“Not Guilty” is a song by English rock musician George Harrison from his 1979 album George Harrison. He wrote the song in 1968 following the Beatles‘ Transcendental Meditation course in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an activity that he had led the group in undertaking. The lyrics serve as a response to the recrimination Harrison received from his bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the aftermath to the group’s public falling out with the Maharishi, and as the Beatles launched their multimedia company Apple Corps. The band recorded the song amid the tensions that characterised the sessions for their 1968 double LP The Beatles (also known as the “White Album”). The track was completed in August 1968 but not included on the release.
Harrison revisited “Not Guilty” in early 1978, shortly after participating in the Rutles‘ television satire of the Beatles’ history, All You Need Is Cash. In contrast to the atmosphere surrounding the song’s creation, this period was one of personal contentment for Harrison, who enjoyed the opportunity to debunk the myths surrounding his former band. The musical arrangement similarly differs in mood from the 1968 version; where the latter features distorted electric guitars and harpsichord, Harrison’s version reflects his adoption of a mellow jazz-pop style. The other musicians on the recording include Neil Larsen and Willie Weeks.
“Not Guilty” was known to be a Beatles outtake but the song was unheard by the public until the release of Harrison’s 1979 album. The Beatles’ version continued to be the subject of speculation among collectors. An edit of the band’s recording was prepared for the aborted Sessions album in 1984 and became available on bootlegs before its official release on the Beatles’ Anthology 3 outtakes compilation in 1996. The full version of the track, together with Harrison’s May 1968 demo of the song, appears on the 50th Anniversary Edition box-set release of The Beatles.
George Harrison wrote “Not Guilty” in 1968 following the Beatles‘ highly publicised spiritual retreat in Rishikesh, India, where they studied Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Harrison had led the Beatles’ interest in meditation and Indian culture, influencing their audience and musical peers, but the band’s falling out with the Maharishi in April 1968 became the source of public embarrassment.Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney had each left the ashram early and returned to England, with McCartney more interested in attending to the band’s new Apple Corps business venture. Harrison and John Lennon stayed on, only to then depart hurriedly after hearing of alleged impropriety between the Maharishi and a female student. The Rishikesh sojourn was the Beatles’ last extracurricular activity as a group and was followed by a divergence of opinion between Lennon, McCartney and Harrison that lasted until the band’s break-up in April 1970. In his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison says that “Not Guilty” addresses “Paul-John-Apple-Rishikesh-Indian friends, etc.”
Rather than return to England with Lennon, Harrison extended his time away by visiting his mentor Ravi Shankar in Madras. When he returned to London in late April, according to Apple press officer Derek Taylor, Harrison “reacted with real horror” at the extravagance of Apple’s operation. The company had taken out print advertisements inviting any budding artist to submit their creative ideas. The London offices were inundated with submissions, almost all of which were ignored, along with crowds of eccentrics responding to the Beatles’ invitation.[nb 1] In a 1987 interview with Timothy White for Musician magazine, Harrison referred to “the grief I was catching” from Lennon and McCartney post-India. He explained the message behind the song: “I said I wasn’t guilty of getting in the way of their career. I said I wasn’t guilty of leading them astray in our going to Rishikesh to see the Maharishi. I was sticking up for myself …”
The Rishikesh sojourn also resulted in Harrison’s emergence as a prolific songwriter. “Not Guilty” was one of several guitar-based compositions from this period, coinciding with Harrison’s re-engagement with his main instrument after two years of dedicated sitar study under Shankar. The full extent of this productivity was hidden until his 1970 solo album, All Things Must Pass, however, as Lennon and McCartney continued to dominate the Beatles’ songwriting. In author Peter Doggett‘s description, the band’s stay in Rishikesh marked the end of a period when Harrison’s championing of Indian culture had guided the Beatles’ musical and philosophical direction. He adds that the “old balance of power was uneasily resumed”, as Harrison had to push to have his songs included on the group’s albums, and Lennon, further to their self-produced 1967 TV film Magical Mystery Tour, continued to resent McCartney’s attempts to manage their career.