Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Beatles’ Revolver at 50


Revolver was The Beatles’ seventh studio album, releasing August 5, 1966 in the United Kingdom and August 8 in the United States.

Celebrating its golden anniversary, the record, which was named not after a gun, but after the fact that an LP revolves on a turntable, has aged remarkably well, with such songs as “Taxman,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Good Day Sunshine” sounding as crisp, as fresh, and as relevant as anything being released today.

The album is often overshadowed by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), the Beatles’ highly influential psychedelic opus released less than a year later, but Revolver was revolutionary in its own right, cementing the band’s transition from palatable pop maestros (“She loves you yeah yeah yeah”) to seasoned studio wizards under the direction of producer George Martin. If Rubber Soul (1965) was when the Beatles “got serious,” Revolver was when they completed the maturation process from touring boy band (in the non-pejorative sense) to lyrical and technical innovators.

Revolver begins with “Taxman,” one of three songs on the album written by the so-called “quiet Beatle,” George Harrison (some have called the LP Harrison’s “coming out party”). A political number, “Taxman” wittily bashes Britain’s high tax rates: If you drive a car, I'll tax the street. If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Harrison also wrote “I Want to Tell You,” which was inspired by an especially powerful LSD trip Harrison experienced, and “Love You To,” an Indian music-influenced song featuring Harrison on sitar and Anil Bhagwat on tabla (a percussion instrument similar to bongos).

The only single released from Revolver was the double A-side “Yellow Submarine”/“Eleanor Rigby.” “Yellow Submarine,” a playful tune sang by Ringo Starr, gained fame as the title to a 1968 animated film featuring the Beatles, while the haunting “Eleanor Rigby,” a song about death and loneliness featuring violins, violas, and cellos, won a Grammy Award in 1966 for Best Contemporary Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental.

Perhaps the most ambitious track on Revolver is “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was lyrically inspired by , a 1964 book written by Harvard psychologists and LSD apologists Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass).

Writing for, Steve Marinucci calls the experimental “Tomorrow Never Knows” a “drug-drenched, psychedelic masterpiece…It includes Harrison on sitar, tape loops, and seagull-like noises that were made by a distorted guitar. Lennon’s spacey vocal was created by putting his voice through a revolving Leslie speaker; Ringo Starr’s drum sound was deadened by moving the drum microphone closer to the drum and stuffing an early Beatles picture in between.”

Other songs on Revolver include: “I'm Only Sleeping,” which featured a reverse guitar duet by Harrison (a unique recording trick at the time); “Here, There and Everywhere,” a gorgeous ballad with beautiful harmonies by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison; “She Said She Said,” which Lennon wrote based on an LSD trip with Peter Fonda; “,” which has been used to wake up astronauts in outer space; “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the theme song in the third season of The Beatles cartoon series; “For No One,” a pretty little McCartney-sung ditty featuring a clavichord and a French horn; “Doctor Robert,” a Lennon-penned number about a New York drug dealer; and “Got to Get You into My Life,” a brass-heavy song with a distinctive Motown/Memphis soul sound.

When Revolver debuted in the U.S., it contained 11 songs, down from 14 in the original U.K version. “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Doctor Robert” were omitted from the U.S. rendition because they had previously appeared on the American compilation record, . The 1987 CD release and subsequent CD and LP releases featured all 14 songs.

It’s difficult to overstate the artistry and influence of Revolver, which found the most celebrated band in the history of popular music at the peak of its creative powers.

Stereo Williams of expressed it best in writing that Revolver stands as the Beatles’ “biggest leap, their most boldly progressive album and the album that reimagined rock circa 1966…a testament to the collaborative power of what was, essentially, a simple four-piece rock band…the sound of a band brimming with curiosity, confident in its ideas and delivering uncalculated greatness…if there is an album that feels like the moment when ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ became ‘rock,’ the Beatles’ Revolver is that album.”

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