The Beatles’ seminal and intricate 1968 album “The White Album” opens with the satirical Beach Boys-inspired “Back in the U.S.S.R.” The second song, “Dear Prudence,” marks a sharp change in direction and sets the stage for the wild experimentation and off-kilter but highly ambitious songwriting that is to come.
“Dear Prudence” is a lovely tune with elements of innocence and wonder that would frequently appear in John Lennon’s future Beatles songs with psychedelic influences. It was created during The Beatles’ renowned India trip to learn transcendental meditation and find oneself (per Rolling Stone).
On their trip with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles must have discovered spirituality, as John Lennon’s fingerpicked guitar and overdubbed vocals undoubtedly reveal. The interconnection of all living organisms is also mentioned in the lyrics.
“The wind is low the birds will sing / That you are part of everything / Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?”
This gentle and adorable song was written by the Fab Four during a brief period of tranquility, but it was recorded in the midst of the intense stress and creative struggle that would plague The Beatles in their latter years before their inevitable breakup. Prudence is just the start of “The White Album’s” diverse array of characters, which also includes Sexy Sadie, Julia, Martha My Dear, and the gunslingers Bungalow Bill and Rocky Raccoon. Therefore, to whom is John Lennon addressing Prudence? The response is unexpectedly scrumptious.
From the moment Beatlemania spread over the Atlantic until the band’s demise, they were followed wherever they went by an entourage. Their moving trip to India wouldn’t be any different. Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Donovan, Mia Farrow, and Prudence Farrow, Mia’s younger sister, joined the Fab Four this time (per Rolling Stone).
Prudence Farrow recounts joining The Beatles to Rishikesh in 1968 following a terrifying LSD trip gone wrong, according to Rolling Stone India. To relax and process her experience, she went to meditation. Every member of the group was given a companion with whom to communicate and provide assistance. George Harrison and John Lennon were tasked with taking care of Prudence. This responsibility was taken seriously by Lennon and Harrison, who were no strangers to LSD. They constantly tried to get the younger Farrow to come out of her room and interact with the others.
Lennon clarified in his last interview that “Dear Prudence” was ”a song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in. They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. If she’d been in the West, they would have put her away. She’d been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anybody else.”
What was Prudence Farrow’s response to this kind invitation to play? Despite Harrison’s claims that Prudence was the inspiration for one of their songs, Prudence didn’t hear the song until later that year when her mother played it on their record player at a family event. Later, Farrow disclosed to Rolling Stone India that the song “epitomized what the Sixties were about in many ways. What it’s saying is very beautiful; it’s very positive.”