The Five: Best Songs Influenced By Eastern Music

In light of our new Eastern Star lookbook, we found the five best songs influenced by eastern music. 

There’s a vital connection between music and fashion. Both play powerfully creative roles in influencing the other. Can fashion exist so strongly if not for music? Can music evolve if not for fashion? This week we’re combining the two. In celebration of our newest lookbook, Eastern Star, we are exploring the five best songs that have been influenced by eastern music. The music is moody, compelling, and enigmatic. The lookbook collection is the same. Think of the sound of sitars piercing the night sky, patterned rugs layered across the dusty floor, rich velvet dresses slinking through canvas tents. Sensual, mystical… rock n’ roll.


The Kinks “See My Friends”

It’s only appropriate to start the list with arguably the first raga-rock (eastern-influenced music featuring indigenous instruments and melodies) to hit western land. The song was written by The Kinks’ singer and guitarist Ray Davies and released in 1965. It’s been said that Davies heard the sitar sound from a nearby studio where The Kinks were recording, investigated the noise, and decided to integrate it into their record. The rest is history.

The Byrds “Eight Miles High”

“Eight Miles High”, released as a single in 1966, was another song heavily influenced by raga music, and furthermore, Indian musician, Ravi Shankar. Shankar was a music scholar, composer and one of the best-known advocates of the sitar in the 1960s and ’70s. This song is considered one of the first psychedelic rock songs in history and a leader in the counterculture movement. In fact, it was taken off of the air for a time due to its rebellion.

The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”

Any Beatles fan may argue that the handsome foursome led the way in raga-rock with the introduction of the song, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” But other accounts say it was Ray Davies (of the aforementioned Kinks) who was the one who introduced Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison to the sound. As most of us know, Harrison took a strong liking to the sitar and began to play it regularly. He even spent time in India to learn under the tutelage of Ravi Shankar (again, mentioned above.) “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a classically inspired song, featuring the sitar and tambura (another string instrument that, instead of creating melody, sustains sound by causing a drone-like hum.)


The Rolling Stones “Paint It Black”

This number was another influential tune in the raga-rock movement and was the first hit song (number one in both the US and UK) to feature a sitar. Bandleader, Brian Jones, explored with the instrument and toyed with its complexity and textural sound. He studied the instrument under Ravi Shankar’s pupil, Harihar Rao, and began to add it to The Rolling Stones’ catalog.

The Velvet Underground “Venus In Furs”

Though this song doesn’t have any actual eastern instruments featured, the sound is obviously represented. Author Erich Kuersten wrote it best: “There is no intro or buildup to the song; the track starts as if you opened a door to a decadent Marrakesh… den, a blast of air-conditioned Middle Eastern menace with a plodding beat that’s the missing link between “Bolero” and Led Zeppelin’s version of “When the Levee Breaks”.”

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Top two photos by Henry Grossman. Bottom photo by

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  1. What a fun post. Eastern inspired music always takes me for surprise. It is a refreshing listen after all the other music I listen to. I have to admit, I had to look up the songs on Youtube to remember which ones they were. The Doors song is my favorite. Another Beatles song I would say is Eastern inspired is Love You To (one of my all time favorites.) I love how you included a link to Spotify as well. I’ll have to give it a listen.

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