|History of Revolver Album|
Revolver Album is one of the greatest albums of all time, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Revolver has appeared in the top 10 of lists of “the greatest albums of all time” in Rolling Stone magazine (2003), NME (1975, 2003), The Guardian (1997), The Times (1993), Channel 4 television (2005) and on many other occasions1. The company it keeps varies – Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones was voted the 5th best album of all time by NME readers in 1985, but hasn't featured since – and its position on the list changes: sometimes it's below Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in recent years it has more often been above, creeping towards (and occasionally achieving) the top spot.
What is it that makes Revolver a contender – why are people drawn to listen to it, and why do they invariably fall in love with it when they do? That Revolver is a good album has never really been questioned by critics, but in 1966, they were still excited about Rubber Soul which had been released only 8 months earlier. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys memorably summed up Rubber Soul as containing “all good stuff”2, and he credits it with inspiring his own contender for the title “best album of all time", Pet Sounds. Many of the 14 songs on Revolver (10 in the USA) were similar in style and instrumentation to those on Rubber Soul. Even the sound of the sitar, in a superficial sense at least, represents a retread of Rubber Soul. Revolver was, in fact, made to the same formula as Rubber Soul. That is to say that they both have the same number of songs, many of which are in the same styles - soul or rhythm'n'blues with ornamentations, or classically influenced ballads, and folk-rock. Both albums start with an up-tempo bass- driven tune, and both feature a Ringo Starr vocal approximately midway through the running order. George Harrison himself said that there wasn't “much difference between Rubber Soul and Revolver. To me, they could be Volume 1 and Volume 2”3.
He's right, to a degree. There are songs on Revolver which, in musical terms at least, would have fit perfectly well on Rubber Soul – “Here, There and Everywhere”, for example, or “Dr Robert”. In fact, so similar in style are some of these songs that Yesterday and Today, an LP released only in the USA between Rubber Soul and Revolver, combines leftover tracks and singles from the former with four tracks from the latter without creating a noticeably jarring effect.
And yet these two albums sit on opposite sides of a gulf. Sure, Rubber Soul has a sitar on it, but there is nothing really Indian in the arrangement or playing. Rubber Soul was written and recorded after Lennon and Harrison first encountered LSD, but there is no song on the album which tries to capture the experience in sound though it makes itself felt, tentatively, in some of the lyrics. Rubber Soul was written and recorded whilst Paul McCartney was living a “Bohemian” lifestyle, but this is reflected only conservatively in his songs. Revolver, however, is characterised by the presence of all three of these influences, fully devoured and digested.
Another key difference between the two albums is that, whereas Rubber Soul is filled like the Beatles' earlier work with songs celebrating sex and sexual love, on Revolver all three songwriters have gone “beyond” writing simple love songs. That is not to say that they had lost interest in sex – Paul McCartney's authorised biography and its account of sexual escapades in Swinging London make that much clear – but rather that there was no longer such a thrill in writing about it in metaphor. There are no songs about “holding hands”, “driving”, “one night stands”, or even anything as outright suggestive as “Girl”. Instead there are explorations of loneliness (“Eleanor Rigby”, “For No One”), innocence (“Yellow Submarine”, “Here, There and Everywhere”4), and the dream-state (“Tomorrow Never Knows”, “I'm Only Sleeping”). Only “Dr Robert” really carries on the practice of double-entendre, but for the purpose of talking about drugs rather than sex. Perhaps this is also attributable to the fact that both Lennon and McCartney were in steady but unsatisfying relationships, and therefore had more complex feelings to work out: the songs on Revolver are about relationships in their last throes.
Unfortunately, even if critics of the day had recognised that Revolver was a vast leap forward from Rubber Soul, they would soon be distracted from their admiration by its showboating and much-esteemed successor, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and its associated single, “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane”. Sgt. Pepper needs little summation: almost everybody who owns any records owns a copy of that album and in 1967 it had a powerful global impact with serious critics, the underground and, for want of a better word, the “overground” - meaning almost everybody else. People tell stories about hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time which sound more like accounts of religious epiphany: there are almost no similar Revolver stories. A leap forward Revolver may have been, but it didn't knock people for six like Sgt. Pepper.
What is perhaps most important about Revolver, however, is the very way in which it was created, with new influences being absorbed and then shared. This was the last album which would demonstrate so completely the band's often noted “telepathy”5. In this instance, they were able to separate and explore their own interests, with their own circles of friends, but without every losing the underlying connection with the “hive mind”. People talked, throughout 1965 and 1966, of the imminent breakup of the Beatles, but the band laughed them off: "I've just read about how I'm leaving the group, as well. What can you do about that!”
This period of expansion saw Lennon, McCartney and Harrison absorb a range of new influences and promptly feed them back to the others. This meant that, even without any special interest in Indian music, Lennon was nonetheless able to draw upon its structures and sounds to shape his own music. Although Paul McCartney did not himself take LSD until much later in 19667, he was able to evoke key aspects of the experience when writing “Yellow Submarine” in May that year8, and when helping to shape that quintessential evocation of an LSD trip, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. After 1966, for whatever reason, they were less able or less willing to share experiences and discoveries in this way, and began really to drift apart.
Part of the appeal of Revolver might be in the very fact that it really represents the Beatles as not only great songwriters and performers, but as the quintessential “gang”. The album has at least one which is a true group effort, and to which all three songwriting Beatles contributed substantially - namely, “Taxman”. Everyone brings something fascinating to the mix - even Ringo Starr, whose drumming on “Rain” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is astounding, and original. By contrast, by the time they started work on Sgt. Pepper at the end of the same year, a real sense of ownership of particular songs had emerged. They continued to share ideas, but never again intermingled them to the same degree as in the songs on Revolver.
Q : What’s going to come out of the next recording sessions?
John Lennon : Literally anything. Electronic music, jokes... one thing’s for sure – the next LP is going to be different. (NME, 11/3/66, p.3)
So, Rubber Soul is the last gasp of the “loveable mop- tops” whilst Revolver, a more varied and complex work, is the birth of The Beatles as fully-fledged rock stars. It is a futuristic album, in fact, which might explain its slow increase in reputation over the distinctly “period” Rubber Soul, as the rest of the world has caught up with it. The following chapters expand upon the idea that Revolver represents a synthesis of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison's three distinct avenues of interest during 1965-66, namely LSD, India and Art.