Revolver (Beatles album)
|Studio album by The Beatles|
|Released||5 August 1966|
|Recorded||6 April – 21 June 1966|
|Studio||EMI Studios, London|
|The Beatles chronology|
|The Beatles North American chronology|
|Singles from Revolver|
Revolver is the seventh studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released on 5 August 1966 in the United Kingdom and three days later in the United States. The record spent 34 weeks on the UK Albums Chart, for seven of which it held the number one spot. Reduced to eleven songs for the North American market, Revolver was the last Beatles album to be subjected to Capitol Records' policy of altering the band's intended running order and content. In America, the album topped the Billboard Top LPs list for six weeks.
Revolver marked a progression from the group's 1965 release Rubber Soul in terms of style and experimentation, and heralded the band's arrival as studio innovators. The album's sounds include the incorporation of tape loops and backwards recordings on the psychedelic "Tomorrow Never Knows", the use of a classical string octet on "Eleanor Rigby", and the Indian-music backing of "Love You To". Aside from methods such as varispeeding, reversed tapes and close audio miking, the sessions for the album resulted in the invention of automatic double tracking (ADT). As with other changes in studio practice introduced by Revolver, this technique was soon adopted throughout the recording industry.
In the UK, Revolver's fourteen tracks were released to radio stations throughout July 1966, with the music signifying what author Ian MacDonald later described as "a second pop revolution – one which while galvanising their existing rivals and inspiring many new ones, left all of them far behind". The sessions also produced a non-album single, "Paperback Writer" backed with "Rain", for which the Beatles filmed their first on-location promotional films. Together with the children's novelty song "Yellow Submarine", "Eleanor Rigby" became an international hit when issued as a double A-side single. The album's US release coincided with the Beatles' final concert tour, during which they refrained from performing any of the songs live. Upon release, Revolver was praised by British critics as a forward-thinking album, although its reception in the United States was initially muted due to the controversy surrounding John Lennon's contemporaneous statement that the Beatles had become "bigger than Jesus".
Revolver's cover artwork, designed by Klaus Voormann, earned the Beatles the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. The album was ranked first in Colin Larkin's book All-Time Top 1000 Albums and third in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2013, after the British Phonographic Industry had changed its sales award rules, Revolver was certified platinum in the UK. The album has been certified 5× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
- 1 Background
- 2 Recording history
- 3 Production techniques
- 4 Music and lyrics
- 5 Cover art and title
- 6 Release
- 7 Critical reception
- 8 Influence and legacy
- 9 Track listing
- 10 Personnel
- 11 Charts
- 12 Certifications
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 External links
In December 1965, the Beatles' Rubber Soul album was released to wide critical acclaim. According to author David Howard, the limits of pop music "had been raised into the stratosphere" by the release, resulting in a shift in focus away from singles to creating albums of consistently high quality. The following January, the Beatles carried out overdubs on live recordings taken from their summer 1965 US tour, for inclusion in the concert film The Beatles at Shea Stadium. The group's manager, Brian Epstein, had intended that they would then begin work on their third feature film, an adaptation of Richard Condon's novel A Talent for Loving, but the band members vetoed the idea in December 1965. With three months free of engagements, the extended layoff gave the Beatles an unprecedented amount of time to prepare for a new album. The period of inactivity also allowed the four band members to experience life outside the group collective for the first time since 1962. The concept of four individual Beatles was explored further when Epstein agreed to journalist Maureen Cleave carrying out separate interviews with the Beatles for a series of articles, titled "How Does a Beatle Live?", for publication in London's Evening Standard newspaper over March 1966.
Writing in The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner cites 1966 as the start of the band's "'psychedelic' period" and adds: "That adjective implies not only the influence of certain mind-altering chemicals, but also the freewheeling spectrum of wide-ranging colors that their new music seemed to evoke." Music journalist Carol Clerk describes Revolver as having been "decisively informed by acid", following John Lennon and George Harrison's continued experimentation with the drug LSD since the spring of 1965. Through these shared experiences, the two musicians developed a fascination for Eastern spiritual and philosophical concepts, particularly regarding the illusory nature of human existence. In 1966, Lennon and Harrison both began expressing their disenchantment with fame and Beatlemania. Despite his bandmates' urging, after Ringo Starr had also partaken of the drug, Paul McCartney refused to try LSD. As reflected in the more conventional subject matter of his lyrics on Revolver, relative to those of Lennon and Harrison, McCartney drew his inspiration from the intellectual stimulation he experienced among London's thriving and varied artistic community.
In his book Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock 'n' Roll, Robert Rodriguez writes that, while Lennon had been the Beatles' dominant creative force through 1965, with Revolver McCartney attained an approximately equal position with him. The album marks the midpoint in the band's recording career, after which McCartney would provide the group's artistic direction for almost every post-Revolver project. In addition, Harrison's interest in the music and culture of India, and his study of the Indian sitar, had inspired him as a composer. According to author Ian Inglis, Revolver is widely viewed as "the album on which Harrison came of age as a songwriter".
The Beatles had hoped to work in a more modern studio than EMI's London facility, and so sent Epstein to Memphis in March 1966 to investigate the possibility of their recording at Stax Studio. According to a letter written by Harrison two months later, the group had intended to work with Stax's in-house producer, Jim Stewart. The idea was abandoned after locals began descending on the Stax building, as were alternative plans to use either Atlantic Studios in New York or Motown's facility in Detroit.[nb 1]
Sessions for the album instead began at the smaller more intimate studio three of EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London on 6 April 1966, with George Martin again serving as producer. The first track attempted was Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows", the arrangement for which changed considerably between the initial take that day and the subsequent remake. The take 1 of "Tomorrow Never Knows", along with several other outtakes from the album sessions, was included on the 1996 compilation Anthology 2. Also recorded during the Revolver sessions were "Paperback Writer" and "Rain", which were issued as the A- and B-side of a non-album single in late May.
The band had worked on ten songs, including both sides of the upcoming single, by 1 May. That day, they performed at the NME's annual Poll-Winners Concert. Held at Wembley's Empire Pool, in north-west London, this was the last concert that the Beatles would play before a paying audience in the United Kingdom. At a time when Time magazine dubbed London "the Swinging City", belatedly recognising its ascendance as the era's cultural capital, members of the Beatles attended concerts and other events held by visiting artists. From February through June, these acts included Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas & the Papas, Bob Dylan (with whom they socialised extensively), Luciano Berio and Ravi Shankar.[nb 2] In addition, during mid May, Lennon and McCartney attended a private listening party for the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, and McCartney met Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, who filmed Blowup in London, inspired by the burgeoning contemporary fashion scene.
On 16 May, Epstein responded to a request from Capitol Records, EMI's North American counterpart, to supply three new songs for an upcoming US release. The album, Yesterday and Today, compiled tracks that Capitol had omitted from the Beatles' previous US releases with songs that the band had originally issued on non-album singles. From the six completed recordings for Revolver by this point, Martin selected three Lennon-written songs, since the sessions had favoured his compositions thus far. Keen to limit the interruption to recording that multiple television appearances would create, the Beatles spent two days making promotional films for the "Paperback Writer" single. The first set of clips was filmed at Abbey Road's Studio 1 on 19 May by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, director of the popular TV show Ready Steady Go! The following day, the group shot further clips for the two songs in the grounds of Chiswick House, in west London.[nb 3]
The camaraderie among the four Beatles was at its highest throughout this period. A disagreement between McCartney and his bandmates nevertheless resulted in McCartney walking out of the studio during the final session, for Lennon's "She Said She Said", on 21 June, two days before the band were due to fly to West Germany to begin their world tour. The Beatles spent over 220 hours recording the album – a figure that excludes mixing sessions, and compares with less than 80 hours for Rubber Soul. Final mixing for Revolver took place on 22 June. The Beatles celebrated its completion by attending the opening of Sibylla's, a nightclub part-owned by Harrison.
According to Rodriguez, Revolver marks the first time that the Beatles integrated the recording studio into the "conception of the recordings they made", rather than using it "merely as a tool to capture performances". He views this approach as reflective of the group's waning interest in live performance before crowds of screaming fans, "in favor of creating soundscapes without limitation" in a studio environment. A key production technique that the band began using was automatic double tracking (ADT), which EMI engineer Ken Townsend invented on 6 April. This technique employed two linked tape recorders to automatically create a doubled vocal track. The standard method had been to double the vocal by singing the same piece twice onto a multitrack tape, a task Lennon particularly disliked. The Beatles were reportedly delighted with the invention, and used it extensively on Revolver. ADT soon became a standard pop production technique, and led to related developments such as the artificial chorus effect.
The Beatles' most experimental work during the Revolver sessions was channelled into the first song they attempted, "Tomorrow Never Knows". Much of the backing track consists of a series of prepared tape loops, an idea that originated from McCartney, who, influenced by the work of avant-garde artists such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, regularly experimented with magnetic tape and musique concrète techniques. The Beatles each prepared a series of loops at home, and these were then added to the musical backing of "Tomorrow Never Knows". The process was carried out live, in a single take, with multiple tape recorders running simultaneously, and some of the longer loops extending out of the control room and down the corridor.
Another EMI engineer, Geoff Emerick, recalled that the group encouraged the studio staff to break from standard recording practices, adding: "It was implanted when we started Revolver that every instrument should sound unlike itself: a piano shouldn't sound like a piano, a guitar shouldn't sound like a guitar." In their search for new sounds, the band incorporated musical instruments such as the Indian tambura and tabla, and clavichord, vibraphone and tack piano into their work for the first time. In addition, with no expectations of being able to re-create their new music within the confines of their live shows, the Beatles increasingly employed session musicians while making the album.
The inclusion of reversed tape sounds on "Rain" marked the first pop release to use this technique, although the Beatles had first used it on "Tomorrow Never Knows". The band's interest in the tones that resulted from varying tape speed (or varispeeding) extended to recording a basic track at a faster tempo than they intended the song to sound on disc.
Brought in as an assistant to George Martin, Emerick was responsible for several innovations in the studio. Most importantly for the band's sound, he and Townsend recorded McCartney's bass guitar amplifier via a loudspeaker, instead of a standard microphone, so ensuring that the bass was more prominent than on any previous Beatles release. The recording staff employed this technique only on the two songs that were selected for the May 1966 single, however. Emerick also ensured a greater presence for Starr's bass drum, by inserting an item of clothing inside the structure, to dampen the sound, and then moving the microphone to just 3 inches from the drumhead and compressing the signal through a Fairchild limiter. Author and critic Ian MacDonald writes that, despite Abbey Road being technically inferior to many recording facilities in the United States, Starr's drumming on the album soon led to studios there "being torn apart and put back together again", as engineers sought to replicate the innovative sounds achieved by the Beatles. The preference for close-miking instruments extended to the orchestral strings used on "Eleanor Rigby" and the overdubbed horns on "Got to Get You Into My Life". This was another break from convention, and the cause for alarm among the classically trained string players.
During the Revolver sessions, the Beatles also pioneered the use of headphones when recording overdubs. According to authors Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, the band's use of headphones was one of the nine changes in studio practice, along with techniques such as ADT, backwards recording, and close-miked drums, that the album introduced into the recording world for the first time. Ryan and Kehew quote Emerick as saying: "I know for a fact that, from the day it came out, Revolver changed the way that everyone else made records."
Music and lyrics
Author Steve Turner writes that Revolver encapsulates "the spirit of the times" and the network of progressive social and cultural thinkers in which the Beatles had recently become immersed in London. The album is an early work in the psychedelic rock genre, which accompanied the emergence of counterculture ideology in the 1960s. Through its individual songs, Revolver covers a wide range of styles, including acid rock, chamber music, R&B and raga rock. In Rodriguez's view, the influence of Indian music permeates the album. Aside from the sounds and vocal styling used on much of the recording, this influence is evident in the limited chord changes in many of the songs, suggesting an Indian-style drone.
In its lyrical themes, the album marks a radical departure from the Beatles' past work, as a large majority of the songs avoid the subject of love. Author and critic Kenneth Womack writes of the Beatles' exploring "phenomenologies of consciousness" on Revolver, and he cites as examples "I'm Only Sleeping"'s preoccupation with dreams, and the references to death in the lyrics to "Tomorrow Never Knows". In Womack's estimation, the songs represent two important elements of the human life cycle that are "philosophical opposites". Echoing this point, music critic Tim Riley writes that, just as "embracing life means accepting death", the fourteen tracks "link a disillusioned view of the modern world ('Taxman') with a belief in metaphysical transcendence ('Tomorrow Never Knows')".
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Harrison wrote "Taxman" as a protest against the high marginal tax rates paid by top earners like the Beatles, which were sometimes as much as 95 percent of their income.[nb 4] The track's opening count-in was overdubbed by Harrison and is out of tempo with the performance that follows, a contrivance that Riley credits with establishing the "new studio aesthetic of Revolver". Harrison's vocals on the track were treated with heavy compression and ADT. In addition to playing a glissandi-inflected bass part reminiscent of Motown's James Jamerson, McCartney performed the song's Indian-style guitar solo. Rodriguez credits "Taxman" with being the first Beatles song written about "topical concerns"; he also cites the track's "abrasive sneer" as evidence of its standing as a precursor to the 1970s punk movement. Completed with input from Lennon, the lyrics refer by name to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who were, respectively, the British Labour Prime Minister and Conservative Leader of the Opposition at the time.
Womack describes McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" as a "narrative about the perils of loneliness". The story involves the title character, who is an ageing spinster, and a lonely priest named Father McKenzie who writes "sermon[s] that no one will hear". He presides over Rigby's funeral and acknowledges that despite his efforts, "no one was saved". Viewed by Schaffner as the only McCartney composition on Revolver that falls outside the bounds of a love song, its lyrics were the product of a group effort, with Harrison, Starr and Lennon all contributing.[nb 5] While Lennon and Harrison supplied harmonies beside McCartney's lead vocal, no Beatle played on the recording; instead, Martin arranged the track for a string octet, drawing inspiration from Bernard Herrmann's 1960 film score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. In Riley's opinion, "the corruption of 'Taxman' and the utter finality of Eleanor's fate makes the world of Revolver more ominous than any other pair of opening songs could."
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"I'm Only Sleeping" was the first of the three tracks cut from the US version of Revolver. Author Peter Doggett describes the song as "Half acid dream, half latent Lennon laziness personified." As with "Rain", the basic track was recorded at a faster tempo before being subjected to varispeeding. The latter treatment, along with ADT, was also applied to Lennon's vocal as he sought to replicate, in MacDonald's description, a "papery old man's voice". Harrison composed and recorded his backwards (or backmasked) guitar solo with particular attention to how the notes would sound when the tape direction was corrected.[nb 6] Beatles biographer Jonathan Gould views the solo as appearing to "suspend the laws of time and motion to simulate the half-coherence of the state between wakefulness and sleep". Musicologist Walter Everett likens the song to a "particularly expressive text painting".
"Love You To" marked Harrison's first foray into Hindustani classical music as a composer, following his introduction of the sitar on Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" in 1965. Harrison recorded "Love You To" with Indian musicians from the north London-based Asian Music Circle, who provided instrumentation such as tabla, tambura and sitar. Author Peter Lavezzoli recognises the song as "the first conscious attempt in pop to emulate a non-Western form of music in structure and instrumentation". Aside from playing sitar on the track, Harrison's contributions included fuzztone-effected electric guitar. Everett identifies the song's change of metre as being without precedent in the Beatles' catalogue thus far and a characteristic that would go on to feature prominently on the band's subsequent album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Partly influenced by Harrison's experimentation with LSD, the lyrics to "Love You To" address the singer's desire for "immediate sexual gratification", Womack writes, and serve as a "rallying call to accept our inner hedonism and release our worldly inhibitions".
"Here, There and Everywhere" is a ballad written by McCartney and inspired by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds track "God Only Knows". His double-tracked vocal was treated with varispeeding, resulting in a higher pitch at playback. The song's opening lines are sung over shifts in time signature from 9/8 to 7/8 to 4/4; according to Everett, "nowhere else does a Beatles introduction so well prepare a listener for the most striking and expressive tonal events that lie ahead." Womack characterises the song as a romantic ballad "about living in the here and now" and "fully experiencing the conscious moment". He notes that, with the preceding track, "Love You To", the album expresses "corresponding examinations of the human experience of physical and romantic love".[nb 7] The Beatles recorded the song towards the end of the Revolver sessions, by which point they were under pressure to complete the album before their scheduled flight to Germany, on 23 June.
McCartney wrote "Yellow Submarine" – a song he later characterised as a "kid's story" – as a vehicle for Starr's limited vocal range. With the help of Martin and Emerick, as well as the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and Mick Jagger and the roadies Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, the Beatles attempted to create a nautical atmosphere by mixing the sounds of various instruments, including gongs, whistles and bells, with an assortment of Studio Two's sound effect units. Lennon recorded the track's superimposed voices in Abbey Road's echo chamber, recalling what Womack describes as "a forgotten vestige of a Liverpudlian, seafaring past". Riley cites the track's mix of comedy in the style of The Goon Show with satire inspired by Spike Jones. Riley adds: "'Yellow Submarine' doesn't subvert Revolver's darker moods; it provides joyous distraction from them."
The light atmosphere of "Yellow Submarine" is broken by what Riley describes as "the outwardly harnessed, but inwardly raging guitar" that introduces Lennon's "She Said She Said". The song marks the second time that a Beatles arrangement used a shifting metre, after "Love You To", as the foundation of 4/4 briefly switches to 3/4 with the lyrics. Harrison recalled that he helped Lennon finish the composition, which involved joining together three separate fragments of song. Having walked out of the session, McCartney did not contribute to the recording, leaving Harrison to perform the bass part in addition to the lead guitar and harmony vocals. The lyric was inspired in part by a conversation that Lennon and Harrison had with actor Peter Fonda in Los Angeles in August 1965, while all three were under the influence of LSD. During the conversation, Fonda commented: "I know what it's like to be dead", because as a child he had technically died during an operation.[nb 8]
"Good Day Sunshine" was written by McCartney, whose piano playing dominates the recording. Music critic Richie Unterberger describes it as a song that conveys "one of the first fine days of spring, just after you've fallen in love or started a vacation". The verses reflect aspects of vaudeville, while McCartney also acknowledged the influence of the Lovin' Spoonful on the composition. Overdubbed by Martin, the piano solo on the track recalls the ragtime style of Scott Joplin.
Another song first issued on Capitol's Yesterday and Today, "And Your Bird Can Sing" was written primarily by Lennon, with McCartney claiming to have helped on the lyric and estimating the song as "80–20" to Lennon. Harrison and McCartney played dual lead-guitar parts on the recording, including an ascending riff that Riley terms "magnetic ... everything sticks to it". He describes the composition as a "shaded putdown" in the style of Dylan's "Positively 4th Street", whereby Lennon sings to someone who has seen "seven wonders" yet is unable to empathise with him and his feelings of isolation. According to Gould, the song was directed at Frank Sinatra after Lennon had read a hagiographic article on the singer, in Esquire magazine, in which Sinatra was lauded as "the fully emancipated male ... the man who can have anything he wants".
"For No One" was inspired by McCartney's relationship with English actress Jane Asher. Along with "Good Day Sunshine", which similarly dispensed with guitar parts for Harrison and Lennon, Rodriguez cites the track as an example of McCartney eschewing the group dynamic when recording his songs, a trend that would prove unpopular with his bandmates in later years. The recording features McCartney playing piano, bass and clavichord, accompanied by Starr on drums and percussion. The French horn solo was played by Alan Civil, who recalled having to "busk" his part, with little guidance from McCartney or Martin at the overdubbing session. While recognising McCartney's "customary logic" in the song's musical structure, MacDonald comments on the sense of detachment conveyed in the lyrics to this "curiously phlegmatic account of the end of an affair". MacDonald suggests that McCartney was attempting to employ the same "dry cinematic eye" that director John Schlesinger had adopted in his 1965 film Darling.
The third track omitted from the US Revolver LP, "Doctor Robert" was written by Lennon, although McCartney has since claimed co-authorship. A guitar-based rock song in the style of "And Your Bird Can Sing", its lyrics celebrate a New York physician known for dispensing amphetamine injections to his patients.[nb 9] On the recording, the hard-driving performance is interrupted by two bridge sections where, over harmonium and chiming guitar chords, the group vocals suggest a choir praising the doctor for his services.
Harrison said he wrote "I Want to Tell You" about "the avalanche of thoughts" that he found hard to express in words. The song opens with a descending guitar riff as the recording fades in, similar to the start of the Beatles' 1964 track "Eight Days a Week". Rolling Stone critic Mikal Gilmore describes Harrison's incorporation of dissonance in the melody as having been "revolutionary in popular music" at the time. Authors Russell Reising and Jim LeBlanc cite the song as an early example of how from 1966 onwards the Beatles' lyrics "adopted an urgent tone, intent on channeling some essential knowledge, the psychological and/or philosophical epiphanies of LSD experience" to the group's audience.
McCartney's "Got to Get You into My Life" was influenced by the Motown Sound and used brass instrumentation extensively. Although cast in the form of a love song, McCartney described the song as an "ode to pot".[nb 10]
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Rodriguez describes Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" as "the greatest leap into the future" that the Beatles "had yet taken". An early example of psychedelic music, the recording includes reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects, accompanying a strongly syncopated, repetitive drum-beat. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary's book, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The title came via a Ringo Starr malapropism. The song's harmonic structure is derived from Indian music and is based on a high-volume C drone played by Harrison on a tambura. Always in search of ways to enhance or alter the sound of his voice, Lennon asked Emerick to make him sound like he was the Dalai Lama singing from the top of a high mountain. To this end, Lennon's vocals were recorded directly through a Leslie speaker, giving his singing an echoing sound.
Cover art and title
The cover for Revolver was created by German-born bassist and artist Klaus Voormann, one of the Beatles' oldest friends from their time in Hamburg during the early 1960s. Voormann's artwork was part line drawing and part collage, using photographs taken over 1964–65 by Robert Freeman and others by Robert Whitaker.[nb 11] In his line drawings of the four Beatles, Voormann drew inspiration from the work of the nineteenth-century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, who was the subject of a long-running exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in 1966 and highly influential on fashion and design themes of the time. Voormann placed the various photos within the tangle of hair that connects the four faces. Turner writes that the drawings show each Beatle "in another state of consciousness", such that the older images appear to be tumbling out from them. Voormann's own photograph, as well as his name, is worked into Harrison's hair, on the right-hand side of the cover.[nb 12] When Voormann submitted his work to the Beatles, Epstein wept, overjoyed that Voormann had managed to create a cover that matched the experimental tone of the Beatles' new music. Voormann also designed a series of four images, titled "Wood Face", "Wool Face", "Triangle Face" and "Sun Face", which appeared on the front of the Northern Songs sheet music for each of the album's songs.
The LP's back cover included a photograph of the Beatles, in Riley's description, "shaded by the hip modesty of sunglasses and cigarette smoke". The photo was part of a series taken by Whitaker during the filming at Abbey Road on 19 May and demonstrated the Beatles' adoption of fashions from boutiques that had recently opened in Chelsea, rather than the Carnaby Street designers they had favoured previously. From these Chelsea boutiques, Lennon wore a long-collared paisley shirt from Granny Takes a Trip, while Harrison was dressed in a wide-lapelled velvet jacket designed by Hung on You. Turner views the selection of attire as reflective of the Beatles "still dressing similarly yet with an individual stamp"; he identifies the choice of sunglasses as another example of a unified yet personalised look, whereby the styles ranged from oblong-shaped lenses, for Lennon, to an oval-shaped pair worn by Starr. Gould, who describes Starr's glasses as "ludicrously bug-eyed", considers the cover design to be consistent with the "break with the past" ethos that had guided the album's creation. During the same photo shoot, Whitaker took pictures of the Beatles examining orange transparencies of his "butcher cover" design for Yesterday and Today – an image that, due to its depiction of dismembered baby dolls and raw meat, proved instantly controversial in America.
The album's title, like that of Rubber Soul, is a pun, referring to both a kind of handgun and the "revolving" motion of the record as it is played on a turntable.[nb 13] The Beatles had difficulty coming up with this title. The name that the four had originally wanted was Abracadabra, until they discovered that another band had already used it. After that, opinion was split: Lennon wanted to call it Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle and Starr jokingly suggested After Geography, playing on the title of the Rolling Stones' recently released Aftermath LP. Other suggestions included Magic Circles, Beatles on Safari, Pendulum and, finally, Revolver. The title was chosen while the band were on tour in Germany in late June. They then confirmed the choice in a telegram to EMI, sent from the Tokyo Hilton on 2 July.
Revolver was released in the United Kingdom on 5 August 1966 and on 8 August in the United States. The original eleven-song North American LP release, the band's tenth on Capitol Records and twelfth US album, had a reduced running time of 28:20. Due to the exclusion of the three Lennon tracks, there were only two songs for which he was the principal writer, compared with three by Harrison and the rest by McCartney. "Yellow Submarine" was issued as a double A-side single with "Eleanor Rigby". Schaffner writes that as a novelty song and a ballad devoid of any instrumentation played by a Beatle, respectively, each of the two tracks marked a significant departure from the usual content of the band's singles. Schaffner adds: "The only thing 'Rigby' had in common with 'Submarine' was that it sounded nothing like a Beatles record."[nb 14]
In the United States, the album's release was a secondary event to the controversy surrounding the recent publication, in the US teen magazine Datebook, of Cleave's March 1966 interview with Lennon, in which he remarked that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus". Following the unfavourable reaction to the Yesterday and Today butcher sleeve, from the press, radio stations and retail outlets in the US, Epstein was also left to defend the band against criticism regarding their dwindling interest in performing concerts.[nb 15] As a result of this media disquiet, there was no accompanying build-up to Revolver's release or conjecture regarding what the group was to offer; at press conferences during the North American tour, questions were typically focused on religious matters rather than the band's new music. In Britain, however, EMI had gradually distributed songs from the album to radio stations throughout July 1966 – a strategy that MacDonald describes as "building anticipation for what would clearly be a radical new phase in the group's recording career". Schaffner likens the Beatles' 1966 recordings to the moment of transformation in the film Wizard of Oz, "where, when Dorothy discovers herself transported from Kansas to Oz, the film dramatically changes from black-and-white to glorious technicolor".[nb 16]
In the UK, where "Eleanor Rigby" was the favoured side, the single became the best-selling song of 1966, after topping the national chart for four weeks during August and September. Revolver spent 34 weeks on the UK Albums Chart, for seven of which it held the top spot. In America, Capitol were wary of the religious references in "Eleanor Rigby", given the ongoing controversy, and instead pushed "Yellow Submarine". The latter peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it, in Gould's description, "the first 'designated' Beatles single since 1963" not to top that chart. On the Billboard Top LPs chart, Revolver hit number 1 on 10 September, a week after the end of Yesterday and Today's five-week run at the top. Revolver remained at number 1 there for six weeks. For the only year between 1963 and 1969, the Beatles failed to win the NME readers' best-band poll, losing to the Beach Boys, while Revolver and Pet Sounds were jointly recognised as the magazine's "Album of the Year". In March 1967, Revolver was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Voormann's design for Revolver won the Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts.[nb 17]
The release of Revolver marked the last time that Capitol issued an altered UK Beatles album for the North American market. When the Beatles re-signed with EMI in January 1967, their contract stipulated that Capitol could no longer alter the track listings of their albums. The April 1987 CD release of Revolver standardised the track listing to the original UK version. Having been available only as an import in the US previously, the fourteen-song UK version of the album was also issued domestically in the US on LP and cassette in July that year. In January 2014, the Capitol version of Revolver was issued on CD for the first time, both as part of the Beatles' U.S. Albums box set and as an individual release.
With controversy following the Beatles during their summer US tour, critical reaction there was muted relative to the band's previous releases. KRLA Beat's reviewer described Revolver as "a musical creation of exceptional excellence" while lamenting that, in the wake of the acclaimed Rubber Soul, "it is receiving only a fraction of the attention and respect due". Writing in the recently launched Crawdaddy!, Paul Williams gave the US version of the album a mixed review, in which he admired "Love You To" and "Eleanor Rigby" but derided "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Yellow Submarine". In a critique that Rodriguez terms "[a]head of the curve", Village Voice critic Richard Goldstein described Revolver as "a revolutionary record" that was "as important to the expansion of pop as was Rubber Soul", adding: "it seems now that we will view this album in retrospect as a key work in the development of rock and roll into an artistic pursuit ..." Turner writes that it was the upcoming generation of writers who "got it immediately"; among these, Jules Siegel likened the album to works by John Donne, Milton and Shakespeare, saying that the band's lyrics would provide the basis for scholarly analysis well into the future.
In Britain, the reception was highly favourable. In their joint review for Record Mirror, Richard Green and Peter Jones found the album "full of musical ingenuity" yet "controversial", and added: "There are parts that will split the pop fraternity neatly down the middle." Allen Evans of the NME highlighted the album's "electronic effects", McCartney's "penchant for the classics" and Harrison's "stunning use of the sitar" as diverse elements that distinguished it as a group effort, such that the four band members' "individual personalities are now showing through loud and clear". Evans concluded: "this is a brilliant album which underlines once and for all that the Beatles have definitely broken the bounds of what we used to call pop." Having found Rubber Soul "almost monotonous" at times, Melody Maker lauded the new release as a work that would "change the direction of pop music". Peter Clayton, a jazz critic for Gramophone magazine, described it as "an astonishing collection" that defied easy categorisation since much of the album had no precedent in the context of pop music. Clayton concluded: "if there's anything wrong with the record at all it is that such a diet of newness might give the ordinary pop-picker indigestion."
Recalling the release in his book Revolution in the Head (1994), Ian MacDonald writes that, with Revolver, the Beatles "had initiated a second pop revolution – one which while galvanising their existing rivals and inspiring many new ones, left all of them far behind". In a February 1967 review, Hit Parader declared: "Revolver represents the pinnacle of pop music. No group has been as consistently creative as the Beatles, though the [Lovin'] Spoonful and Beach Boys are coming closer all the time ... Rather than analyze the music we just suggest that you listen to Revolver three or four times a day and marvel ..." Later that year, in Esquire, Robert Christgau called the album "twice as good and four times as startling as Rubber Soul, with sound effects, Oriental drones, jazz bands, transcendentalist lyrics, all kinds of rhythmic and harmonic surprises, and a filter that made John Lennon sound like God singing through a foghorn".
|The A.V. Club||A+|
|The Daily Telegraph|||
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
In the 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Rob Sheffield writes that Revolver found the Beatles "at the peak of their powers, competing with one another because nobody else could touch them"; he describes it as "the best album the Beatles ever made, which means the best album by anybody". Writing for PopMatters that year, David Medsker said that Revolver showed "the individual members of the greatest band in the history of pop music peaking at the exact same time", and he deemed the album to be "the best of the bunch, the letter that went unanswered" among a series of reciprocally influential musical statements between the Beatles and the Beach Boys over 1965–67. In a 2007 appraisal of the band's albums, Henry Yates of Classic Rock magazine paired it with Sgt. Pepper's as the two "essential classics" in the Beatles' canon, and concluded: "Always the rock fraternity's favourite (and the blueprint for Noel Gallagher's career), Revolver still has the power of a piledriver to the head."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic describes Revolver as "the ultimate modern pop album". While noting the diverse musical directions adopted by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in their respective contributions, he states: "The biggest miracle of Revolver may be that the Beatles covered so much new stylistic ground and executed it perfectly on one record, or it may be that all of it holds together perfectly." In his review for The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick says that the album shows the band at their most unified and is a work in which "they introduce whole new vistas of sound yet still contain them within tightly structured and performed songs." He also attributes an acerbic quality to the album that psychedelia lacked once the genre succumbed to "the woolly politics of flower power". Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork views Revolver as a "sonic landmark" that, in its lyrics, "matur[ed] pop from the stuff of teen dreams to a more serious pursuit that actively reflected and shaped the times in which its creators lived". He considers it to be McCartney's "maturation record" as a songwriter in the same way that Rubber Soul had been for Lennon.
Chris Coplan of Consequence of Sound is less impressed with the album, rating it a "B" and "the black sheep of the Beatles' catalog". Although he admires the psychedelic tone, he considers that this experimentalism renders the more standard pop songs, such as "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "Here, There and Everywhere", "seemingly out of place" within the collection.
Influence and legacy
Development of popular music and 1960s counterculture
MacDonald deems Lennon's remark about the Beatles' "god-like status" in March 1966 as having been "fairly realistic", given the reaction to Revolver. He adds: "The album's aural invention was so masterful that it seemed to Western youth that The Beatles knew – that they had the key to current events and were somehow orchestrating them through their records." MacDonald highlights "the radically subversive" message of "Tomorrow Never Knows" – exhorting listeners to empty their minds of all ego- and material-related thoughts – as the inauguration of a "till-then élite-preserved concept of mind-expansion into pop, simultaneously drawing attention to consciousness-enhancing drugs and the ancient religious philosophies of the Orient". Author Shawn Levy writes that the album presented an alternative reality that contemporary listeners felt compelled to explore further, and he describes it as "the first true drug album, not a pop record with some druggy insinuations, but an honest-to-heaven, steeped-in-the-out-there trip from the here and now into who knew where".
In the recollection of Barry Miles, one of Britain's key countercultural figures, Revolver resounded with the contemporary London underground, particularly those behind initiatives such as the UFO Club, on the level of experimental jazz, and it established rock 'n' roll as "an art form" by signalling "the way forward for all rock musicians who wondered if there was life after teen scream status". He also identifies its "trailblazing" quality as the impetus for Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and for Brian Wilson to complete the Beach Boys' "mini-symphony", "Good Vibrations". In his review for Pitchfork, Plagenhoef says that the album not only "redefin[ed] what was expected from popular music", but recast the Beatles as "avatars for a transformative cultural movement".
Revolver has been recognised as having inspired new subgenres of music, anticipating electronica, punk rock, baroque rock and world music, among other styles. As on Rubber Soul, Walter Everett credits the Beatles' "experimental timbres, rhythms, tonal structures, and poetic texts" as the inspiration for many of the bands that formed the progressive rock genre in the early 1970s. Rolling Stone attributes the development of the Los Angeles and San Francisco music scenes, including subsequent releases by the Beach Boys, Love and the Grateful Dead, to the influence of Revolver, particularly "She Said She Said". Steve Turner recognises the album as the catalyst for a wide range of styles; he says that, through the Beatles' efforts to faithfully translate their LSD-inspired vision into music, "Revolver opened the doors to psychedelic rock (or acid rock)", while the primitive means by which it was recorded (on four-track equipment) inspired the work that artists such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and the Electric Light Orchestra were able to achieve with advances in studio technology and larger multi-tracking capability. Turner also highlights the pioneering sampling and tape manipulation employed on "Tomorrow Never Knows" as having "a profound effect on everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Jay Z".
Rodriguez praises Martin and Emerick's contribution to the album, suggesting that their talents were as essential to its success as the Beatles'. While also highlighting the importance of Martin's role, David Howard writes that Revolver was a "genre-transforming album", as a result of which, combined with the similarly "visionary" work of American producer Phil Spector, "the recording studio was now its own instrument; record production had been elevated into art."
Ascendancy over Sgt. Pepper
Whereas Sgt. Pepper had long been identified as the Beatles' greatest album, since the 2000s Revolver has often surpassed it in lists of the group's best work. Sheffield cites the album's 1987 CD release, with the full complement of Lennon compositions, as marking the start of a process whereby Revolver "steadily climbed in public estimation" to become recognised as the Beatles' finest work. Writing on the BBC's website in August 2016, Greg Kot identified the "More popular than Christ" controversy and the attention subsequently afforded the release of Sgt. Pepper in 1967 as the two factors that had contributed to Revolver being relatively overlooked. Kot concluded that the ensuing decades had seen this impression reversed, since Revolver "does everything Sgt Pepper did, except it did it first and often better. It just wasn’t as well-packaged and marketed."[nb 18]
Rodriguez writes that, whereas most contemporary acts shy away from attempting a concept album in the vein of Sgt. Pepper, Revolver's "eclectic collection of diverse songs" continues to influence modern popular music. He also characterises Revolver as "the Beatles' artistic high-water mark", and notes that unlike Sgt. Pepper, it was the product of a collaborative effort, with "the group as a whole being fully vested in creating Beatle music".[nb 19]
Appearances on best-album lists and further recognition
Revolver has frequently appeared high up in lists of the best albums ever made. In 1997 it was named the third greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 2000 Q magazine placed it at number 1 in its list of the 50 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001, the TV network VH1 named it the greatest album in history, a position it also achieved in the Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Revolver third on its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2006, it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best albums and topped a similar list compiled by Hot Press. That same year, Guitar World readers chose it as the tenth best guitar album of all time. In 2010, Revolver was named the best pop album by the official newspaper of the Holy See, L'Osservatore Romano. In 2013, Entertainment Weekly named Revolver the greatest album in history.
In 1999, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, an award bestowed by the American Recording Academy "to honor recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance that are at least 25 years old". In 2013, after the British Phonographic Industry changed their sales award rules, the album was declared as having gone platinum. The album appears in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
The following track listing is for the original UK release, whereas the US edition omitted "I'm Only Sleeping", "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Doctor Robert", as they had previously appeared on the North American release Yesterday and Today. The 1987 CD release, the 2009 remastered CD release, and all subsequent LP re-releases conformed with the full, fourteen-song order.
|1.||"Taxman" (George Harrison)||Harrison||2:39|
|3.||"I'm Only Sleeping"||Lennon||3:00|
|4.||"Love You To" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:59|
|5.||"Here, There and Everywhere"||McCartney||2:25|
|7.||"She Said She Said"||Lennon||2:37|
|1.||"Good Day Sunshine"||McCartney||2:08|
|2.||"And Your Bird Can Sing"||Lennon||2:00|
|3.||"For No One"||McCartney||2:00|
|5.||"I Want to Tell You" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:29|
|6.||"Got to Get You into My Life"||McCartney||2:29|
|7.||"Tomorrow Never Knows"||Lennon||2:57|
- John Lennon – lead, harmony and backing vocals; rhythm and acoustic guitars; Hammond organ, harmonium; tape loops, sound effects; tambourine, handclaps, finger snaps
- Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and backing vocals; bass, acoustic and lead guitars; piano, clavichord; tape loops, sound effects; handclaps, finger snaps
- George Harrison – lead, harmony and backing vocals; lead, acoustic, rhythm and bass guitars; sitar, tambura; tape loops, sound effects; maracas, tambourine, handclaps, finger snaps
- Ringo Starr – drums; tambourine, maracas, cowbell, shaker, handclaps, finger snaps; tape loops; lead vocals on "Yellow Submarine"
Additional musicians and production
- Anil Bhagwat – tabla on "Love You To"
- Alan Civil – French horn on "For No One"
- George Martin – producer; mixing engineer; piano on "Good Day Sunshine" and "Tomorrow Never Knows"; Hammond organ on "Got to Get You into My Life"; tape loops of the marching band on "Yellow Submarine"
- Geoff Emerick – recording and mixing engineer; tape loops of the marching band on "Yellow Submarine"
- Mal Evans – bass drum and background vocals on "Yellow Submarine"
- Neil Aspinall – background vocals on "Yellow Submarine" (uncredited)
- Brian Jones – background vocals on "Yellow Submarine" (uncredited)
- Donovan – background vocals on "Yellow Submarine" (uncredited)
- Pattie Boyd – background vocals on "Yellow Submarine" (uncredited)
- Marianne Faithfull – background vocals on "Yellow Submarine" (uncredited)
- Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe, Jurgen Hess – violins; Stephen Shingles, John Underwood – violas; Derek Simpson, Norman Jones – cellos: string octet on "Eleanor Rigby", orchestrated and conducted by George Martin (uncredited, with Paul McCartney)
- Eddie Thornton, Ian Hamer, Les Condon – trumpet; Peter Coe, Alan Branscombe – tenor saxophone: horn section on "Got To Get You Into My Life" orchestrated and conducted by George Martin (uncredited, with Paul McCartney)
|Chart (1966–67)||Peak position|
|Australian Kent Music Report||1|
|Swedish Kvällstoppen Chart||1|
|UK Albums Chart||1|
|US Billboard Top LPs||1|
|West German Media Control Albums||1|
In the US, the album had sold 1,187,869 copies by 31 December 1966 and 1,725,276 copies by the end of the decade.
BPI certification awarded only for sales since 1994.
North American release
- Rather than security concerns, Harrison's letter cites financial considerations as the obstacle, saying: "too many people get insane with money ideas at the mention of the word 'Beatles', so it fell through!"
- Among these meetings, Lennon participated in the filming of D.A. Pennebaker's documentary about Dylan's 1966 tour, Eat the Document, on 27 May, while Shankar agreed to become Harrison's sitar teacher on 1 June.
- On 16 June, they filmed live performances of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" for Top of the Pops.
- According to MacDonald, this was the "price" the four Beatles paid alongside their being appointed MBEs in September 1965.
- Lennon later claimed to have written 70 per cent of the lyrics, which McCartney refutes, stating that Lennon contributed "about half a line".
- The solo consists of two separate guitar lines played by Harrison. The first part was given a clean sound, while on the second, he played his Gibson SG through a fuzzbox.
- In Riley's opinion, the track "domesticates" the "eroticisms" of "Love You To", drawing comparison with the concise writing of Rodgers and Hart.
- Like Rodriguez, music journalist Mikal Gilmore contends that the argument that preceded McCartney's exit from the studio was LSD-related, since his lack of experience with the drug led Lennon to dismiss his suggestions for the song's arrangement.
- Although once thought to be Dr Charles Roberts, whose celebrity clients included Edie Sedgwick, the eponymous doctor was Robert Freymann, who was struck off the New York Medical Society's register in 1975.
- It was released as a single in the US in 1976, ten years after Revolver, to promote the compilation album Rock 'n' Roll Music, on which it appeared.
- Originally, the cover art for the album was going to be an image created by Freeman (who also took cover photos of previously released Beatles albums) that included photos of each of the Beatles' faces revolving in circles repeatedly in layers. The band ultimately rejected the idea.
- In the Revolver cover appearing in his artwork for Anthology 3, Voormann replaced this image with a more recent photograph. Harrison's Revolver image was seen again on the picture sleeve of his 1988 single "When We Was Fab", along with an updated version of the same image.
- Gould views the title as a "McLuhanesque pun", since, more so than on their previous albums, the focus of Revolver appears to rotate from one Beatle to another with each song. Gould finds this characteristic emphasised in the "Lead Singer" credits on both the cover and the record's face labels, which list an individual vocalist for each track, with none of the shared lead vocals that had been a feature of Rubber Soul.
- Despite its origins as an innocent children's song, "Yellow Submarine" was adopted by the counterculture as a song promoting drugs, namely the barbiturate Nembutal.
- Soon withdrawn by Capitol, the butcher cover had provoked interpretation as a comment by the Beatles on the US record-company policy of "mutilating the product", according to Everett. Epstein's attempts to quell any ill feeling towards the Beatles, in advance of the group's North American tour in August 1966, were further frustrated by the publication of derogatory remarks about America from McCartney and Harrison.
- The album was also the source of confusion for the group's less progressive fans. A female fan later complained in Beatles Monthly that 1966 represented the end of "The Beatles we used to know before they went stark, raving mad."
- "Eleanor Rigby" was also recognised at the 1967 Grammys, where McCartney won in the Best Contemporary/R&R Solo Vocal Performance category.
- In his 2004 review for PopMatters, Medsker similarly opined that "It's taken almost 30 years for music historians to put the Beatles work into proper perspective. Sgt. Pepper carried the title of best album of all time for ages … In the last couple years, however, revisionist history has actually changed things for the better. Revolver is king."
- In Tim Riley's view, "Sgt. Pepper is the Beatles' most notorious record for the wrong reasons – a flawed masterpiece that can only echo the strength of Revolver."
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