Featured image via babgreeb RECORDS
Article written by Dan Cousart
The mid-1960s were an incredibly exciting time for the music world. With the release of classic records like Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Aftermath by The Rolling Stones and Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, the ideas of what the album as an artistic medium and pop music could be were changing. Leading the charge was The Beatles, who had taken the world by storm in the early 1960s and were beginning to reach their commercial peak. What made the group truly remarkable though is that they were constantly innovating and creating music the world had never heard before. In 1965, they released their landmark record Rubber Soul, a record that shied away from their typical pop sound and themes. These songs were some of the first recordings to feature a sitar and a fuzz effect. By the time the lads hit the studio for Revolver, they were well-seasoned in the studio and were ready to do something crazy.
The sessions began in early April of ‘66 with the first attempt at recording a radical new track called “Tomorrow Never Knows”, a song inspired by an acid trip John Lennon experienced that featured phrases from the Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience that references the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Paul McCartney brought in a series of tape loops he recorded at home including seagull noises and piano parts. The band, along with longtime producer George Martin, fed tape through multiple machines to create the craziness that can be heard on the record. Lennon even wanted to swing from the ceiling of the Abbey Road Studio while recording his vocals to make it sound like he was singing from “on top of a mountain.” Needless to say, that idea was nixed, but once the track was finished, The Beatles figured they had to write a record that would support the song. The boys began working hard, resulting in one of the great records of the 20th century.
One of the most recognizable tracks is “Taxman”, a George Harrison penned classic about his discontent with the amount of money the band had to pay out for their taxes. It was the most political The Beatles had ever been, referencing “Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath”, who were two politicians in British parliament. It is also the world’s introduction to Automatic Double Tracking, a studio advancement which allowed a vocalist or instrumentalist to automatically double track their vocal without having to re-record a second track. A humble advancement by today’s standards, but ADTs invention would soon have far reaching applications from artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. This technique would be used throughout this record as well as most of their future recordings. The group were aiming to do the nonconventional, so when McCartney chose to do the guitar solo on “Taxman”, he wanted to make it as far out as possible, resulting in one of the most interesting guitar solos ever recorded.
Digging deeper, one begins to see that this record was truly a collaboration of all four members front to back. Though other Beatles classics like The White Album and Abbey Road feature songs by all four members, Revolver was when the group was really acting to their fullest potential as a band. It is arguably the tightest the Starr/McCartney rhythm section eve, and each member took their turn trading instruments and making music they might not have a few years earlier. When McCartney would bring in a song, Lennon would counter and vice versa. That is why the album features so many different styles. Lennon and McCartney were as competitive as they were a collaborative songwriting duo, and were constantly trying to outdo each other. What also makes this record stand out amongst the others is that it shows Harrison stepping up and becoming a more dominant force in the group by contributing more songs and musical elements to their already extensive palette.
Although the record as a whole is incredible, many of these songs individually rank among the groups greatest. One standout would have to be the McCartney penned “Eleanor Rigby”, a ballad that features an orchestra and some of the darkest lyrics detailing the life of a lonely woman passing away and nobody caring. Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping” is a personal favorite and is very underrated. It was the first song ever to feature a backwards guitar solo, and the song itself deals with the idealism of dreams, something very far removed from the days of “Love Me Do.” Another McCartney gem is “Here, There and Everywhere”. It is one of the more straightforward songs on the album, but it’s so tender and serene you can’t help but enjoy it.
Many of the songs on Revolver were re-recorded and reworked, proven by the release of The Anthology Collection, a compilation featuring early demos and early recordings of some of their best songs. One that started very differently was “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which sounded much more like an earlier Beatles songs like “What You’re Doing” or a song from The Byrds. The original was rejected, but was brought eventually back to be reworked. It’s rumored the song is making fun of Mick Jagger, but no one will ever quite know for sure given that Lennon was very dismissive of the track and refused to talk much about it in interviews.
Drug culture was a very popular, but controversial topic for The Beatles at the time. It was the mid-sixties and many people were beginning to experiment with LSD and smoking Marijuana. “Doctor Robert” is thought to be written about Harrison and Lennon’s first acid trip where both musicians claimed that the chemical was slipped into their coffee. There has been speculation that the song is about a man who called himself “Doctor Robert” and would sell illegal drugs and various medications to celebrities, including Lennon. “She Said She Said” is also thought to be about a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda during an acid trip. The lines “I know what it’s like to be dead” supposedly came from a story about a near death experience from Fonda’s childhood. Lennon told him to shut up and that Fonda was “making him feel like he had never been born”, subsequently inspiring the song’s backhanded yet surreal lyrics. Only in the sixties, right?
You can’t talk about Revolver and not mention “Yellow Submarine”, one of the most iconic songs by the group. Though it is much more of a children’s song, “Yellow Submarine” is Ringo Starr’s most well-known Beatles song and it topped the British charts for over four weeks. McCartney wrote the track for Ringo with help from folk singer Donovan and Lennon in the studio. The song would go on to inspire the 1968 animated film, Yellow Submarine. The song has been covered countless times and even appears on The Beatles 1 collection.
The sheer variety put forth by the group is what makes Revolver such a classic. It was an album where all four Beatles were working equally as hard and showed each of their own unique personalities in their songs. The Beatles’ sixth studio record really made the album an art form, and, even fifty years later, countless artists still pay tribute to its genius. The Beatles’ relentless quest for innovation lead to many of the modern advances in recording technology, advances that allowed the record to become a timeless masterpiece. Revolver takes you through highs and lows with its incredible songwriting and truly innovative vision that leaves you completely staggered by the end. So do yourself a favor, grab some headphones and take 45 minutes out of your day to go listen to it.
What’s your favorite track off Revolver? Share your pick in the comment section below!