Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…
If we’re respecting the classic Beatles era, then it’s got to be A Hard Day’s Night. If it were The Beatles at their most innovative, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would take the honour. Or if we’re talking about musical skill, Abbey Road is the perfect ending to their legacy (nobody counts Let It Be).
And yet there’s something that keeps steering us towards Revolver.
It expanded the idea of a Beatles record without any rules. It bridged that gap between pop rockers and experimentalists. The band got weirder. And interesting.
This newfound sense of freedom was, in part, down to one member. Nope. Not Ringo Starr; but long-time producer and honorary fifth Beatle George Martin.
Upset with EMI, Martin quit his post during a time when the band’s contract had expired. Although the label still funded these sessions, a lack of pressure provided the luxury of trying out new recording techniques, different instruments and the latest studio trickery. Most noticeable was the artificial double tracking method; multi-layering different sounds to create a psychedelic effect.
Of course, experimentation of a different kind coincided with recordings. John Lennon’s contribution perhaps showcased this best – all five of his songs concerned themselves with expanding the mind or being suspicious of the outside world. Doctor Robert was the band’s first out-in-the-open song about drugs, while Tomorrow Never Knows sounded like it was trying to sonically recreate the effects of them. It was all too much for Don Draper.
Being able to identify the different personalities through the band’s music wasn’t unusual. Revolver’s predecessor, Rubber Soul, did some of the legwork by drawing on the individual strengths of each member – and this continued throughout their career. But whereas later albums started to sound like a collection of songs made up of solo acts, The Beatles seemed to be in unison on Revolver.
Surprisingly, lead guitarist George Harrison emerged from being ‘the quiet one’ to a fearsome songwriter; whether that was taking a stab at politics on Taxman or introducing new Indian flavours to Love You To.
However, Revolver will always be Paul McCartney’s shining moment. Instead of LSD and eastern mythology, he was dabbling in classical music and embracing the orchestral work of Brian Wilson. Here, There and Everywhere – apparently written while waiting for Lennon to get out of bed – channels the dreamy melodies of Pet Sounds. The French horn solo on For No One adds an additional layer to the song’s existing warmth. And the perils of loneliness sound exquisite when set to Eleanor Rigby’s string octet arrangement. McCartney had found a new level of maturity here. Never had he written so well.
With so many highlights on Revolver, it seems a shame to mention Yellow Submarine. It’s mind boggling to think the band allegedly spent longer working on this childlike track than they did the whole of their debut album. Yet the host of amazing backing vocals on its sing-along chorus (including Brian Jones and Marianne Faithful) further highlights the collaborative sense of fun evident throughout.
The Beatles would go on to follow a more commercial and critically successful path, yet it was Revolver that paved the way. Its release was somewhat overshadowed by Lennon’s infamous ‘more popular than Jesus’ comment. It now stands as one of their greatest musical triumphs.