On My Record Player Part 19

The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

This sounds so good turned up loud on multiple speakers! Wow! “Love You To” by George Harrison is unbelievable when you hear it at a good volume. Taxman is such a great opener, I love to sing along to that. Eleanor Rigby is a brilliant work of art I could listen to over and over again. I was fortunate to have a copy of the Yellow Submarine animated VHS movie when I was a kid and I watched it many times and developed an early appreciation for the Beatles music. I love that movie! its crazy! I’m not crazy about Side 2, but “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a classic John Lennon composition that introduced that Indian/Psychedelic groove to pop music in the 60’s that became so iconic. Obviously, George Harrison took this genre a step futher in his songwriting, but this song on Revolver is just so well done at an early time.

Rolling Stone – 5 out of 5 stars

I don’t see too much difference between Revolver and Rubber Soul,” George Harrison once said. “To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two.” Revolver extends the more adventurous aspects of its predecessor — its introspection, its nascent psychedelia, its fascination with the possibilities of the studio — into a dramatic statement of generational purpose. The album, which was released in August 1966, made it thrillingly clear that what we now think of as “the Sixties” was fully — and irreversibly — under way.

Part of that revolutionary impulse was visual. Klaus Voormann, one of the Beatles’ artist buddies from their days in Hamburg, Germany, designed a striking photo-collage cover for Revolver; it was a crucial step on the road to the even trippier, more colorful imagery of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would come less than a year later.

And then there’s the music. The most innovative track on the album is John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Attempting to distill an LSD trip into a three-minute song, Lennon borrowed lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and recorded his vocal to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop.” Tape loops, a backward guitar part (Paul McCartney’s blistering solo on “Taxman,” in fact) and a droning tamboura completed the experimental effect, and the song proved hugely influential. For his part, on “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One,” McCartney mastered a strikingly mature form of art song, and Harrison, with “Taxman,” “I Want to Tell You” and “Love You To,” challenged Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting dominance.

Revolver, finally, signaled that in popular music, anything — any theme, any musical idea — could now be realized. And, in the case of the Beatles, would be.

Pitchfork – 10.0 out of 10

Like any band, the Beatles’ recording career was often altered, even pushed forward, as much by external factors as their own creative impulses. The group’s competitive drive had them, at times, working to match or best Bob Dylan or Brian Wilson; their drug use greatly colored the musical outlook of John Lennon and George Harrison in particular; and the death of former manager Brian Epstein ushered in a period of distracting and poor business choices and opened the door for individuals such as the celebrity guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yoko Ono, and businessman Allen Klein to penetrate, alter, and, some would say, disintegrate their inner circle.

The most important of these external shifts in the Beatles narrative, however, was a series of changes that allowed them to morph into a studio band. The chain of events that ushered in the band’s changing approach to studio music began beforeRubber Soul, but the results didn’t come into full fruition until Revolver, a 35-minute LP that took 300 hours of studio time to create– roughly three times the amount allotted to Rubber Soul, and an astronomical amount for a record in 1966.

Longtime Beatles producer George Martin, justifiably upset that EMI refused to give him a raise on the back of his extraordinarily profitable work with the Beatles, quit his post with the label in August 1965. Martin used his clout to create his own company, and the group and producer used theirs to effectively camp out at Abbey Road Studios for whatever length of time suited them rather than being forced to comply to the rigid and economically sound schedules demanded by labels at the time. The Beatles could now work both in and out of the studio, taking full advantage of new advancements in sound recording that allowed them to reflect upon and tinker with their work, explore new instruments and studio trickery, and refine their music by solving problems when they arose.

This new approach not only greatly altered their work environment, but drove the Beatles to value the flexibility of emerging technology. They also cashed in some of their commercial capital to abandon the mentally and physically sapping practice of touring– and the glad-handing and public relations requirements that went with it. Exceptionalism became the watchword for the band, and it responded by using its freedom to push forward its art and, by extension, the whole of pop music. Musically, then, the Beatles began to craft dense, experimental works; lyrically, they matched that ambition, maturing pop from the stuff of teen dreams to a more serious pursuit that actively reflected and shaped the times in which its creators lived.

Revolver was also the first record in which the impression of the Beatles as a holistic gang was disrupted. The group had taken three months off prior toRevolver— easily its longest break since the start of its recording career– and each band member went his own separate way after years of moving around the world as a unit. Even without the break, it’s possible that the group would continue to explore individual concerns: After starting to do just that on Rubber Soul, it was only natural that the Beatles wished to continue to highlight their individual strengths on its follow-up, and they did by listing each song’s lead singer on the record sleeve.

The first, surprisingly, was George Harrison, who kicks off the record with another stab at politics on “Taxman”, and then later offers philosophical musings on “I Want to Tell You” and the Indian-flavored “Love You To”. Over the next year or two, Harrison’s guitar played a more background role in the group’s recordings– fortuitously, then, that time also corresponded with the years in which the Beatles were pleased to bunker down in the studio and most explore the dynamic tension between their individual interests and their final stretch of camaraderie and mutual respect.

Lennon’s primary interest throughout much of this time was himself, something that continued throughout his career– he was always suspicious, even dismissive, of Paul McCartney’s character songs, but once he and Yoko Ono joined forces, her Fluxus-rooted belief in art-as-subjectivity became orthodoxy in his mind. Lennon’s early explorations of self and mind that began on Rubber Soul continued on Revolver, as the suburbanite spent much of his time at home indulging his zest for the exploratory powers of LSD. He contributes five songs to Revolver, and, indeed, each is concerned with drugs, the creative mind, a suspicion of the outside world, or all three.

Each is also uniformly wonderful, and together they provide a tapestry of Lennon’s burgeoning art-pop, which, along with Martin’s inventive arrangements and playful effects, would peak the next year with the triumphs of “I Am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “A Day in the Life”. The gauzy “I’m Only Sleeping” and rollicking 1-2 of “She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” aren’t nearly as demonstrative as the songs he’d write in their wake– as a result each remains oddly underrated– but they function as some of Lennon’s most purely satisfying pop songs.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is another thing entirely. While “Doctor Robert” or “She Said She Said” touched on drug culture playfully or privately, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a full-on attempt to recreate the immersive experience of LSD– complete with lyrics borrowed from Timothy Leary’s Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired writings. Remarkably, though, much of it due to Martin’s experimental production, tape loops, and musique concrète-inspired backdrop, the song is lively and giddy instead of self-serious or preachy. Even Martin’s primitive psychedelia could have been thudding and ponderous, and yet more than four decades later the entire thing seems less a clear product of its time than not only most art or experimental rock, but most Beatles records as well.

Despite that triumph, however, Revolver was McCartney’s maturation record as much as Rubber Soul was for Lennon. While Harrison was learning at the feet of sitar master Ravi Shankar and Lennon was navigating heavy use of psychotropic drugs, McCartney was refining his compositional chops by exploring classical music, training an eye for detail and subtlety in his lyrics, and embracing the orchestral work of Brian Wilson.

McCartney’s optimism and populism resulted in the most demonstrative songs he created for Revolver— the brassy “Good Day Sunshine” (which delightfully toes the line between schmaltz and heartwarming) and “Got to Get You Into My Life”, and the children’s music staple “Yellow Submarine”, an inventive and charming track too often derided as camp. (It’s also an early indication that it would be McCartney who would hold tightest to the impression of the group as a unit– the image of the band all living together here was, for the first time in years, untrue.)

The understated qualities of McCartney’s lyrics began to be misconstrued as simplistic in his ballads, but he provides three of his best here: “For No One”, all the more affecting because it’s slight and difficult to grasp, “Here, There and Everywhere”, a model of sepia-toned sentimentality, and “Eleanor Rigby”, which in its own way was as groundbreaking and revolutionary as “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Virtually a short story set to music, “Rigby” and its interwoven descriptions of lonely people was and is a desolate and altogether mature setting for a pop song.

Revolver in the end is the sound of a band growing into supreme confidence. The Beatles had been transformed into a group not beholden to the expectations of their label or bosses, but fully calling the shots– recording at their own pace, releasing records at a less-demanding clip, abandoning the showmanship of live performance. Lesser talents or a less-motivated group of people may have shrunk from the challenge, but here the Beatles took upon the task of redefining what was expected from popular music. Lest we forget it, the original flashpoint of Beatlemania remains the most influential and revolutionary period in the Beatles career, but the creative high points of 1966-67 aren’t far behind. It’s worth remembering as well that what had been demanded or expected from them as entertainers and popular musicians was something they’d challenged from their first cheeky, flippant interview, but just a few years later they were no longer mere anomalies within the world of pop, no longer potential fads; they were avatars for a transformative cultural movement.


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