When the Beatles played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966, it proved to be their last ever official live performance. The fact that they were there at all should be seen as something of a miracle. John’s infamous and largely misquoted comment to the London Evening Standard newspaper in March that year regarding Christianity and The Beatles had helped make the tour a living nightmare with genuine fears over a possible assassination attempt. There was more trouble when a misunderstanding in the Philippines led to them being publicly denounced by President Marcos during a brief appearance there in July. When the American tour was due to start, a special press conference had to be called to hopefully put the madness to rest.
The tour of North America had been planned to publicize the release of the bands’ latest album Revolver. Recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in North London from April to June 1966, Revolver sits as a towering achievement by the most successful group the world has ever seen. When you consider the recordings started only four months after the release of the previous album Rubber Soul, it gives some indication of the demands being placed upon them. The signs of what was soon to be had already appeared with tracks like “Norwegian Wood” and the b-side to “Paperback Writer”, “Rain”. However Revolver would see The Beatles take even bigger steps forward and create a work of utter brilliance.
The loveable mop tops that had featured in the previous years film Help! had gone and in their place were four deep thinking musicians who were actively exploring not only drugs and religion but the whole world of musical possibilities. Further studio experimentation followed that would ultimately lead them to the following year's Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1968’s White Album. It was undoubtedly Revolver that opened the doors of possibility. Heavily influenced by their now prolific experimentation into the new drug of the day, LSD, Revolver marks a huge quantum leap forward not only for The Beatles themselves but for the whole music world and in many ways, society itself.
To date each Beatles album had contained a token George Harrison composition but this time there were three including the album’s opener, the always relevant, “Taxman”. Songs of the quality of the mainstream “Eleanor Rigby”, “Got To Get You Into My Life”, “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Good Day Sunshine” highlight the depth of class that The Beatles were capable of producing seemingly at will. Even the album’s light moment, the Ringo led “Yellow Submarine”, seems timeless. “Here, There and Everywhere” and the heartfelt “For No-One” are both achingly memorable.
However it is the drug influenced tracks that make this the ground breaking album it is. John’s “She Said She Said” has the disturbing acid drenched line, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’. When “Doctor Robert” delivers what is needed to inspire him, John responds by writing the superb “I’m Only Sleeping”. George’s newly found Indian influence appears in “Love You To”. But, of course, it is John’s musical exploration of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead that brings the album to a close with “Tomorrow Never Knows” a track of huge significance.
As much as it remains a trip induced track of its time, it is still light years ahead of anything anyone has done subsequently. You have to place yourself back in 1966 to fully appreciate the impact this track had. Nothing had ever been done like this before and the fact that it was a Beatles recording made it even more remarkable. The influence of George Martin is all over this record, pushing and expanding the possibilities of the collective genius before him to produce something that would change the shape of music forever. This is the first album that not only features backward guitar and tape loops but also George’s sitar. More than anything George Martin was able to help re-create what John could hear in his mind and put it onto record. All that back in 1966 on, what is now considered as, near primitive equipment.
Walking away from the mania of stadium tours was an inspired decision. Directly after the last concert, George went off to India to learn sitar with Ravi Shankar and explore religion. His life would become all the richer for it. As The Beatles took some much needed time out John made the film How I Won The War. Somehow within the year they went on to achieve the impossible. Building upon the huge legacy of Revolver they somehow pushed back the boundaries even further.
If Sgt Peppers is regarded as their masterpiece, then Revolver made it all possible. It has stood the test of time and can now be seen clearly for what it obviously was – a work of monumental importance.
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