The Making of The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows”

[Video Link] Dan Colman of Open Culture has a post about The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was featured on the most recent episode of Mad Men.

On Sunday night, The Beatles made history again when Don Draper slipped a copy of Revolver onto his turntable and started listening to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” According to Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, this marked the first time a Beatles song appeared on a television show (excluding the band’s live TV performances during the 1960s). And the privilege of playing a Beatles tune came at a cost — a reported $250,000.

If you’re not familiar with “Tomorrow Never Knows” (listen below), we’ll tell you a few simple things about it. According to Steve Turner, author of A Hard Day’s Write, this was John Lennon’s “attempt to create in words and sounds a suitable track for the LSD experience” (John discusses his first encounter with the drug here), and it was also the “weirdest and most experimental piece of music to appear under the Beatles’ name at the time.” Without a doubt, this psychedelic tune would have fit hand-in-glove with Mad Men’s fifth episode of the season, when Roger and Jane drop acid at a psychiatrist’s dinner party. But it sits comfortably too in Episode 8. Just as the song marked a tuning point in the band’s sound, so too does it presage a turning point in Mad Men‘s narrative. We begin to see individual characters moving in new personal directions and the show itself entering the later radical 60s.

Open Culture: The Making of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” The Beatles’ Song That Aired on an Historic Episode of Mad Men


  1. Wiener is wrong about it being the first time. The Beatles had a cartoon show in the 60’s that used a bunch their licensed recordings including “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “The Prisoner” used “All You Need is Love” in one of their episodes. In addition to that WKRP in Cincinatti used a loophole in video rights vs film rights to play a few Beatles songs (though they didn’t make it to reruns or DVD, etc).

    It’s still a major get to get a song like that in this day and age, but it’s not the first time ever.


    Also, the largesse of spending 250k for the rights to a song is pretty much the reason I stopped working in Hollywood post sound.

  2. I remember “Paperback Writer” being used as the theme tune for a mid-1970s BBC TV book review programme called Read All About It presented by Melvyn Bragg. As far as I recall, that was the original Beatles recording.

    A bit of snoopgling indicates that it seems Freud On Food, also in the 70s, presented by Clement Freud (MP, grandson of Sigmund, brother of Lucian), had “Savoy Truffle” from the White Album as its theme, the Holiday programme used “Here Comes the Sun”, and The Prisoner had a snippet of “All You Need is Love”, and Dr Who had a bit of “Ticket To Ride “. But I don’t recall those personally. Maybe in those days it wasn’t such a big deal, or maybe some were covers.

    1. Dr. Who’s “Ticket to Ride” was a live music performance of the Beatles. Those aren’t actually that hard to get access to. It’s the studio recordings that are locked up tight.

  3. Re-listening:, the song is a fairly early example of sample-based music. It’s all made out of tape loops. And it’s not half a step away from Public Enemy and RZA and Mobb Deep. On that basis, it’s the best Beatles track. 

    1. On the basis of the samples?  There’s quite a bit more of that on some of their other records — throughout Sgt. Pepper, to say nothing of “Revolution #9”. 

      (Though oddly not on the version of Tomorrow Never Knows that was playing behind the “making of” clip — that was an earlier take, which never got the full tape-loop treatment.)

  4. “….when Roger and Jane drop acid at a psychiatrist’s dinner party.”

    Not a “psychaitrist” a psychologist– and it was Timothy Leary!

    1. Psychiatrist, and it’s the wife, not the husband. Jane says, “Catherine has been the psychiatrist of some celebrities.” I don’t think it’s stated what exactly the husband’s field is, though at the beginning of the scene he seems to be talking about modal logic or something. But he’s bald and wears glasses and acts nothing like Timothy Leary, so I’m pretty sure it was just Roger making a joke.

  5. My favorite version was by Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera in the band 801 recorded live in 1976. I’ve collected quite a few version of this great song. Here’s my collection if anyone wants a listen. The version by Jim Morrison with Jimi Hendrix is awful… but kinda funny.

  6. “With a Little Help From My Friends” was used in the 1979 PBS movie, “The Lathe of Heaven”.  They had to replace the original version with a cover before they could release a DVD of it a few years ago, because of the expense of licensing it.

  7. This is definitely one of my fave Beatles tracks. As good as they were before acid, there’s no comparison IMO…

    I had a pretty mind-blowing listen to Sabbath’s Master of Reality on acid once… came away from that quite sure that LSD opens up vast new realms of musical experience.

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