Tomorrow Never Knows (Lennon/McCartney)

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Tomorrow Never Knows (Lennon/McCartney)

The first track recorded for Revolver was John’s Tomorrow Never Knows, which was heavily influenced by acid and Paul’s curiosity in electronic sound tracks and experimentation on his mixing machine at home. The master relies heavily on huge tape loops (16 in all) – several people remember standing around the room holding pencils for the tape to loop around and back into the recording machine as the various sound effects and instrumentation were faded in and out. Many of the words and phrases were either directly lifted or influenced by Timothy Leary’s “The Psychedelic Experience” and “The Book Of The Dead”. The vocals were forced through a Leslie speaker, as John desired the effect that the listener could hear the words but not hear him, like a group of Tibetian monks chanting on a mountain top.

Mach 1

Tomorrow Never Knows was recorded under the working titles Mach 1 and The Void but eventually named after a “Ringoism” – a humorous phrase coined by Ringo.

The Ringoism

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!”

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.”

The tape loops

Five tape loops are audible in finished version of the song:

  • A “laughing” voice, played at double-speed (the “seagull” sound)
  • An orchestral chord of B flat major (from a Sibelius symphony) (0:19)
  • A fast electric guitar phrase in C major, reversed and played at double-speed (0:22)
  • Another guitar phrase with heavy tape echo, with a B flat chord provided either by guitar, organ or possibly a Mellotron Mk II (0:38)
  • A sitar-like descending scalar phrase played on an electric guitar, reversed and played at double-speed (0:56)

Rare Remix 11

The standard release of Tomorrow Never Knows is from Remix 8. However, on the first day of manufacturing for Revolver a number of copies were pressed using Remix 11 which is different in several ways; the vocal is louder and clearer over the effects, the fade is slightly longer and has more piano, and the effects are faded up differently. This came about as a result of George Martin making a second call on July 14, 1966 (as the album was already in the cutting stages) to Geoff Emerick to replace this mix with RM8, which had been produced earlier, on April 27. Copies of Revolver featuring this rarer version are labeled with matrix XEX 606-1 on side B, whereas the more common mix shows XEX 606-2 or XEX 606-3.

Appearance in Mad Men

In 2012, Tomorrow Never Knows was featured in the AMC drama Mad Men. It is the first licensed use of a Beatles recording in a television show, and is reported to have cost $250,000 (although the exact terms have never been released by either party). In the show, Don Draper puts the record on and plays a few seconds of the song at the recommendation of his younger wife before shaking his head and turning it off. Show runner and creator Matthew Weiner was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing. Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”


“You can hear (and I am sure most Beatles fans have) “Tomorrow Never Knows” a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming. So the song starts out by saying, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying.”

Then it says, “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void—it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within—it is being.” From birth to death all we ever do is think: we have one thought, we have another thought, another thought, another thought. Even when you are asleep you are having dreams, so there is never a time from birth to death when the mind isn’t always active with thoughts. But you can turn off your mind, and go to the part which Maharishi described as: “Where was your last thought before you thought it?”

The whole point is that we are the song. The self is coming from a state of pure awareness, from the state of being. All the rest that comes about in the outward manifestation of the physical world (including all the fluctuations which end up as thoughts and actions) is just clutter. The true nature of each soul is pure consciousness. So the song is really about transcending and about the quality of the transcendent.

I am not too sure if John actually fully understood what he was saying. He knew he was onto something when he saw those words and turned them into a song. But to have experienced what the lyrics in that song are actually about? I don’t know if he fully understood it.” – George Harrison


  • John Lennon – vocals, Hammond organ, Mellotron, tape loops
  • Paul McCartney – bass guitar, tape loops
  • George Harrison – sitar, tambura, lead guitar, tape loops
  • Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, tape loops
  • George Martin – tack piano

Release history

Notable covers

  • Phil Collins (from Face Value)

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