Revolver is a fascinating album. Recorded amid simmering internal and external pressures within the Beatles, it creates a vivid audio snapshot of the group at a chronological and philosophical mid-point between Love Me Do and Let It Be. It also captures a fleeting moment in popular culture between the Mod orientated music and fashion of the early and mid-Sixties and the Hippy influenced styles of the latter third of the decade. San Francisco would soon become the centre of the hip and groovy world. Revolver was the high watermark of Swinging London.
| The Beatles' Position in 1966 |
The Beatles' position at the beginning of 1966 could not have seemed stronger. Established as the most phenomenal act in entertainment history, there seemed to be nothing left to achieve. Every record had been broken, every barrier breached, every continent conquered. As individuals, they were feted in the manner of Egyptian pharaohs.
However, all was not as rosy as it appeared. In March 1966, John Lennon managed to inflame America's Bible Belt by stating that the Beatles were 'more popular than Jesus Christ', and inadvertently set in motion the events that would lead to his own murder fourteen years later. In the immediate aftermath, however, there was a nervy US tour, dogged by death threats, Ku Klux Klan intimidation and bonfires of Beatles paraphernalia. When a firecracker exploded on stage in Alabama, all four stopped playing and peered anxiously around to see which of his fellow Beatles had been shot. There was also an unpleasant episode in the Philippines, when the group unwittingly snubbed the President and found themselves in considerable danger from angry mobs as a result. Aside from these diplomatic clangers, the band's enthusiasm for performing to increasingly hysterical, deafening audiences was waning. The endless marathon tours were also threatening to stifle the creativity of Lennon and McCartney, who were by now composing more complex and thoughtful material. Against this rather unhappy backdrop, the four suited mop tops Twisted and Shouted for the last time at Candlestick Park in August, and retired to the studio forever.
All songs, with the exception of the Harrison compositions, are officially credited to Lennon/McCartney. For the purposes of this entry, credit has been given individually, according to which of the pair actually wrote any particular track.
A decidedly bitter railing against the British Inland Revenue Service, the opening track set the scene for much of the un-mop top material that was to follow. At this time, the Beatles were obliged to pay an incredible 95% tax on their earnings, which, thanks to the well meaning but out-of-his-depth accounting of manager Brian Epstein, were not nearly as much as everybody seemed to think. This was the first time a Harrison composition opened a Beatles album, and it remains one of his most famous songs. Several years later, the opening riff was the inspiration for 'Start!' by The Jam.
Eleanor Rigby (McCartney)
Here was cuddly Paul singing about the anonymous death of a lonely woman. This is a beautiful, desolate track, with a dramatic string accompaniment. The song opens with a chorus, a trick also used to great effect on 'She Loves You', three years previously. 'Father MacKenzie', the sole attendee at Eleanor's funeral, was originally to be named 'Father McCartney'; after Paul's own father. However, he objected, and so the name was changed.
I'm Only Sleeping (Lennon)
This composition features the first blatant use of tape loops on a Beatles song: the instrumental break is a short George Harrison solo, reversed. It says something about the group's creative ear that the reversed solo sounds far more appealing than the original. It is a typically pot-addled offering from Lennon at the time, at first glance dealing with the problems of sustaining a lie-in against what we are led to believe are considerable odds.
Love You To (Harrison)
Another rather bitter Harrison contribution combining his growing dissatisfaction with the material world and exhortations to 'make love all day long'; an early Hippy sign post. The instrumentation for 'Love You To' is entirely Eastern, with sitars, tablas and other exotic devices drafted in. This was the first manifestation of what, for George would become a life long fascination with the East and Eastern mysticism.
Here, There and Everywhere (McCartney)
Written ostensively as a love song for Jane Asher - his then fiancée - this is a rather syrupy McCartney croon. Typically pretty and efficient, it features the harmonies of all four Beatles.
Yellow Submarine (Lennon - McCartney)
Yellow Submarine, a jolly sing-along, was written for Ringo, and became a huge favourite of children across the world. Telling the story of how an old seafarer introduces Ringo and his friends to a life of ease and plenty beneath the waves, it features John Lennon larking about with silly voice backing vocals and sound effects created by the Rolling Stones blowing through drinking straws into a bucket of water.
She Said, She Said (Lennon)
One of the most remarkable songs recorded by the Beatles, the lyrics deal with Lennon's unhappy adventures during an acid trip with Peter Fonda. It was one of many songs on Revolver that showed just how far the band - and Lennon and Harrison in particular - had come. While 'Here, There and Everywhere' could have appeared easily on any previous album 'She Said, She Said' really was a sign of the times. To fans of the early mop tops, it must have been very strange to hear Beatle John singing 'I know what it's like to be dead'. The lead guitar seems to be very Stones-influenced - the two bands were very much in each other's orbit during the mid-Sixties. Incidentally, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had provided backing vocals on Paperback Writer, also released in 1966.
Good Day Sunshine (McCartney)
Another Paul McCartney rent-a-ballad (although no less pleasant because of it) this deals with sunny days, shady trees and much of the content that would keep McCartney in farmland and private aircraft for the next three decades. On the original album, this track opened side two, in a rather more upbeat manner than 'She Said, She Said' had closed side one.
And Your Bird Can Sing (Lennon)
A quirky, upbeat pop tune. Another strong Harrison riff, with spiky vocals from John Lennon. The confident and slightly defiant tone of the track is a good reflection on the mood of Swinging London.
For No One (McCartney)
This haunting track sees McCartney in a mood more in keeping with the spirit of introspection in which the band were immersed. Unusually for McCartney, this song deals with the absolute ending of a romance: 'she doesn't need you', although 'you won't forget her'. Some charming French horn accompaniment and string instrumentation rounds off the usual polished McCartney sound.
Doctor Robert (Lennon - McCartney)
A groovy romp through the high-pop guitar sound of the mid Sixties, this classic track deals with a 'doctor' in the Beatles entourage whose job it is to secure pharmaceutical treasures for the Fab Four. It is strongly rumoured to be about the same West London dentist who famously introduced the group to LSD by spiking sugar lumps at a dinner party.
I Want To Tell You (Harrison)
This is Harrison's third credit on Revolver, reflecting his growing stature as a songwriter. This time, the content is lighter, and deals with struggling to convey an idea to someone, but being unable to unscramble the confusion in his head.
Got To Get You Into My Life (McCartney)
This is Paul McCartney's more than passable attempt at writing a Motown classic. The combination of an impressive vocal range and punchy brass accompaniment remain a tribute to just how wide he was capable of casting his creative net.
Tomorrow Never Knows (Lennon)
Unashamedly acid drenched, the title is ominous: the band and popular culture itself were about to enter a new age. 'Turn off your mind/relax and float downstream' is hardly the kind of sentiment expected of a Beatle who had until recently wanted nothing more than to 'Hold Your Hand'. 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is a swirling masterpiece of sound effects, tape loops and backwards speech, underpinned by a solid drum track from Ringo. It represents one of the very many occasions when the Beatles were well ahead of their time.
Revolver sums up the mood of the Beatles as they take stock of the events of the previous four years and prepare to press ahead into uncharted waters. The remarkable cover artwork is by Klaus Voorman, a long standing associate and friend of the band from the struggling pre-fame days in Hamburg. Incidentally, the name has nothing to do with firearms - it was dubbed Revolver by John Lennon as a play on the motion of a record on a turntable. It was a fitting summary and celebration of the first half of an astonishing career, and a herald of the turbulent times to come.