The Pop History Dig

“Dear Prudence”
1967-1968

John Lennon, background, and Paul McCartney, working on their music in Rishikesh, India during a 1968 visit there with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The song, ‘Dear Prudence,’ about a woman in the group there, Prudence Farrow, was written by John Lennon.
John Lennon, background, and Paul McCartney, working on their music in Rishikesh, India during a 1968 visit there with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The song, ‘Dear Prudence,’ about a woman in the group there, Prudence Farrow, was written by John Lennon.
     “Dear Prudence” is the name of a Beatles song written by John Lennon.  It appears on the Beatles’ November 1968 double-disc White Album.  Lennon wrote the song earlier that year in India, inspired by a woman named Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow.  The Beatles and the Farrow sisters  were part of a larger group who were then visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on a weeks-long retreat in Rishikesh, India.  It was February-March 1968.  Prudence Farrow, then focused on learning transcendental meditation (TM), stayed in her room for long periods of time.  Lennon, worried she was depressed, wrote the song “Dear Prudence,” inviting her — as his lyrics would say — to “come out to play.”

     “All the people around her were very worried about the girl,” Lennon would later say.  “…So, we sang to her.”  Lennon and George Harrison were delegated by the group to help bring Prudence out, as she had held up in her room for some time.  Farrow was intent on learning the TM technique well enough to be able to teach it herself. 

“I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so I could meditate,” she would later explain.  “John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room.  They were all serious about what they were doing, but they just weren’t as fanatical as me…” 

 Prudence Farrow in India.
Prudence Farrow in India.
     Later, as the Beatles were leaving India, George Harrison mentioned to Prudence that they had written a song about her.  Farrow, flattered at the attention, would not hear the song until it came out on the album. 

Music Player
“Dear Prudence” — 1968 

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     The resulting song, in any case, is quite beautiful musically; with finger-picking guitar featured prominently throughout, along with  some very nice, harmonic Beatle vocals.  The song’s lyrics offer simplicity and innocence while praising nature’s beauty:  “..The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful, and so are you…”.  Lennon is said to have considered it one of his favorite Beatles songs, and his son Julian has also named it his favorite.


 

Cover of Beatles’ EP which includes BBC broadcast hit, “All You Need is Love.”
Cover of Beatles’ EP which includes BBC broadcast hit, “All You Need is Love.”
Background

     In the time period leading up to and including the Beatles’ trip to India — 1967-1968 — there had already been, and would continue to be, significant change in both the Beatles’ musical growth as well as the social and political setting of those times.  The Beatles by then were nearly four years removed from the hysteria of the earlier “Beatlemania” that had prevailed in 1963-1964.  They had also produced by then more complex and interesting music, adding the album Rubber Soul in December 1965 followed by Revolver in 1966.  And just as the “summer of love” was taking form in San Francisco in 1967 — ushering in the hippie-counterculture movement  — the Beatles produced a highly innovative new album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in June 1967. The Beatles’ music gained  global reach in the sum- mer of 1967, after they were featured in the first live, satellite-fed, global TV broadcast singing “All You Need is Love.” That same month, the first live, satellite-enabled global television link occurred when the BBC in London featured the Beatles and others in a June 25th studio performance of the song “All You Need Is Love.”  The BBC’s production, which included a longer two-hour show linking 26 nations entitled Our World, had the largest television audience ever up to that point — some 350 to 400 million people.  The most famous segment, however, starred the Beatles plus a 13-piece orchestra performing “All You Need Is Love,” a song written by John Lennon.  During the live telecast from the Beatles’ Abbey Road studios, other notable U.K. musicians, including the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Moon, Graham Nash, and others joined the Beatles, some singing along.  “All You Need is Love” was so well-received that the Beatles released it as a single in the U.K. in early July 1967, where it rose to No. 1 on the U.K. charts, remaining there for three weeks.  In the U.S., the song hit No.1 on the Billboard charts August 19th, 1967.  The Beatles and their music were then at a peak globally; they were a group attuned to their times, changing music and culture as they went.

 

The Beatles & India

     Not long after the Beatles had performed “All You Need Is Love” on their global broadcast, they met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the first time in London at a lecture.  George Harrison and his then wife, former model and photographer Patti Boyd, had become interested in Indian culture.  George had discovered the sitar, an Indian musical instrument, and had visited India in the fall of 1966, where he first heard the Maharishi speak.  The Beatles, at the time, especially Lennon and Harrison, were looking for more cosmic awareness and had been experimenting with LSD.  The Maharishi’s transcendental meditation promised an alternative to hallucinogenic drugs.

The Beatles with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (center) sometime before their trip to India, possibly August 1967, in Bangor, Wales. From left: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
The Beatles with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (center) sometime before their trip to India, possibly August 1967, in Bangor, Wales. From left: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

     In late August 1967, the Beatles attended a weekend retreat with the Maharishi in Bangor, Wales.  While there, they received news that Brian Epstein, their manager, had died of a drug overdose.  The Maharishi helped them through the Epstein tragedy with Hindu philosophy, and in February 1968, the Beatles decided to join him for a retreat at Rishikesh, India, a major center to study yoga. 

“The Saturday Evening Post” cover story of May 4, 1968 featured the Beatles, Mia Farrow, and others on their retreat in India.
“The Saturday Evening Post” cover story of May 4, 1968 featured the Beatles, Mia Farrow, and others on their retreat in India.
Among others in a group attending the retreat in India were: American actress Mia Farrow (soon to be divorced from Frank Sinatra); Mia’s sister, Prudence Farrow;  Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan of “Sunshine Super- man” fame (1966); American actress Candice Bergen; Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones; British singer Marianne Faithfull; Yoko Ono, artist; Mike Love and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys; John Densmore and Ray Manzarek of The Doors; and Patti Harrison, Jane Asher, and a number of others.

     The gathering in India, with all its high-powered celebrity, attracted a press following and a share of newspaper and magazine stories, a number of which appeared in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere.  The Saturday Evening Post, for example, ran a featured cover story on the trip in its May 4th, 1968 edition, having sent a reporter to go with Beatles to Rishikesh.  “Here’s the Scene:,” began the headline on the Post’s cover story.  “The Beatles, Mia Farrow and a Post Reporter All Gather in India to Meditate with The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”  This was actually a two-part story, with the conclusion running in the Post’s May 18th edition. 

John Lennon & Paul McCartney working on their music in India, Feb-Mar 1968.
John Lennon & Paul McCartney working on their music in India, Feb-Mar 1968.
     There was also a spate of stories at the time surrounding the spiritual aspects of the Beatles’ retreat and related stirrings in the larger society, with some religious leaders, such as the president of the University of Chicago divinity school and others, commenting on the event with a range of opinion.  Some well-known writers of that day, too, including conservative columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote opinion pieces mentioning the Beatles’ trip to India.

     The Beatles had planned to make it a three month retreat.  However, after about ten days, Ringo Starr returned home, reportedly because he couldn’t deal with spicy Indian food, heading back to the U.K. “for egg and chips,” as one account put it.  Paul left soon thereafter, with John and George leaving later.  Although the Beatles left the retreat before the course on transcendental meditation was finished, Prudence Farrow, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and others stayed on and became TM teachers.  During the Beatles’ stay, however, they did a fair amount of song writing in their spare time, with McCartney and Lennon getting together frequently to compare notes.  “Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing,” Lennon would later say, “I did write some of my best songs there.”

John Lennon penned ‘Dear Pru- dence’ in 1968 while in India.
John Lennon penned ‘Dear Pru- dence’ in 1968 while in India.
     During the retreat, however, there was one alleged incident of sexual impropriety between Mia Farrow and Maharishi, which reportedly had upset Lennon and some others in the group, leading Lennon to later write a critical song about the Maharishi — though with changed lyrics in the final version; a song that became “Sexy Sadie.”  One of the original lines, later changed, went: “Maharishi  — what have you done?  You made a fool of everyone.”  Other accounts, however, report there was nothing to the allegations about the Maharishi.  And some reports say that the Beatles were asked to leave by the Maharishi because of some backsliding on drug use while attending the retreat.  In any case, Beatles historians credit the India trip as a spur to the Beatles’ creativity; reviving their song-writing fortunes.  When they returned to England they came home with at least 30 new tunes, in rough form.  They then went to work on these, including “Dear Prudence” and other songs that would become the White Album.  “Whatever shortcomings the Beatles’ interaction with the Maharishi may have had,” observed New York Times music reporter Allan Kozinn in 2008, “the experience… seems to have opened a floodgate of creativity and got them out of what threatened to be a creative rut.”

 

Song & Album

     In May 1968, a week before they were to begin work on what would become the White Album, the Beatles gathered at George Harrison’s house in Esher, England.  There, they ran through the songs they had worked up in India and made a tape of the ones they would consider for formal recording in the studio.  In all, some 30-to-40 songs were at least initially compiled during their trip to India, and many, though not all, would appear on the White Album.  Some of the songs would surface years later, including in various bootleg versions.

‘Dear Prudence’ appears as the 2nd song on side one of the Beatles two-disc ‘White Album,’ shown here on the Apple record label in its 33.3 rpm vinyl version.
‘Dear Prudence’ appears as the 2nd song on side one of the Beatles two-disc ‘White Album,’ shown here on the Apple record label in its 33.3 rpm vinyl version.
     In late August 1968, as the Beatles continued their studio work on the White Album — most of which was done at the Abbey Road studios in London — the work on “Dear Prudence” began.  The work on this song, took place over a three-day period at Trident Studios in London.  This studio had new eight-track recording equipment, which the Beatles used on the “Dear Prudence” song.  The basic track, recorded on this first day, featured Lennon on finger-picked guitar, George Harrison on lead guitar, and Paul McCartney on drums, as Ringo Starr had temporarily left the group.  On the following day, McCartney recorded a bass part, and Lennon manually double-tracked his lead vocals and backing vocals.  Handclapping and tambourine were performed by McCartney and Harrison with other contributions from others at the studio.  On the final day of recording, McCartney added a piano track and a very brief flügelhorn section.  “Dear Prudence,” of course, was only one of many songs on the White Album.  The Beatles and their studio producer, George Martin, continued with work on the full album.  The finished, two-disc White Album with 30 songs — double anything the Beatles had done in previous albums — was not released in the U.S. and U.K. until late November 1968.  In the U.S. by then, Richard Nixon had been elected to his first term as president.

Sheet music cover for the Beatle’s ‘Dear Prudence.’
Sheet music cover for the Beatle’s ‘Dear Prudence.’
     “Dear Prudence,” meanwhile, was not released as a single.  It was likely first heard on the radio airwaves in late November and early December of 1968 as the album began to receive play on FM radio stations and through individual sales.  On the album, “Dear Prudence” directly follows and bleeds in from the first song on side one, “Back in the U.S.S.R,” a more raucous tune, which at its ending has “jet landing” sounds that run over the early acoustic guitar lead for “Dear Prudence.”

     In the U.K., the White Album debuted at No. 1 on December 1st,1968, spending a total of eight weeks at the top of the U.K. charts and holding in the Top Ten for another four weeks.  In the U. S., the album debuted at No.11, reaching No. 1 in its third week, spending nine weeks there and remaining on the Billboard 200 album chart for 155 weeks.  The White Album sold more than 1 million copies in its first two weeks on the market.  In the U.S., it became the Beatles’ all- time best-selling album at “19 times platinum” — i.e., selling 19 million copies and ranking tenth among all best-selling U.S. albums.

     “Dear Prudence,” meanwhile, has had its fans over the years, one of whom was fellow musician Jerry Garcia, a founder of the famed Grateful Dead rock group.  Garcia is said to have marked the song as one of his all-time personal favorites.  Starting around 1979, his Jerry Garcia Band was known to have covered the song regularly at concerts until Garcia’s death in 1995.  The song also appeared on the 1991 album, Jerry Garcia Band.  The Garcia performance version of “Dear Prudence” — as with much music in “the Grateful Dead tradition” and their 1970s-era style — was often extended and improvised, some exceeding ten minutes.

Prudence Farrow
…Since 1968

     After India, Prudence Farrow went on to teach TM for about 37 years.  She also received a BA, MA and PhD in South and Southeast Asian studies from University of California at Berkeley and raised three children — and now four grandchildren.  Prudence Farrow also worked in film production, with credits including The Muppets Take Manhattan of 1984 and The Purple Rose of Cairo of 1985, with Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen.  She also conceived and co-produced the 1994 film Widow’s Peak.  In this latter film — set in an Irish town of the 1920s — Prudence’s mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, was initially intended to play the role of Miss O’Hare.  However, O’Sullivan declined due to her advanced age with the part going instead to O’Sullivan’s daughter and Prudence’s sister, Mia.  The late Natasha Richardson was also in that film.

     “Dear Prudence” has also been covered by a range of other groups.  English post-punk/ alternative rock band, Siouxsie & the Banshees, released their version of “Dear Prudence” in 1983, a song that became one of that group’s biggest hits, peaking at No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart.  In commercial advertising, Cellular South, a wireless phone company based in Mississippi, began using portions of a “Dear Prudence” cover version for a TV commercial in mid-2008.

     “Dear Prudence” memorabilia has come to the fore in at least one instance.  In 1987, nearly 20 years after the song first appeared, Lennon’s original handwritten copy of the 14 lines of verse from “Dear Prudence,” was sold at auction to an unidentified investor for $19,500. 

Prudence Farrow, meanwhile, would work as an elementary school teacher along with her husband, both continuing to practice TM (see box at right).  For the Beatles, the trip to India and what had preceded it — including Brian Epstein’s death — began a process of unraveling that would lead to the group’s demise.  Although India had provided them with a temporary spur to their musical output, differences and strains within the group had become apparent during the White Album recording sessions; differences that would lead to the Beatles’ break up in 1970. For more about the Beatles’ break up see, “The Paul-Is-Dead Saga, 1969-1970,” which also covers their final days together and the circumstances leading up to their splitting up.

     Stay tuned to this website for other stories on the history of music in contemporary culture. Other Beatles and Beatles-related stories at this website include: “Beatles’ Closed-Circuit Gig, March 1964,” “Nike & The Beatles, 1987-1989,” “Nike’s Revolution Ad, 1987-1988″ (video), and “Michael & McCartney, 1980s-2009.”  See also, “Beatles History: Ten Stories,” a topics page with additional choices.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you.
– Jack Doyle 

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Date Posted:  27 July 2009
Last Update:  29 August 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Dear Prudence, 1967-1968,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 27, 2009.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

In 1968, the Beatles also released their animated film, ‘Yellow Submarine,’ previewed above with two Beatle characters on an early cover of a new music magazine named ‘Rolling Stone’–  this being the magazine’s 9th issue of April 27, 1968.
In 1968, the Beatles also released their animated film, ‘Yellow Submarine,’ previewed above with two Beatle characters on an early cover of a new music magazine named ‘Rolling Stone’– this being the magazine’s 9th issue of April 27, 1968.
A silkscreen print copy of John Lennon’s hand-written “Dear Prudence” lyrics. The original was sold at auction in 1987.
A silkscreen print copy of John Lennon’s hand-written “Dear Prudence” lyrics. The original was sold at auction in 1987.
“Beatles in Rishikesh,” book by photographer Paul Saltzman, featuring 75 photos and anecdotes on the Beatles and others at the retreat, Penguin Studio Books (hardback), October 2000, 144 pp.
“Beatles in Rishikesh,” book by photographer Paul Saltzman, featuring 75 photos and anecdotes on the Beatles and others at the retreat, Penguin Studio Books (hardback), October 2000, 144 pp.
The Beatles and other celebrities, with their travels to India to study TM with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, helped bring global attention to him and spawn something of a global enterprise thereafter. He is depicted here on the October 13th, 1975 cover of Time magazine with the story, “Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems.”
The Beatles and other celebrities, with their travels to India to study TM with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, helped bring global attention to him and spawn something of a global enterprise thereafter. He is depicted here on the October 13th, 1975 cover of Time magazine with the story, “Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems.”

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