes, 1961's "I've Been Good to You," which the band was known to have performed in rehearsal. That song begins "Look what you've done. You've made a fool of someone."

Covered by: Paul Weller, Phish, Ramsey Lewis, Joe Goldmark, Max Romeo, The Unthanks, The Cowlicks, The Slackwater News

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