CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW – The Beatles – “Revolver” (Parlophone/Capitol – 1966)

January 17, 2010

[A few months back, The Beatles UK catalogue was finally digitally remastered properly, since the first CD reissues back in 1987.  Over the next few months, I will be reviewing each of these albums as I get them.]

Rating: 5/5

By the time the Beatles recorded Revolver in 1966, they had already changed the face of the music industry forever.  They had already managed to capture the attention of millions of people around the world, young and old, and made an impact that had not been made before them.  They had already booked sold-out arena shows globally and scored 10 consecutive number-one hits in row.  I presume that at this point, since they had already done all that stuff, they decided they might as well start to change the way rock and roll had been viewed before and turn it into an art form.  After Revolver, The Beatles were no longer just teen idols or a great band with unthinkable success; they were spokesmen for a new, exciting generation,  and godfathers to a new era of rock and roll.

From 1962 to 1965, the Beatles had experienced massive success and made music that was evolving at a rate that was previously unseen.  They seemed incapable of writing a dud single, and each LP signaled a whole new level of growth in their songwriting and in their chemistry as a band.  In 1965, the Beatles released Help!, which in my opinion, is their first album where you can hear the sound of a band that is growing up and extremely willing to try new things.  They were dabbling with other genres, broadening the topics of their lyrics, and smoking pot for breakfast.  It seemed the Beatles were getting tired of what they had done for six to seven years and seemed more comfortable while trying new things.  Then came Rubber Soul later that year.

Rubber Soul began the process of bringing out the matches to burn their earlier reputation as a peppy, happy rock band that sang songs about love.  Almost every single Beatles song from 1962 to 1965 was about love.  One can only gather that they were getting tired of the love songs.  However, Rubber Soul was merely getting out the matches.  By early 1966, it seemed all they really wanted to do was throw on the tape loops, bring in the orchestra, and sing about acid trips.  Hence,  with Revolver, they set a fire to their previous image that would be impossible to put out.

Keen to explore new ideas and methods of recording, the Beatles made an album that seemed to break rules that a lot of people didn’t even know existed in pop music, and they made it seem so simple.  They seemed more determined than ever to work within genres of music they either hadn’t delved too deep into in the past, or hadn’t delved into at all.  Revolver offers classical (“Eleanor Rigby”), Indian (“Love You To”), funk (“Taxman”), soul/Motown (“Got To Get You Into My Life”), baroque (“For No One”), and musique-concrete (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  The way the Beatles incorporated these other musical styles into their brilliant songwriting would permanently affect what could and could not be considered rock and roll.  A song like “Eleanor Rigby” wasn’t something you heard on what could be called a rock and roll album before Revolver, but from that point onwards, all kinds of rock bands, particularly all the upcoming prog-rock bands, would be using full orchestras to colour their music.  The full-blown raga sounds of “Love You To” had never touched a slab of rock and roll vinyl before Revolver, but they could be found on more psychedelic albums in the following years than there were hippies doing acid.  The meandering, swooping tape loops of “Tomorrow Never Knows” were only in common use by the likes of avant-garde composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen before Revolver, but afterwards, the tape loop became one of the common sounds heard when bands wanted to create spacy, weird sounds…at least until the Moog synthesizer came around a few years later.

Revolver is not all manic experimentation.  There are still some pretty straightforward rock songs on Revolver, but they seemed to build upon all the other straightforward rock songs they had written before.  A large part of this growth had to do with the instrumentation.  For starters, John Lennon and George Harrison had never played guitar together so well before.  On songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “She Said, She Said” and “Doctor Robert”, it sounds like Lennon and Harrison are trying to make their guitars sound like airplanes flying together, creating works of art in the sky with their exhaust.  McCartney began working out incredibly inventive and prominent bass lines, which seem higher in the mix than ever before.  Ringo’s drumming seemed just as simple as it ever was, but he seemed to be getting more creative in his simplicity.

What about the songwriting on Revolver?  Let’s just say the subject matter took a sharp left turn.  The love songs that were so plentiful in the past are scarce on Revolver.   There are more songs about drugs on this album than there are ones about love.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a guide to LSD tripping.  “She Said, She Said” was about something Peter Fonda said to Lennon while they were on LSD.  “Dr. Robert” was about a doctor who gave LSD to some of his patients.  You get the idea.  They did tackle the topic of love on occasion.  “Here, There, and Everywhere” is one of the most beautiful, moving love songs they ever recorded, but “Love You To”, with its relatively dismal vision of love, isn’t exactly romantic.  It seemed that whatever they were singing about, they hadn’t even came close to singing about it before.

Revolver is the kind of album that can only come once.  It was the first album to really press completely new territory for the Beatles and rock and pop music in general.  Proof of that is in the fact that when you listen to this album today, it still sounds incredibly original and it will still send shivers down your spine.  I wonder what people were thinking when they first heard it in 1966, especially those who were used to “She Loves You”, & “Yesterday”.  There have been many albums since Revolver that have pushed a lot of new ground and broken a lot of rules, but it seems that none of them have or will match its originality and influence.  There is probably a good reason we always see Revolver at the top of “best albums ever made” lists.  It’s probably because there are very few albums that seem so deserving.


One Response to “CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW – The Beatles – “Revolver” (Parlophone/Capitol – 1966)”

  1. Yoel Engel Says:

    I just wrote a song about love for my girlfriend and I thought I would find lyrics on your blog so that I can compare my song 😛 but anyhoo… you’re blog is wayy nicer than mine that’s for sure! If you have the extra 3 minutes to listen to the song I wrote that’s on youtube, click here A Song About Love and dont forget to rate and comment the song! 🙂 thanx SOOOOOO much! 😀

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