REVOLVER (1966) – A shot across the bow of conventional pop music

Why has this blog suddenly turned all Beatlemaniac? Click on the image above for a full explanation!

Revolver – Released Aug. 5, 1966

It was at this point that The Beatles turned Abbey Road Studios into an aural laboratory, grabbing at every sound they could find and many times creating their own. Whereas their debut album Please Please Me was recorded in a mere 11 hours, Revolver took two-and-a-half months to complete — but when such a masterwork results, who wants to quibble about time?

Taxman: One of The Beatles’ first “big” attempts at social commentary, and it was as roundly castigated by McCartney critics as it was praised by music fans and sociologists. But at least, unlike later such efforts in The Fabs’ solo years, this one is “universal” enough to still be appreciated. The string section, arranged by producer George Martin (and displayed on its own on Anthology 2), is understated and puts the song’s power across as much as its “message” does.

I’m Only Sleeping: John Lennon’s somnabulant delivery and the surreal backwards tapes perfectly dramatize the sense of drowsiness Lennon was after in this song. Even the less elaborate version on Anthology 2 indicates the song’s spirit. Compare this with his more caffeinated sequel I’m So Tired (on The White Album).

Love You To: This song’s raga-rock sound was probably mind-blowing in the 1960’s but doesn’t wear too well. It’s not helped by the mock-profundity of George Harrison’s lyrics, especially the strange advice to “Make love all day long/Make love singing songs.” Presumably, this song was not one of the tunes they were warbling at the verge of climax.

Here, There and Everywhere: As with most of Paul’s efforts on Revolver, this is a nicely understated view of all-encompassing love. Its only debit is Paul’s vocal, which seems to be unnecessarily raised a few octaves — an aural tic that would plague some of his solo songs, where he put on his “sincere” voice to cover up a decided lack of emotion in the writing.

Yellow Submarine: Like many of The Beatles’ creations, this is one of those songs that is more than the sum of its parts. On its own, the song is a nice enough “novelty” tune, with Ringo’s nonchalant warbling and a variety of sound effects creating a neat little mini-radio show. As the theme for an animated film that sums up the peace-and-love era about as superbly as one could hope for, it’s…well, more than just a novelty tune. Either way, it’s pretty enjoyable.

She Said She Said: I know what it’s like to be dead, and it’s somewhat like listening to this song. Paul McCartney often gets knocked for his supposed excesses (e.g., Eleanor Rigby on the same album that sported this attempt at pseudo-profundity), but John Lennon had his moments too. Based on an LSD-inspired comment to John by actor Peter Fonda, this is an all-out attempt at aural psychedelia, and unlike its flip side in Tomorrow Never Knows, it’s more annoying than haunting. A perfect song to clear out the last of the party guests.

Good Day Sunshine: From its opening piano charge, this song is the aural embodiment of a perfect day. Paul’s jaunty piano and vocals, and Ringo’s great drumming, are as close to perfection as a sun-drenched spring day.

And Your Bird Can Sing: When people talk about Paul McCartney’s bass-playing propelling The Beatles’ music, this is a prime example. John’s kiss-off lyrics mesh perfect with Paul’s bass back-up. A perfect song for breaking the lease. The Anthology 2 version is less enchanting, having been recorded under the influence of some substance that makes The Beatles giggle like naughty schoolgirls.

For No One: A nicely unassuming story of a woman who nonchalantly carries on with her life after leaving a relationship in wreckage. Alan Civil’s horn carries the song over the high mark as handily as does George Martin’s keyboard in In My Life. One of Paul McCartney’s finest efforts.

Dr. Robert: Considering the dark origin of the song (it’s based on a pill-pusher acquaintance of John Lennon’s), the song’s theme is more provocative than its final performance. Only the wailing guitar and sinister organ in the song’s bridge hint at the song’s unethical source.

I Want to Tell You: George Harrison’s lyrics still seem at the apprentice stage here, in a continuation of the “Don’t call me, lover, I’ll call you” smugness of If I Needed Someone. But the surrounding accompaniment — the thumping bass, jangly piano, and especially Ringo’s fireworks drumming — transcend the lyrics and lift the song to the higher level Harrison strived for in his Hare Krishna era.

Got to Get You Into My Life: If those beefy horns at the beginning don’t grab you, nothing will. One of Paul’s finest works, with heartfelt lyrics and delivery accompanying some blazing guitarwork to send the listener soaring. Anthology 2‘s version offers the most dramatic contrast possible, with trashy organ back-up, the worst-ever use of Beatles harmonies, and Paul sounding like a bad lounge singer.

Tomorrow Never Knows: As the closing number on this groundbreaking album, it’s a wonder that any stunned listener had the wherewithal to pick up his phonograph needle after record’s end. A mind-blowing collage of John’s remarkable vocals, way-deep lyrics, and apocalyptic aural images. Rock music was never the same after this one. Anthology 1‘s early version of this song is quite a bit fuzzier but shows that John was already on the right track.

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