Thursday, August 4, 2011

The End of the Beginning: The Beatles' Revolver is 45

 The Beatles - Revolver
The Beatles
Rating: **** 1/2

In just a few years, the Beatles had become the biggest band of all time. In 1965, things had changed: the band’s sixth album, Rubber Soul, introduced listeners to a mature sounding band. The Beatles had begun the experimenting on Rubber Soul but it was on Revolver where the band dug deeper into experimenting with the sound of the music. Released on August 5, 1966 Revolver was the band’s seventh album. It was also their third album to consist entirely of original material, the first two being A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul. Revolver is sometimes thought to be one of best or the best album the Beatles ever made. An album with songs that have so many stories behind them deserves the “song-by-song” treatment.
While the sound of the band was changing, so were the boys in the band. 1966 was a chaotic year for the Beatles. It started off on a light note when George Harrison married model Patti Boyd. The pair first met on the set of A Hard Day’s Night as Boyd was one of the girls on the train. On March 4, John Lennon was interviewed for the London Evening Standard. When asked about God the churches, Lennon replied
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock'n'roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
            No one made a big fuss about it then. Some locals were angered by Lennon’s statement. It was on April 6 when the band entered Abbey Road Studios to record the material for Revolver. The band finished on June 21 and began their last world tour shortly after. It was also the first album engineer Geoff Emerick worked on with the Beatles.

Song by song review

1.      “Taxman”- For the first and only time, a George Harrison penned song is the first song on a Beatles album. This one, “Taxman”, shows signs that George’s songwriting was getting better. The song, at that time, was about how the taxman was taking the money the band earned. At that time in the UK, the two biggest politicians were Harold Wilson (Labour Party) and Edward Heath (Conservative Party). In fact, their names are mentioned in the backing vocals (Ah, ah Mr. Wilson and ah, ah Mr. Heath). In the Anthology mini-series, George said about the song that it “was the point where you discover you’re actually paying more money to the taxman” and then you’re “so happy that you’re finally earning money” until you find out.

2.      “Eleanor Rigby”- “Eleanor Rigby” would turn out to be another #1 hit for the band. This song already shows experimentation from the beginning as the band are singing to an orchestra. “Yesterday” had done this before but “Eleanor Rigby” was full blown orchestral. As many Beatles fans should know, there was a real Eleanor Rigby. Paul, however, wasn’t aware. Paul began work on the song after spending time in the music room of girlfriend Jane Asher’s family home, vamping on E minor on a piano. Folk musician Donovan remembers Paul visiting his flat in London once. When they were jamming, Paul played Donovan a new song called “Ola Na Tungee”. Paul came up with the idea for the song about it being about a wedding at a church. “Ola Na Tungee” later became “Miss Daisy Hawkins” but Paul didn’t like the name. The name of Eleanor Rigby came around after combining two things together. “Eleanor” was taken from actress and Help co-star Eleanor Bron. “Rigby” was taken from the name of a store Paul passed by in Bristol called Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine and Spirit Shippers. In a story that’s too good to be true, it turned out there was a real Eleanor Rigby. She’s buried at Woolton Cemetery, which is adjoined to St. Peter’s Church (where Paul first met John). Eleanor Rigby (1895-October 10, 1939) had lived in Liverpool. Not too far from her grave was someone named McKenzie. None of the Beatles are playing instruments in the song. Instead, there’s a string octet. George Martin also helped by composing the score. One of the best songs by the Beatles for sure.

3.      “I’m Only Sleeping”- Much like “Eleanor Rigby”, “I’m Only Sleeping” is another somewhat creepy song. John is the main writer for this song and personally, it’s my favorite song off the album. John wrote the song based on his lack of routine while on tour. When he got home John liked to read, listen to music, and other things while under the influence of drugs. According to the Beatles Bible website, Paul would have to wake up John up for afternoon writing sessions. John liked sleep obviously and he decided to make it into a song. John also thought of himself as lazy (“Everybody seems to think I’m lazy/I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy”) aside from reading and writing. Personally I love the lyrics of “Lying here staring at the ceiling/Waiting for a sleepy feeling”.  The song is also known for its backwards guitar solo. The idea came about after a tape operator had threaded a tape into the machine incorrectly. George Harrison was at work on the guitar parts. He came up with it on May 5 in a five-hour late night recording session. Personally, this is my favorite song from Revolver. I think of it as underrated.

4.      “Love You To”- As the second of his three songs off the album, George’s “Love You To” is another overlooked Beatles song. First of all, it has a wonderful intro with George fiddling about on the sitar. George’s interest in the instrument, as well as Eastern/Indian religion, had begun on the set of Help! In the movie, the Beatles are on the run from a Eastern/Indian group of people. There’s a scene that takes place in a restaurant, where someone was playing a sitar. Not too long after this, George learned of Ravi Shankar. Shankar ended up becoming one of George’s closest friends until George passed in 2001. When asked about this song, George admits that his interest in the sitar was getting deeper “all the time”. The lyrics to the song are based on the philosophy and beliefs in the Eastern/Indian religion, along with his love for Patti Boyd. I like how George uses a sitar rather than a guitar for this song. With the sitar, it makes the song more psychedelic.

5.      “Here, There, and Everywhere”- This wonderful love ballad is written by Paul. The sound is very soft and the lyrics are well written. According to Paul, he was aiming for doing a Beach Boys sounding song. The vocals from Paul are wonderful and tender, with John and George providing backing vocals. Ringo provides finger snaps! It’s simply a nice little song.

6.      “Yellow Submarine”- When I first got into the Beatles, one of the first things that got me into them was the 1968 Yellow Submarine movie. It’s hard for me to believe that the Beatles had no intentions of making a movie when making this song. Originally, it was written as Ringo’s time to sing on the album. As with many songs written by Lennon/McCartney, they didn’t write it together. Of the two, it was Paul who mainly wrote this ditty. He had in mind that this would be Ringo’s song for the album. Once again, Paul found influence while at Jane Asher’s house. According to Paul in Anthology, he had come up with the song one night when “silly things” came into his head. It would be a song about an old mariner telling the tales of when he was on the seas. The recording of this song was quite interesting: the band had fun with the sounds needed for this song. As one can imagine, they didn’t do it alone. The person clinking the glasses in the song is Brian Jones! John made the sounds of the bubbles by blowing bubbles through a straw in a bucket of water. John and Paul used tin cans to make it sound like a captain giving orders. Ringo’s the one who yells “Cut the cable! Drop the cable!” When the overdubs were over, the ending was recorded. Mal Evans strapped a marching band bass drum to his chest and led everyone (the band, George Martin, Neil Aspinall, Marianne Faithful, Patti Boyd) in a conga dance belting out the chorus. “Yellow Submarine” gave the band another #1 hit single.

7.      “She Said She Said”- Over the years, “She Said She Said” has been best described as a drug song. It’s actually true. John wrote this psychedelic rocker based on the party the Beatles hosted at a rented house on Huholland Drive. According to notes, it was a year before on August 24 when the Beatles had members of the Byrds and actor Peter Fonda at this party. Both Lennon and Fonda have similar accounts as to what happened that night. Apparently, everyone was dropping acid/LSD. At one point, Fonda went around saying “I know what it’s like to be dead”. This freaked everybody out since no one wanted to hear about it. Lennon replied to Fonda “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born” and “Who put all that shit in your head?”. John must’ve used this experience as the basis of the song because those words make their way into the song. Much of the guitar playing was done by John and George. The two overdubbed with more guitar and an organ. Years later, Paul McCartney has admitted that he was probably not on the song. Paul says that John had “pretty much finished” it. Paul also thinks that they might’ve “had a barney or something” over it. In the end, the song ended up on the album. It’s quite a trippy song and one of my favorite off Revolver.

8.      “Good Day Sunshine”- Side two of Revolver starts off with an upbeat Paul-written song. “Good Day Sunshine” is a pleasant pop song. McCartney said years later that he was influenced by the Lovin Spponful’s hit “Daydream”. McCartney liked how it was vaudeville like and trad-jazz. The song was recorded in just about two days, which is pretty impressive. “Good Day Sunshine” is a highlight off Revolver.

9.      “And Your Bird Can Sing”- This John Lennon written song is a nice rocker, almost hard rock when you think it over. The twin guitar riffs on here are sensational. The original version had George Harrison playing a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. This version was later rejected and enede up on Anthology 2. Perhaps it was because John and Paul could not stop giggling? Lennon was later dismissive of the song years later, referring to it as another of his “throwaways”. I think John was always dismissive of his work years later. This song isn’t bad at all.

10.  “For No One”- This piano based song has always been one of my personal favorites. Written by Paul, the song is about the end of a love affair. Paul wrote it while on holiday with Jane Asher in Switzerland. The only Beatles playing on the song are Paul and Ringo. The horn piece was played by Alan Civil. Paul is also experimenting with a clavichord, belonging to George Martin. Although he’s not on the song, John Lennon later said in 1980 that “For No One” was one of his favorites of Paul’s saying it ‘s “a nice piece of work”.

11.  “Doctor Robert”- An autobiographical song, this Lennon-penned rocker is not everyone’s favorite song off of Revolver. It’s another drug song but this time, it’s kind of pointing out names. John is quoted to saying that it’s “mainly about drugs and pills” and how he’d be the one carrying the pills (although this job later went to the roadies). Some think the song is about art dealer Robert Fraser. It’s really about Dr. Robert Freymann from Manhattan, New York. Although its somewhat weak, “Doctor Robert” is still good.

12.  “I Want To Tell You”- The third and last of George’s songs off of Revolver is “I Want To Tell You”. Like many of George’s songs with the Beatles, it’s overlooked. The song’s lyrics, according to George, are “about the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit.” In his autobiography I Me Mine, George says that the second line should be reversed. Basically, the song is about saying things you want to say but you’re finding it difficult to say it.

13.  “Got To Get You It My Life”- This McCartney written number is quite catchy. One may not believe it but this is yet another drug song. The sound of the song was influenced by Motown songs Paul had been listening to. John thought the song was about LSD. Paul later explained that he wrote the song when he was first introduced to marijuana. So this song isn’t to a person. It’s to an illegal drug. I don’t really care. It’s one of my favorites.

14.  “Tomorrow Never Knows”- It might be the last song on Revolver but it was actually the first song recorded for the album. Lennon’s name is all over this song. The song is yet another drug song but the way it came together is quite interesting. John had written the song after reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead or The Psychedelic Experience while under the influence of LSD. The song is also experimental has John is just continually strumming the C chord. All the Beatles played on the song and took part in playing their instruments. The guitars are playing reversed, as is almost everything else. The song also uses tape loops, which there are five of in the song:   a “seagull” or “American Idian” whooping effect, an orchestral chord of B flat major chord (0:19), a distorted recording of Paul laughing, a Mellotron Mk.II, played with brass tape set (0:22), another Mellotron played in 6/8 using 3 violins tape set (0:38), and guitar ascending (0:56). Quite an interesting way to end the album.

When the Beatles were done recording the album, they began their last world tour on June 23. First, the band toured Germany for the last time. Then in July, the band arrived in the Philippines. An invitation from the first lady (Imelda Marcos) was sent to the band for them to attend   the breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace. On behalf of the band, Brian Epstein politely said no to the invitation. It turned out that they couldn’t take no for an answer. The snub was broadcasted on live TV and the band’s police protection was gone. Mal Evans and several others were beaten. The crowds pushed the band members around. In the Anthology mini-series, the band didn’t know if they would ever go back home. Almost as soon as the Beatles returned from the Philippines, there was an uproar in the US. An American teen magazine called Datebook had taken John Lennon’s comments about Christianity out of context from the interview he had given months ago for the Evening Standard. Many were appalled by Lennon’s statement of “we’re more popular than Jesus”. Concerts were canceled, radio stations banned the music, and conservative groups were holding record burnings. The Vatican didn’t like what Lennon had to say and of all people, the Ku Klux Klan didn’t like Lennon’s statement! In fact, they staged their burning cross shtick outside of one concert or two (one source says they even nailed a Beatles album to the cross). Lennon apologized for his statement but by that time, things weren’t so good for the Beatles. They were getting death threats and had grown tired of not being able to hear themselves play at concerts. The band’s last concert was on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. After this, the band took a break: John went to film How I Won The War, Paul wrote the score to The Family Way, George went to India, and Ringo stayed at home. In November 1966, the band regrouped (all with moustaches, which was completely a coincidence). Work began on “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, and then of course the band’s next album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Music critics and magazines alike rank Revolver high on lists of the greatest albums ever made. Some call it the best album made by anybody. I never understood all the love for Revolver at first but I get it now. On my list, it ranks at #17. I had it lower before but I think I’ve said before about my list that my top 20-25 are pretty much concrete. In terms of it being a Beatles album, it looks like it’s my fourth favorite album by them which is really good! I think Revolver is an amazing album. As said before, Rubber Soul may’ve been the band’s first “mature” album. I think with Revolver, they discovered how to experiment with new sounds. In the end, Revolver is one of the greatest albums ever made.

Sources (other than my amazing memory)
Beatles Bible (A wonderful site with hundreds of fascinating articles)
Wikipedia (duh! I only used it if the information was cited. Most of it seemed to come from Bob Spitz’s book)
The 2009 reissue liner notes

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