It is the album that marked the Beatles transition from mop-tops to musicians, from pop princes to progressive boundary-pushers and it has been part of popular culture for half a century. Ringo may well have remarked that ‘tomorrow never knows’, but it actually does. It knows that Revolver was a great album then, now, and probably as long as people enjoy music.
Faced with the impossibility of finding anything even remotely new or original to say about Revolver, I decided instead to trawl through the Vinyl Connection store of printed material to assemble information, observations, responses and analysis that might invite a spray of refracted light through a patchwork window. Here, then, is a variegated commentary on The Beatles seventh LP, released on August 5th 1966. Although the article’s length required it to be divided into two parts, I hope you’ll find the effort worthwhile.
(Lennon-McCartney unless noted)
1. TAXMAN (Harrison)
If you drive a car I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit I’ll tax the seat
Thursday 21 April 1966
Studio Two, EMI Studios, London
George’s wonderfully sardonic ‘Taxman’ was virtually completed during a 2:30 pm – 12:50 am session, in which the Beatles recorded 11 takes of the rhythm track and then set about overdubbing onto the last of these.
By the end, the song lacked only the final version’s spoken count-in, the ‘Mister Wilson, Mister Heath’ refrain which extended the fame of Britain’s two most prominent politicians right around the world, a cowbell and the distinctive guitar solo outro. (This solo was in fact a copy of the middle-eight piece, edited onto the end of the song during the final mono and stereo mix stage on Tuesday 21 June.) [Lewisohn, p. 218]
George Martin (decided) that this George Harrison composition would hold the oh-so-important position of opening the album. Not only would the guitarist get an unheard-of three songs on the album but also the very first cut besides. It was an honour that left him ‘dead chuffed’ [Rodrigeuz, p. 128].
2. ELEANOR RIGBY
Eleanor Rigby died in the church
and was buried along with her name
The only single from Revolver was double A-side ‘Eleanor Rigby’/‘Yellow Submarine’, released on the same day as the album.
Death is a subject normally avoided in pop music. Consequently the downbeat demise of a lonely spinster in ‘Eleanor Rigby’—not to mention the brutal image of the priest ‘wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave’—came as quite a shock to pop listeners in 1966. Taken together with George Martin’s wintery string octet arrangement, the impact was transfixing [Macdonald, p. 162].
A string-driven lament that even today sounds nothing like pop music [MacDonald, p. 84].
3. I’M ONLY SLEEPING
Please don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping
To produce the backwards guitar solos in Lennon’s gloriously lethargic ‘I’m only Sleeping’, Harrison worked out the solos he wanted them to play, wrote them down in reverse order, and then overdubbed them onto tape running backwards. Complicating matters, Harrison wanted to combine a distorted fuzz guitar and a straight guitar sound, and so recorded two sets of backwards solos. The operation took a full six hours [Kozinn, p. 139].
4. LOVE YOU TO (Harrison)
A lifetime is so short
A new one can’t be bought
The first product of Harrison’s interest in Indian music, ‘Love You To’ is distinguished by the authenticity of its Hindustani classical instrumentation and techniques [Macdonald, p. 155].
Harrison invited the tabla player Anil Bhagwat to add an improvisatory percussion part to his sitar-centred ‘Love You To’ [Kozinn, p. 142].
The first full-blown fusion of pop and Indian styles [du Noyer].
5. HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE
Each one believing that love never dies
Watching their eyes
And hoping I’m always there
A perfectly satisfying romantic ballad—as fine as Paul would ever craft—it contains the implicit observation the though love seems eternal now, it may not be forever [Rodrigeuz, p. 232].
The song title is amusingly apt for the day the Beatles nailed the song. Robert Rodriguez takes up the story of Thursday 16th June 1966:
Their day began with each receiving a cholera vaccination… Afterward, the foursome and Brian Epstein piled into John’s Rolls-Royce for a trip to the BBC Television Centre for an appearance on Top of the Pops to plug both sides of their new single [p. 145]. The appearance, which depicted John, Paul, and George grouped around Ringo before blazing rings of marquee-style lights, was extensively documented in still photos [p. 164]. Following the live broadcast, they headed back to the [EMI] studio for a late-night session, resuming work on ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ [p. 145].
Arranged to begin at 7:00 pm, they couldn’t have arrived much before 8:30, working through until 3:30 am perfecting (the song) [Lewisohn, p. 226].
6. YELLOW SUBMARINE
So we sailed up to the sun
Til we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine
For ‘Yellow Submarine’, the charming fantasy song that Lennon and McCartney composed for Starr to sing, the Beatles raided EMI’s cupboards in search of sound effects. With the technical staff taking part, they dragged chains through a bathtub filled with water, blew bubbles in a bucket and tried out noises of all sorts [Kozinn, p. 139].
It evoked at once a childlike simplicity and a utopian ideal, with a hint of psychedelic imagery thrown in, making it a perfect fit for the album; all the more so when delivered through Ringo’s Everyman voice, thereby deflating any suggestions of pretension [Rodriguez, p. 65].
7. SHE SAID, SHE SAID
She said “You don’t understand what I said”
I said “No no no you’re wrong
When I was a boy everything was right
Everything was right”
Lennon and Harrison were hanging out with David Crosby and Roger (Jim) McGuinn in LA in ’65, talking sitars and taking acid. Peter Fonda (of Easyrider fame) was there too. As part of the sharing process, Fonda told them about a childhood near-death experience. ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ he said. (Background scene-setting summarised from Heylin, p. 40-41)
Lennon brooded about Fonda’s aside for some months before demo-ing a series of fragments called ‘He Said, He Said’, its lyric solely comprising Fonda’s cryptic comment. Out of this would come the song that would conclude the Revolver recording sessions and signal a new phase in Lennon’s songwriting, in which he would become increasingly preoccupied by ‘when [he] was a boy [and] everything was fine’ [Heylin, p. 41].
Paul said (to Barry Miles), ‘I’m not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on. I think we’d had a barney or something’ [Rodriguez, p. 148].
As a performance, ‘She Said She Said’ is the outstanding track on Revolver, emotionally tense and as moving in its unhappy way as ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Whenever the feeling is real, Starr rises to the occasion, and here he holds the track together with drumming technically finer than that of his other tour-de-force, ‘Rain’ [Macdonald, p. 169].
Clayson, Alan (2001) George Harrison. Sanctuary, London, UK
Dowlding, William J (1989) Beatlesongs. Simon & Schuster, NY, USA
Heylin, Clinton (2007) The Act You’ve Known For All These Years. Canongate, Edinburgh, Sco
Kozinn, Allan (1995) The Beatles. Phaidon, London, UK
Lewishon, Mark (1992) The Complete Beatles Chronicles. Pyramid Books, London, UK
MacDonald, Bruno in Dimery, Robert (General Editor) (2005) 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. ABC Books, Sydney, Aus.
Macdonald, Ian (1994) Revolution in the head: The Beatles Records & The Sixties. Pimlico, London, UK
Norman, Philip (2003, Revised and updated ed.) Shout! The True Story of the Beatles. Pan Books, London, UK
Rodriguez, Robert (2012) Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ’n’ Roll. Backbeat Books, Milwaukee, USA
Ross, Alex (2007) The rest is noise. Picador, NY
Du Noyer, Paul (1991) Q Magazine – The Q Sleevenotes: The Beatles Revolver. UK
NEXT: Side 2
Now you’ve read the distilled wisdom of an ensemble of music writers, it’s over to you.
Spin side one of Revolver in any format and write a comment about any song (or songs) that connect with you.
It’s the personal we’re after here, so say what catches your ear, summons a memory, or elicits a feeling. Whether it’s your first listen or one-thousandth, go with your heart rather than your head and help celebrate this iconic album.