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Music Review: The Beatles – Revolver

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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.

For more information visit the Official Beatles Website.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • zingzing

    oi. you’re gonna run into some trouble around here. nice review, but is revolver the first beatles album with a sitar? i think not.

    more to the point… tape loops and backwards guitar (or anything) didn’t just appear out of nowhere. if you’re saying that this is the first time such things appeared on a beatles (or even a pop) record, that’s fine and dandy. but otherwise, it’s just not true.

    such work with tape had been going on since at least the 1930s in france, germany, england and america. probably other places as well. granted, it wasn’t until the 50s or 60s that this stuff started infiltrating music outside of avant or classical musics, but the techniques used by martin and the beatles were well-explored and relatively primitive compared to contemporary works of classical/avant composers. (that said, “revolution 9” is a startling example of tape manipulation/collage, and i’m not dumping on the beatles abilities at all.)

    the beatles were innovators all over the place, but sadly, tape manipulation is not one place they got to first. the fact is that it’s been around almost as long as recorded music.

    also, john was totally dissatisfied with martin’s attempts to get what was in his head out on tape. but, it worked out for the best. john (as evidenced by his later solo career,) was not always his own best critic.

    and “yellow submarine” should never be mentioned again. other than the sound affects, which are pretty damn cool. but fuck that song. gawd, i hate it.

    other than that, good stuff. keep it up.

  • Julien

    Nice Review. Sgt. Pepper generally tops any list of the greatest albums of all time (or Pet Sounds), but I think you have to note that Revolver paved the way for both of those albums (and the friendly competition that inspired them). Revolver fulfills the promise of everything that was hinted at on Rubber Soul. For my money there’s not a finer pop / rock album anywhere.

  • Jeff

    Thanks Zingzing – you’re right of course – I am not sure why I made the mistake about George’s sitar and then in the next breath mention Norwegian Wood ! Getting a bit carried away with my enthusiasm me thinks – I certainly didn’t know about the previous use of backward loops – thanks. I was trying to emphasise that at the time it seemed so revolutionary and innovative and in many ways still does. Sorry for the mistakes – but I hope that the essence of the article is basically sound. It did change the music world and still stands right up there at the very top. Thanks for the message – appreciated. Jeff

  • I have often thought that the individuel songs contained on Revolver are equal to those of Sgt. Peppers. It’s just that Sgt. Peppers hangs together as a whole a little better. Nice review, David

  • zingzing

    glad you caught the norwegian wood bit. and you’re right on the beatles’ use of tape loops. it certainly was many, many people’s first experience with them. and it was revolutionary and innovative. if only a few people heard tape loops before the beatles’ use (of course, the beatles were some of those few people), then nothing would have come of it. it’s because of the beatles that tape manipulation became a part of pop’s musical language. and for that, they should put on a pedestal and worshiped forever. of course, they already are.

    i’d say that the individual songs on revolver are far better than most of those contained on pepper. but, as you say, it’s the whole that counts with pepper. it’s a different album with a different aesthetic. still, i can’t remember i listened to the whole thing front-to-back. it’s just so hard not to skip right to the end.

    listen to third/sister lovers by big star. if you haven’t heard it, it’s an amazing album in a somewhat similar vein. well, a darker vein, but still a great pop/rock album.

  • Tommy

    Didnt Rubber Soul have a sitar on it ?? And why would you give George Martin all the credit for tomorrow never knows ?? It was Paul who brought in all the tape loops and showed Ringo that drum beat to play . This was the record where Paul was really growing musically and experimenting with diffferent instruments.

  • Revolver is definitely in the top five best albums of the rock era (and, in my opinion, better than Sgt. Pepper). Paul has said that he considered Rubber Soul and Revolver to be bookends, a seamless continuation of their artistic growth. Although George Martin certainly deserves a lot of credit, I would say Revolver was a team effort with The Beatles, Martin, and Geoff Emerick equally responsible for creating a true masterpiece.

  • Jeff

    Hi Tommy
    Thanks for the message.If nothing else it has got people thinking about Revolver again – and the genius that was The Beatles. Yes you are right about the sitar and I have been beating myself up over making such a daft mistake ever since ! (see above to Zingzing) At least we all agree on how important this album was. Re George Martin – yes again I agree it was The Beatles that have the credit that’s why I referred to them as the ‘collective genius’.
    Thanks again,

  • Whilst Paul McCartney was willing to try new ideas 40 years ago, it is depressing how increasingly slight and mundane that once great talent has become…

  • Saint James

    Rubber Soul showed traces of Pschedelic Rock with the album cover, trippier vocal harmonies the pre “All You Need Is Love” song the “The Word” and of course the use of the sitar on the “Norwegian Wood”.

    Many people think “Tomorrow Never Knows” predates techno or acid house by 20 years. In terms of what was done on a rock record backward guitar and avant styled tape loops were first done on Revolver.

    The Beatles Pop/Progressive Rock styles starts with songs like “Eleanor Rigby” no rock instruments just strings and vocals. The use of Indian orchestra on “Love You To”. The use of backward fadeouts and backward guitar leads of “I’m Only Sleeping”. “She Said She Said” changes time signatures in the middle of the song. Automatic Double Tracking and the Leslie Vocal Effect is the used the first time on Revolver.

    I have to disagree with Zing Zang “Tomorrow Never Knows” tape loops created by the Beatles created surreal Psychedelic soundscape with a hard rock backbeat that has been influential to artists like the Chemical Brothers. The concept of sampling over one chord or two chords and repeating drum and bass sound here is invented here and is common place in Pop Music.

  • zingzing

    “I have to disagree with Zing Zang “Tomorrow Never Knows” tape loops created by the Beatles created surreal Psychedelic soundscape with a hard rock backbeat that has been influential to artists like the Chemical Brothers. The concept of sampling over one chord or two chords and repeating drum and bass sound here is invented here and is common place in Pop Music.”

    Not exactly sure what you’re saying here… the beatles certainly did not invent tape loops or sampling. it’s true that they were the first to use them (at least popularly) in a rock context, but that doesn’t mean that “the concept of sampling… is invented here.”

    i suppose you do say “over one chord or two cords and repeating drum and bass,” but that’s kind of like saying kool-aid invented water with cherry flavor. it may be true… but it’s not as important as water or cherries to the idea.

    (and “tomorrow never knows” was a little more than just “influential” on the chemical brothers. they outright ripped the song off. but i see what you are saying there.)

    “tomorrow never knows” is certainly one of the beatles most influential tracks. one COULD say that techno sprung forth from its grooves. but that would be ignoring the vast history of electronic music, back through reich’s “come out,” to cage’s “williams mix,” to the whole of musique concrete, even back to russolo’s “art of noises.” “tnk” is where a lot of these ideas entered the popular consciousness, but the beatles got their ideas from somewhere, and a lot of people who were taken by the song went back and looked at those ideas as well.

  • zingzing

    just as a further example, terry riley’s “music for the gift,” recorded in 1963:

    “Riley was working in Paris when he was contacted by Ken Dewey, one of the originators of theatrical happenings, to compose the music for the production of his play The Gift that had been commissioned by the Theater of Nations. Chet Baker was also in Paris fresh from jail on a heroin bust and Dewey asked him to join the collaboration.

    As source material for his composition, Riley recorded Baker’s Quartet in an arrangement of Miles Davis’s “So What” at the ORTF. The Quartet was recorded together as well as separately. Riley then subjected the recordings to his time-lag process, stretching the tape across the play head of one tape recorder and the record head of a second so that the two machines created a perpetual feedback and the composition was created in the edited accumulation.”

    it’s got bass and drums (and horns), it’s got tape loops, it’s 1963, when the beatles were still singing “love me do.” (i love “love me do.”)

  • Sorry – I have to disagree with the Pepper fans – it’s lightweight compared to Revolver. Sure, the best 3 or 4 songs from each album are comparable and great, but Revolver has the depth. And I think it holds together better – Pepper has moments that hold together, but look at it’s structure: the opening title track and the second song (Friends) are a mini concept pair which gets abandoned; the title track is reprised (almost) at the end, but then the coda Day in the Life blows it away; and most people skip Within You Without You anwyays. Revolver is just a buncha fine songs.

    No – it’s certainly more influential, but I don’t think Peppper is the better album – not even the Beatles’ nd best album.

    Ah well, it was getting quiet ’round here anyways.

  • Saint James

    Sgt Pepper was more important to mainstreaming the future for Progressive Rock bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and other. The linking of songs, the reprise and experimentation on songs like “Within You Without You”. The Beatles were the greatest prog-related pop group ever.

    Revolver combines great pop melodies with Classical Indian, Avant and chamber styled quartets. They were not songs like “Eleanor Rigby”, “Love You To”, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” being created anyone else.

    The concept of sampling over one chord or two chords and repeating drum and bass sound on “Tomorrow Never Knows” is invented here and is common place in Pop Music. I never said the Beatles invented tape loops or sampling. I highly doubt that Stockhausen or Riley was merging musique concrete with Psychedelic Rock which was my point Zing Zang.

  • zingzing

    ahh, st. james, but riley WAS merging it with other styles at the time, including jazz (music for the gift) and soul (you’re nogood). i agree that the beatles were the first to merge it with psychedelic rock, but that hardly makes it a formalist breakthrough. that’s like saying sgt. pepper invented the concept album because it was the first psychedelic rock band to do so–ignoring similar undertakings by sinatra (the reprise, the telling of a story over an album) or the beach boys (an exploration of a single theme across an album)…

    sure, they’re the ones that brought such ideas to the public. on that level, however, madonna is the greatest musician of the 80s and david bowie has more krautrock cache than the germans do. most ideas bubble up from the underground and into pop music. it doesn’t lessen a band’s importance if all they did was present these ideas in a pop context, but it doesn’t make them original either.

    not to say the beatles weren’t original. their recording techniques did more to advance the art in their 8 years than in the 50 years of previous recorded music. but tape loops, even with the caveat of context, hardly qualifies as one of their major breakthroughs.

  • zingzing

    also, zappa’s freak out was released about a month and a half before revolver and contained much more tape manipulation (and extensive examples of musique concrete). it was also a psychedelic rock album (and a loose concept album) (and a double album).

    it certainly didn’t have the audience that revolver had, but people were listening (including the beatles).

  • Regardless of looping technique and recording expertise, the songs on Revolver are an overall better batch. Same with Rubber Soul, and possibly the White Album too. Stripped away od the sonic density, Mr. Kite, or Lovely Rita for instance, are not nearly as strong.

  • Sydfloyd

    I am inclined to agree with Saint James. Frank Zappa Freak Out is not really Psychedelic Rock and “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” is purely Avant Garde Music with sound effects with changes of speed but nothing like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or the separate backward vocal coda of “Rain.

    “Tomorrow Never Knows” merges Indian Music, Avant sampling and backward tape to create a surreal sound. That is surely innovative whether it’s pop music or underground music. Underground rock bands were not even remotely creating music like “Strawberry Fields Forever or “I Am the Walrus”.

    The topic is rock music why bring up Riley maybe he should have thought of merging his ideas with pop music or rock music. The Beatles did so why should not the Beatles be credited with creating a new type of sound.

    Sgt. Pepper on the other hand might be a loosely concepted rock album but the whole album on vinyl at least was connected without a pause.

    Songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and “I’m Only Sleeping” sound very close to Indie Music. Were talking about songs that were recorded 42 years ago.