The Beatles’ Revolver turns 50
Revolver laid the foundations for a never-seen-before strategy within show business, later perfected and dutifully assumed with Sgt Pepper: to record an album so complex that on-stage reproduction would be rendered impossible.
Where does one begin to talk about how seminal The Beatles’ Revolver is?
By the abnormally balanced way it contains songs from all three songwriters almost in equal number?
By the way it inspired — and continues to inspire — musicians in genres as diverse as electronica, kraut and hip-hop?
By the genius parallel it established with another huge 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds?
By the incredible, breakthrough front cover that acted as a prelude to the Sgt Pepper’s visual revolution and album artwork in general?
Although George Harrison would often confess he didn’t see much difference between Rubber Soul and Revolver, the latter is indeed a thousand miles away — or “out there” — from its predecessor. Written and recorded during one of the most terrible and upsetting years for the Beatles, in which they faced diplomatic incidents (the Philippines) and death threats (Japan, the “we’re more popular than Jesus” scandal), Revolver laid the foundations for a never-seen-before strategy within show business, later perfected and dutifully assumed with Sgt Pepper: to record an album so complex that on-stage reproduction would be rendered impossible.
Revolver is the first Beatles album in which the three main composers appear in an almost equal number (five songs for Lennon, five for McCartney, three for Harrison, and one sung by Ringo), but also the one that saw them refine their style and perfect their own individual voices (which would prove to be a bittersweet achievement later on). Paul McCartney matures his melodic sense, resulting in an increased confidence in his orchestra-oriented pretensions (‘For No One’, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’); John Lennon playfully dabbles with experimentation, tape loops (after having used backwards tapes for the first time on ‘Paperback Writer’’s B-side ‘Rain’), and fuzz-filled environments (‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, ‘She Said She Said’), and George Harrison finally emerged from the shadows to assume his songwriter-self as being as relevant as the Lennon/McCartney powerful axis, delivering breakthrough tracks such as the opener ‘Taxman’ or ‘Love You To’, which features Indian musicians on sitar, tabla, and tambura.
However, the importance of Revolver lies both in its content and in its timing, since the story of the Beatles (music-wise or other) can easily be divided in pre- Revolver and post- Revolver. Though songs like ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ (that Lennon would later predictably renounce) still provide a traceable heritage to their early I-love-you-she-loves-me compositions, they serve as a mere bridge-to-burn, a totem of temps jadis brought to light only to be publicly sacrificed when juxtaposed to a newer and brighter order.
Heavily fuelled by marijuana and LSD (although it’s unlikely all the members had already been “turned on” by this time), Revolver is pure, raw, and magnificent in its conceptual approach, maintaining a low key that echoes a disenchantment ahead of its time. Yes, egos are already running away with themselves by this point, but the phenomenon is still invisible enough to allow interpersonal chemistry to surface. Revolver sees the Beatles looking at themselves outside in for the first time, reflecting on their condition as both artists and symbols, with Lennon using songwriting as his personal journal (‘Doctor Robert’, ‘She Said She Said’) and Paul McCartney openly assuming the grandeur of his orchestration ideals, bringing Alan Civil to play English horn in ‘For No One’ and creating a weed-built Wall Of Sound in ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’.
This will sound like a cheap cliché — especially since it’s coming from an obvious Beatle fan — but the ways in which Revolver is a timeless masterpiece are far too many to be mentioned here. So may its 50th anniversary serve as an excuse to rediscover its wondrous magnificence, for it’s undeniable that the more years pass, the more Revolver solidifies its influential status within pop music.
Originally published in August 2016 on thefourohfive.com