Saturday, August 16, 2008

ALBUM REVIEW - The Beatles: Revolver

The Beatles' Revolver - A Revolution in 1966 by Johnny Moon

The Context

It was August of 1966. Only 2 and a half years since The Beatles first broke onto the scene in the United States with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and the accompanying hysteria ("Beatlemania.") Since then The Beatles music had quickly been evolving from their earlier pop rock into a more sophisticated art rock.

Rubber Soul

Their most recent album was Rubber Soul which had been released in December of '65. While these days just 8 months between album releases is a short time, in those days it was considered a reasonably long time to wait for the biggest band in the world to release their next album. Rubber Soul was itself a major step forward from the album before that (Help!) It included the first use of the Indian instrument the sitar on a pop record ("Norwegian Wood') and it also featured more introspective lyrics (such as on "Nowhere Man" & "In My Life") than were generally heard on their earlier albums.


While Rubber Soul was a big step forward, Revolver was a leap forward sonically. The most forward looking track was of course the album closer, "Tomorrow Never Knows" which still sounds like the future 42 years later. I'll look at that track more in depth at the end of this article.

While Rubber Soul had "Norwegian Wood" which had some sitar on it, Revolver's "Love You To" was something else entirely. This George Harrison song based entirely on Indian instruments that sounded totally unlike anything pop music listeners of the time had ever heard before. In fact I bet it sounds totally unlike anything most pop music listeners of today have ever heard too (unless of course they've listened to Revolver or Sgt Pepper.) "Love You To" definitely expanded the horizons for what a pop record could sound like. But it was far from alone in that regard on this album.

"Eleanor Rigby" featured a string quartet and Paul McCartney's voice. With it's poetic lyrics and unique arrangement, it still stands as a classic in popular music today.

"Yellow Submarine" is a childlike song written by Paul McCartney and sung by Ringo Starr that went on to inspire the cartoon feature of the same name released in 1968. It's really quite a weird song, isn't it? This was a great example of The Beatles just completely ignoring any rules for what kind of songs should be on a popular music album.

"I'm Only Sleeping" features George Harrison's backwards guitar. I'm not sure if this is the first pop song to include backwards guitar, but it is probably one of the first. Harrison learned to play the desired melody backwards so that when reversed it would fit in properly with the song. Just another example of The Beatles pushing the envelope in the studio with their arrangements.

"Tomorrow Never Knows"

While there are many amazing breakthroughs on this album, it's been said that every song on the album inspired a new sub genre of rock music, it's "Tomorrow Never Knows" that really stands out as a ground breaking song. Amazingly enough this was the first song recorded for the album (in April of 1966, John Lennon wrote it in January of '66.)

Everything about this song from it's lyrics to it's song writing to it's arrangement to it's production was very experimental. The vocals were put through a Leslie speaker to obtain a vibrato effect. This was the first time such an effect was used. The lyrics were based on The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary (and that book was based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.) The song featured very inventive use of tape loops, reverse drums, reverse guitar, and many more sonic explorations. Another unusual fact about the song is that the song is almost entirely played on just one chord. This was probably greatly influenced by Indian music which is often played in such a way.

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