It’s difficult to actually review a classic album such as The Beatles’ Revolver. First off, what more can be said? It’s been listed on countless lists covering the greatest albums of all time, and literally thousands of artists across all genres of music, both mainstream and underground, site it as a major influence. The effects of Revolver’s legacy is still strong in a lot of current secular music. In fact, some of things producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick did on the technical side of the recording process at that time, had never been done before and would later become the golden standard of the modern age, like the use of vocal compression and loops.
The odd thing about Revolver‘s success is despite the popularity and influence, it often gets over looked in The Beatles’s discography. It was released just eight months after the wildly popular Rubber Soul, and just under ten months before the musical landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, so it’s not difficult to get lost in the shuffle. Even The Beatles themselves often claim Rubber Soul and Revolver could be a double-album. While it’s hard to argue with the artists who created the albums, I beg to differ. To me Rubber Soul was the The Beatles at their peak, pulling out all stops to give one final record as the proverbial Fab Four, and Revolver is an experiment of pushing boundaries and thinking outside of the secular box of standard pop conventions.
While there’s plenty of pop goodness to be had on the album, it’s greatest strengths come from ahead-of-the-curve experimentation. By today’s standards, the use of pre-recorded loops, vocal processing, and tape speed are as common as water and oxygen, but for early 1966, these aspects were alien and controversial. When doing the vocal overdubs for “Tomorrow Never Knows” John wanted to sound as if he was singing from a mountain top, so he sang directly into a Leslie speaker. The rest of the song was recorded by using live tape loops playing on a series of tape machines throughout the studio, essentially pre-dating what would later become Electronica music.
It didn’t stop there either. “She Said She Said” jumps in and out of 4/4 and 3/4 timing changes to create the disorienting feeling of an LSD trip. The piano riff in “I Want To Tell You” is played purposely off key with the vocals to go along with theme of confusion. Paul’s basslines were highly influenced by underground jazz players and for the first time in Beatle’s lore, recorded most of the bass tracks after the songs were completed so he could work out every note to give them a far more melodic feel. Even George’s count off on the opening track “Taxman” isn’t the same beat as the rest of the song. The entire album is full subtle surprises most of the world didn’t even pick up on. It has to get under your skin for you to really appreciate it’s concepts.
The MVP award clearly goes to George Harrison. He gets to sing lead on three of the fourteen songs, but what’s most important is his influence of Eastern music. We’re all familiar with Rubber Soul‘s “Norwegian Wood” and even this album’s “Love To You”, where heavy use of sitar is a given, but the influence goes a lot deeper with further inspection. The droning C note in “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the backwards guitar solo in “I’m Only Sleeping” emulating a sitar, even George’s discord vocals on “I Want To Tell You”, all can be credited to Indian style music. On “Taxman” Paul’s guitar solo is made up of sitar-esque runs on the Dorian scale. The slightly off-harmony guitar leads on “And Your Bird Can Sing” is kindred to that of Eastern influences. With so much emphasis on World Music flavoring each song, it’s a testimony on The Beatles as composers to be able to pull it off so subtly it never feels forced or pretentious. It’s just highly sophisticated rock music like no one had ever heard at the time.
Before the sessions for Revolver started, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had taken a short break apart from each other to focus on their personal lives. When they got back together, they shared what each other had been up to musically and actually collaborated as band like never before, maybe even for the first time. Paul’s avant-garde home recording loops worked well with John’s new found, unconventional take on song writing, George’s exotic flair positioned the band to go in places their friendly radio rivals’ The Beach Boys or Rolling Stones didn’t even dream of going. Even Ringo’s contribution as percussionist, stepped up. The non-album B-side “Rain” (recorded during the Revolver sessions) still stands as his most impressive drumming to date! This album was four artists at their creative peak.
The world was still buzzing The Beatles’ previous record, and were blown away by the one after, but Revolver‘s influence has been a slow burn ever since it’s release. Many post-60s bands owe a lot to this album. Most notably the post-grung Alternative Rock scene starting in the mid 90s and still today in many regards. It pre-dates punk with the sneering anti-capitalism of “Taxman”. Arguably created Electronica with “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Immortalized loneliness found in ealry New Wave with “Eleanor Rigby”. It paved the way for arena rock with dueling guitars of “And Your Bird Can Sing”, and it proved white people were capable of pulling off decent R&B with “Got To Get You Into My Life”. The list of influence goes on and on. There is a reason why this album has found it’s way on so many “Greatest” lists over the years. It really is THAT good.
If you are one of the five people never to give this album a proper listen, please do yourself a favor and stop waiting. Go out and buy it (preferably on vinyl, in mono) and even if you don’t particularly care for any of the songs, listen and understand it’s impact on music in the past fifty years. If you already own, and have enjoyed it over the years, it’s birthday is as good enough excuse as any to give it another listen and bask in it’s greatness. One of my personal favorite albums of all time. Happy 50th birthday Revolver.
As a side note, even as a kid I was obsessed with album. Here’s a drawing of the album cover I did when I was twelve years old. My Mom recently unearthed this from her keepsake collection. Even back then I had great taste in music ha!