By Joshua M. Greene
George Harrison was born in Liverpool in 1943. He began playing guitar at age twelve, and by the time he was seventeen, he was a Beatle, one of four musicians who permanently changed the landscape of popular music history. By the time he was 25and committed to spiritual pursuits, Harrison was to pop music what Picasso was to art or Thomas Edison to: an astounding talent, an important example of what an innovative mind could bring to his craft. A generation raised in the turmoil of war and hungering for a more enlightened way to live appreciated not only his music but his thinking. What he did—both as a Beatle and as an independent singer-songwriter after the group’s dissolution—got people excited.
At a Christmas reception at Apple Studios, the Beatles were holding a press conference about their upcoming Abbey Road album. John peeked out from the pressroom, scanned the crowd assembled for the reception, and made a quick exit out of the building. Ringo peeked out and did the same, followed by Paul. George peeked out, looked around the room, and spied the shaven-headed Shyamsundar, one of Swami Prabhupada’s main disciples. George had seen a photo of him with the other devotees in a Times of London article titled “Krishna Chant Startles London.” The article reported on the devotees’ arrival in England and their plans for opening a temple. George walked over and said, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting to meet you.”
In April 1969, the devotees arrived at Abbey Road Studios. Guards escorted them into a large, soundproof room filled with equipment. Paul and Linda McCartney waved from behind a glass control booth. Mukunda, who had been a jazz pianist before joining Krishna consciousness, took his place behind a grand piano, and George worked with him on a melody line. Technicians positioned microphones around the room. One take, two takes—then on the third try the maha-mantra flowed: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna . . .” Yamuna’s strong voice led the chorus, commanding and pure, slightly nasal as Indian singing often tended to be. The music swelled, gained momentum, and spiraled for three-and-a-half minutes of pure transcendental sound, until—Bonnng! Malati hit a gong and brought the show to a spontaneous and rousing end. George and Paul went back to finishing work on the Abbey Road album, while the devotees crowded into their tiny van and drove off wondering what would become of the recording.
Listen to George Harrison’s Hare Krishna recording
When The Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love” on a live satellite broadcast in June 1967, the worldwide transmission reached more than 500 million television viewers. Now, barely two years later, George Harrison was reaching an even larger audience with the Hare Krishna mantra, and in doing so he was helping to fulfill a prophecy dating from the sixteenth century.