"Across the Universe" is possibly the most shapeless, formless song the Beatles ever recorded. Written entirely by John Lennon, the lyrics are sung almost in the style of a writer writing in free form, it has a kind of stream-of-consciousness feel to it. As so often happens in the world of Beatle fans and followers, some are baffled by the lyrics, confused about what the composer is trying to say.
To me, it has always been the Beatles most libertarian song, John is simply proclaiming his firmest, most fundamental belief and tenet, as he repeats the words "Nothing's gonna change my world" over and over, almost like a mantra.
Interestingly and ironically, John wrote the song a few months before he decided to cast his lot and assume his famous lifelong relationship with Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. (John and Yoko officially got together in may of 1968.) Although the song seems to be a direct message to the world about his life with Yoko, "Across the Universe" actually was written a few months earlier.
The song's genesis was in 1967, as John describes it: "I was lying next to my wife (John's first wife, Cynthia) in bed, you know, and I was irritated... she must have been going on and on about something and she'd gone to sleep... I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated one."
John and his fellow Beatles were in the middle of their transcendental meditation period and had recently been living and studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at his camp, trying, like all of us, to find "the answer." John's eastern study definitely influenced the song, it's feel. He claimed, "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 never a greatly popular Beatles song, John was always very proud of it. "It's one of the best lyrics I've written," he stated. "In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry."
"Across the Universe" was mainly recorded in early February of 1968, although it was dubbed and mixed on and off for almost the next two full years. Although originally planned as a Beatles A-side record, the song was not released until the Let It Be album in 1970. (John can be seen still working on "Across the Universe" in Let It Be, the Beatles final movie, filmed in January 1969.)
Recording of the song officially began on Sunday, February 4, 1968. That fateful day, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl named Lizzie Bravo was hanging around EMI studios at Abbey Road, along with many other girls, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Beatles. Lizzie had been in London since February 14, 1967. Her trip to England had been a gift from her parents for her fifteenth birthday.
According to Lizzie: "My best friend Denise had arrived in London a month before and we were supposed to be there just for the school holidays- but from day one I knew I would stay. The sole purpose of our trip was to see the Beatles." Before her money ran out, Lizzie found herself a job as an au pair.
On February 4, 1968, Lizzie Bravo was quite possibly the most surprised human being on earth. It seemed like another routine "waiting to see the Beatles" day, when all of a sudden Paul McCartney emerged and walked toward the group of thrilled young ladies. Paul asked the assembled female fans if any of them could hold a high note.
Lizzie, and another groupie named Gayleen Pease, quickly volunteered. As the other girls watched in disbelief, Lizzie and Gayleen were taken inside Abbey Road studios. The girls' fantasy of fantasies was about to come true- they were not only going to see and meet the Beatles, they were going to sing on a Beatles song!
Lizzie and Gayleen stepped up and shared microphones with Paul McCartney and John Lennon, singing the chorus of "Across the Universe" over and over ("Nothing's gonna change my world"). The session finally ended for the awestruck young ladies, they were thanked and left, probably thinking it had all been some kind of a surreal dream. One can only imagine what they told the shocked Beatle groupies as they came out of Abbey Road and re-joined them.
Ten days after her unforgettable singing session, Lizzie was standing outside Paul McCartney's house with two of her friends, hoping, as usual, to espy a Beatle. Suddenly, to Lizzie's happy surprise, John Lennon walked out and Lizzie asked him to sign a photo she had taken of him. John remembered his ex-fellow singer, took the photo and scribbled the words "To Liz, thanks for a great year. Love, John Lennon X" on it.
"It was just a nice remark," recalled Lizzie, "I was certainly not a friend of his or an intimate. I was just a little girl from Brazil who was a fan."
(Image source: Lizzie Bravo on Facebook)
Lizzie Bravo is now a mother and a grandmother. She lives in Rio and has sung, recorded, and toured with several Brazilian groups. She is publishing an illustrated book- From Rio to Abbey Road, based on her teenage diaries and photos she took during her time in London. The book (obviously) includes a full chronicle of Lizzie's unbelievable recording session with the Fab Four in February '68.
When Beatle fans all over gather together, they like to compare notes. "I saw Paul in Chicago," or "I shook John's hand in New York," or "I was at the Beatles concert in San Francisco," etc. etc. etc.
But Lizzie Bravo pretty much has bragging rights over all of us. After all, how many of us can say they actually sang on a Beatles song- with the Beatles?