Revolver (1966)

RV

Title: Another pun. Does it refer to a vinyl record? A gun? A cultural revolution? It’s also a near-palindrome, I’ve just realised.

Cover: A black-and-white collage of line drawings and photographs. It was designed by Klaus Voormann, who was an old pal of the Beatles from their Hamburg days. I can’t say I’ve ever liked it.

Best song: Picking this was tough. It could have been any of about half a dozen tracks. I’ll go with John’s She Said She Said. It’s a psychedelic rock song – ‘acidy,’ Lennon called it – which plays with its time signatures and is sensationally marshalled by some of Ringo’s best ever drumming. The lyrics were based on some bullshit Peter Fonda had spouted during an LSD trip witnessed by the Beatles. (Oddly, Paul doesn’t appear on the recording. No one’s quite sure why. McCartney later guessed he’d probably stropped off after a tiff.)

Honourable mentions:

* For the first time, George Harrison gets to open an LP. Taxman has severe chops of the guitar, a great bassline, a vicious guitar solo, and very wide stereo (I love how it sounds on headphones: you’re surrounded by the Beatles). Only its lyric – multi-millionaire moans about paying tax – fails to impress, but at least there are funny references to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath (added by Lennon).

* Paul’s forlorn yet stoic Eleanor Rigby is really quite brilliant. John later said he wrote the wonderful lyrics, but people around the group at the time back up Paul’s claim that the song was all his.

* I’m Only Sleeping, which John did write, is a tremendous studio recreation of how it feels to be only half-awake. It includes a guitar solo innovatively played backwards when recorded so it would sound strange and dislocating when put back in the right order. The tiptoe bassline is delightful, and the way John and Paul harmonise is – as always – world-class.

* Here, There and Everywhere was written by Paul after being blown away by The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, and was a favourite of John’s. It has feather-light music and lush vocals.

* Yellow Submarine is a charismatic comedy sing-along, full of radio-drama sound effects and tricks. You can sense the fun they had in the studio as this was put together – especially John bellowing out his backing vocals like he’s in The Goon Show.

* The piano intro to Paul’s radiant Good Day Sunshine sounds like a friendly dog bounding over to say hello. The song barrels along with charm and always cheers me up.

* John’s heady And Your Bird Can Sing is a jingle-jangle gem, and one of the few Beatles songs I can vividly remembering hearing for the first time: I don’t know how old I was, but I was totally fascinated by the (modern-sounding) distortion effect on the guitar. There’s also a great outtake of John and Paul giggling away as they try to record the vocals:

* For No One is Paul at his most stylish and crafted. During one of my listens of Revolver for this review, I had a happy accident. I had only my left earphone in when For No One began – because of 1966-style stereo, that channel starts with just McCartney’s vocal, which is then joined by a sombre bass guitar, a softly shaken tambourine and a rich, proud French horn. It’s absolutely *beautiful*.

* Finally, Tomorrow Never Knows has invented – what is it now? – at least 26 different genres of music. It was written by John, but Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin added a huge amount to the end product. It’s all on one chord and features a relentless broken drum pattern, surreal tape loops, a Hammond organ, a sitar, a tamboura, lyrics cribbed from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and a jaunty piano. Intoxicating stuff.

Worst song: George’s Love You To bores me to tears. It’s the first of his Indian songs, and is as dreary as the Beatles have been so far.

Notable outside contributions: Anil Bhagwat and others guested on Love You To. Alan Civil played the charming French horn part on For No One. A string octet appears on Eleanor Rigby, a five-piece horn section on Got To Get You Into My Life. The backing vocalists on Yellow Submarine include famous pals Brian Jones, Donovan and Marianne Faithful, Beatles aide-de-camp Neil Aspinall and George’s wife, Pattie Boyd.

Review: Well, it’s clearly fucking marvellous, isn’t it?

Ten words of a sermon that no one will hear out of 10.

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