The Beatles – Revolver

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

I don’t know to what extent the Beatles were controlled by manager Brian Epstein or their record company, or what their own drive to succeed was, or generally how recording artists of that era calendared their work. What I do know is that the Beatles produced an insane amount of music in a very short time. Debut album Please Please Me was released in March 1963, while sophomore effort With the Beatles arrived in November of that year. In between, they toured. Third album Hard Day’s Night was released in June 1964, after a tour of the United States and filming a movie. Then came an international tour, and Beatles for Sale dropped in December 1964. So far, that’s four albums in under two years. After filming another movie, Help! hit the shelves in August 1965. That was followed by their third tour of the United States, and they offered up Rubber Soul in December 1965. In less than three years, they had released six albums. The seventh, Revolver, arrived in August 1966. Sure, they had a backlog of songs already, and only Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Hard Day’s Night eschewed covers, but they also – in addition to the albums, tours, and movies – issued a number of non-album singles during this time, including quality tracks like “Paperback Writer,” “Rain,” and “Day Tripper.” Obviously, compared to people who work everyday, this may not seem very demanding. But from a creative standpoint, to be able to produce so much quality work (and let’s be clear, I tend to be a harder critic of the Beatles than most) in such little time is astonishing.

What I Think of This Album

Hands down the best Beatles album; anyone who says Sgt. Pepper’s is their best is the victim of propaganda (or deafness). Bursting with outstanding songs and new sounds, it was a stellar hybrid of melodiousness, expanded lyrical subject matter, and studio experimentation, and critically, always in service of the song. In terms of context, Pet Sounds had been released in May 1966. John and George were into LSD. George started playing a Gibson SG. They had in all likelihood already decided their touring days were over, and didn’t care about writing songs they would be able to reproduce live. And the Beatles started working with nineteen-year-old engineer Geoff Emerick, who had Joe Meek-like ideas about what a recording studio was for.

“Taxman” is problematic. It sounds great – that bassline is iconic (copied by the Jam on “Start!” and Ride on “Seagull”) – and there is no small degree of cleverness in the lyrics, but a tirade against a progressive tax rate is not something I find terribly palatable. If George had a problem with his earnings, maybe he should’ve taken it up with Parlophone (the band’s first contract with Parlophone paid them one penny – to be split by the four of them – per record sold, and one half-penny for singles sold outside the UK) or Capitol Records, or Epstein (who took up to 25% of the band’s revenues, and who botched their merchandising deal). For someone with a supposedly expansive consciousness who had evolved beyond material concerns, Harrison sure did seem opposed to contributing to society in a concrete way, at least insofar as it might have reduced his pile of money.

“Eleanor Rigby” is a stunning, beautiful ode to loneliness. The strings are amazing; George Martin’s score is wonderful; the stabbing, jagged playing underscores the darkness of the piece. Harrison apparently contributed the key “ah, look at all the lonely people” bit. One of McCartney’s best songs; he should’ve gone down this road more often. The first of several obvious drug songs here, “I’m Only Sleeping” is slow but not sludgy, narcoleptic but not boring, and creepy but somehow sunny and innocent. Harrison plays a very cool backwards lead part, the first time this technique had been used; I’m a sucker for backwards guitar. The bass is also a nice element.

“Love You Too” is a decent exploration; I neither love nor hate it. Certainly, Harrison’s approach to Indian classical music was reverential and respectful, and did much to expose it to new ears and to expand the boundaries of rock sound and tastes. The music is interesting, though the vocal leaves a lot to be desired. “Here, There and Everywhere” is perhaps Paul’s attempt at a Pet Sounds track, and it’s pretty good, if maybe a little ephemeral; the harmonies are nice without a lot going on instrumentally. I guess some people hate “Yellow Submarine,” or deride it as being for children? That’s fine, I guess. So it’s a children’s song; I think it’s charming as fuck. I love a good Ringo vocal, of course. The sound effects are fun, and I like the spliced in brass band recording. Why is this any less a drug song than “Sleeping,” “Dr. Robert,” or “Tomorrow Never Knows”?

“She Said She Said” has an awesome guitar part, with Harrison playing a great lead (with more Indian tones) and then jangling in the background. The drums and bass (also played by Harrison) are also very cool. This, too, has a hazy, lethargic druggy sound, mostly in John’s vocal. “Good Day Sunshine” is a little too happy and peppy, giving off a little too much of a hippie vibe (which is weird coming out of Liverpool); if anything is the children’s song on this album, this is it. It does burst out of the speakers in impressive fashion – I can’t deny that – but I find it to be Paul indulging his most saccharine side. I am in love with “And Your Bird Can Sing.” The twin jangly guitars (very Byrds) are AMAZING; George kicks ass all over the place. The vocals are also enthusiastic and energetic. Easily one of my favorite Beatles’ songs.

Paul more than makes up for “Good Day Sunshine” in every way with “For No One,” a heartbreaking ballad lacking any and all sunshine. What is not lacking is a fucking French horn; the lyrics are also excellent. Looking back at this, “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “Michele,” and even “Sunshine,” it seems like Paul was more than willing to leave his bandmates out of the picture on his songs. Maybe that’s unfair – maybe that’s just how it is with ballads or maybe John and George did the same (certainly, no other Beatle really does much on “Love You To”). John’s vocal is perfect on “Dr. Robert,” another drug song, but by way of the alley as opposed to the front door. It’s a pretty solid deep cut, with another nice job by Harrison and strong harmonies from Paul.

“I Want to Tell You” has a fascinating atonal piano part, some impressive group harmonies, and an interesting arrangement; an underrated Harrison song. “Got to Get You Into My Life” juuuuuust escapes falling into the McCartney’s diabetic trap by virtue of its soulful horns and Paul’s excellent vocal on the chorus (on the verses, he gets very light). The horn arrangement is fantastic and bright – very Stax in sound. This could have easily fit on Rubber Soul. The Beatles liked drugs and the drugs liked them, as amply demonstrated on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which is undeniably a bad-ass cut. More backwards guitar and other sounds, tape loops, Ringo’s drumming, John singing through a Leslie speaker, and more Indian influence, it’s a masterpiece of imagination and craft. An amazing listening experience.

The Best Thing About This Album

There is so much to love on this album, but “And Your Bird Can Sing” brings me more joy than anything else here, with “Eleanor Rigby” probably second, though I can’t say for sure.

Release Date

August, 1966

The Cover Art

Probably the worst thing about this album, though I suppose some people like it. Messy and drab. I am tempted to say it is uninspired and lazy, though it is obviously neither; let’s just say I find it to be an unsuccessful experiment.

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