To begin with, “Not Guilty” is a George Harrison composition. The Beatles recorded it in the late 1960’s during the “White Album” sessions. However, we had to wait until 1996 before there was an official release.
Recorded: 7th-9th, 12th August, 1968
Track Duration: 3:22
Record Label: Apple
Songwriter: George Harrison
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott
Written by George Harrison, “Not Guilty” is about his relationship with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This was in 1968 after a trip to India. Harrison led his bandmates to a Transcendental Meditation course in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi but the group fell out with the Indian guru towards the end of the trip. Because of this, Harrison felt a little responsible for the resulting bitterness.
The Beatles wrote numerous songs while in India. However, many were only partially complete though and needed attention when they came back to the UK.
“Actually, I wrote that in 1968. It was after we got back from Rishikesh in the Himalayas on the Maharishi trip, and it was for the White Album. We recorded it but we didn’t get it down right or something. Then I forgot all about it until a year ago, when I found this old demo I’d made in the Sixties.
The lyrics are a bit passé – all about upsetting ‘Apple carts’ and stuff – but it’s a bit about what was happening at the time. ‘Not guilty for getting in your way/While you’re trying to steal the day’ – which was me trying to get a space. ‘Not guilty/For looking like a freak/Making friends with every Sikh/For leading your astray/On the road to Mandalay’ – which is the Maharishi and going to the Himalayas and all that was said about that. I like the tune a lot; it would make a great tune for Peggy Lee or someone.”
Rolling Stone Magazine, April 1979
Of course, this was a time when The Beatles were beginning to show signs of stress. Harrison himself was also becoming more distant within the band.
The Beatles began recording “Not Guilty” on the 7th of August, 1968, in Studio Two of the EMI Studios in London during the 3.00pm-5.30am sessions. They recorded 46 takes that day but returned to the same studio the next day for takes 47-101. The song was proving difficult to learn due to its time signature changes. As a result, many of these takes were incomplete.
On the 9th August, they created a reduction mix from take 99, this obviously became take 102. On this take, there were numerous overdubs of George Harrison’s lead guitar.
Eric Clapton was a good friend of George Harrison and would often help him out on occasions. However, he also gave Harrison a Gibson Les Paul guitar aka “Lucy” which we he used for the first time during this recording.
On the 12th of August, Harrison recorded another lead vocal piece by using various positions within the studio to get the right sound. Lennon and McCartney also tried various harmony vocals but Harrison still wasn’t happy.
“George had this idea that he wanted to do it in the control room with the speakers blasting, so that he got more of an on-stage feel. So we had to monitor through headphones, setting the monitor speakers at a level where he felt comfortable and it wouldn’t completely blast out his vocal.”
Ken Scott, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Although the song could have been a part of the “White Album“, it never made the grade. In fact, the song didn’t become commercially available until the Anthology Project came about in the mid 1990’s.