Revolution in the Head

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Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
Revolution in the Head.jpg
Cover to the Third Revised Edition (2005)
Author Ian MacDonald
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject The Beatles/The 1960s
Publisher Fourth Estate (1994, 1997)
Pimlico (1995, 1998, 2005)
Publication date
December 1994
2 June 2005 (paperback)
Pages 544 (paperback)
ISBN 1-84413-828-3
OCLC 57750072

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties is a book by British music critic and author Ian MacDonald, discussing the music of the Beatles and the band's relationship to the social and cultural changes of the 1960s. The first edition was published in 1994, with revised editions appearing in 1997 and 2005, the latter following MacDonald's death in 2003.


Main article: Ian MacDonald

MacDonald first began working as a journalist with the New Musical Express in the 1970s. He had moved away from popular music writing by the early 1990s with The New Shostakovich, his re-evaluation of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich against earlier KGB written accounts, but revisited the subject when he started writing for the music magazine Mojo. He wrote a lengthy retrospective on Nick Drake, who he personally knew when living in Cambridge in the early 1970s, and this led to writing a work about the Beatles.[1]


The first edition of the book appeared in 1994, where MacDonald listed every song that had been officially released by the group during their active career between 1962 and 1970.[2] The second edition, published in 1997, included tracks that had recently been officially released on Live at the BBC and Anthology series.[3] A second edition appeared in 2005 following MacDonald's death, but which had been prepared for release. It contains a number of factual updates, which were taken from books including The Beatles Anthology and Barry Miles' Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.[4]

The book is split between individual song entries, which list what musicians played what instruments, and the dates that recording took place. Tracks are listed in the order of first recording date, rather than the date of release.[2] Each entry includes a commentary by MacDonald on the song,[5] which range from a single sentence for "Wild Honey Pie" to several pages for tracks such as "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Revolution 1".

The remainder of the book covers several essays by MacDonald on the Beatles' relationship with the social and cultural changes of the 1960s, and a compact discography.[6]

Critical response[edit]

The book drew a favourable response from critics. The Guardian‍ '​s Richard Williams wrote "no other critic ... contributed more to an enlightened enjoyment of the work of the Beatles."[1] Music journalist John Bergstrom said the book surpassed Mark Lewisohn's earlier Sessions as the de facto factual reference for the group's recording career, adding that it "will leave you scrambling to your Beatles collection for a new listen rather than a familiar or nostalgic one, and that is quite an accomplishment".[7] Charles Shaar Murray noted that the book clearly displayed MacDonald's favouritism towards mid-1960s pop, but nevertheless said anyone wanting to disagree "is going to have to argue as cogently and energetically as he does".[8]

Paul McCartney has given mixed views of the work. In a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, he referred to it as a "kind of toilet book, a good book to just dip into" and "a very highly respected tome", though he expressed concern that some of the information was factually incorrect.[9]


  1. ^ a b Williams, Richard (8 September 2003). "Obituary : Ian MacDonald". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 41.
  3. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. xvii.
  4. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. xiv.
  5. ^ Carvill, John (24 November 2009). "Re-Meet the Beatles: PopMatters Salutes the Still Fab Four: Revolution in the Head; The Beatles' Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald". PopMatters. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  6. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 42.
  7. ^ Bergstrom, John (28 October 2007). "Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald". PopMatters. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Murray, Charles Shaar (27 June 2003). "The People's Music by Ian MacDonald". The Independent. 
  9. ^ Rolling Stone #1214, 31 July 2014
  • MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties (Second revised ed.). Pimlico / Random House. ISBN 978-0-099-52679-7.