THE BEATLES – REVOLVER
Released August 8, 1966 (August 5 in the UK) – 50 years ago
The Fab Four’s seventh studio release may be as close to flawless as any album ever released. Covering new stylistic ground, it’s characterized by stunning songwriting, brilliant arrangement, and novel recording effects. As influential today as it was in 1966, Revolver stands as a benchmark in the band’s career, 1960s pop culture, and rock history. This album’s relevance cannot be overstated.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4 p.m. Monday-Friday on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4 p.m. Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3 FM and KXCI.org.
Revolver was released at the pinnacle of the Beatle’s career, only eight months after releasing Rubber Soul (December 3, 1965); it marks the midpoint in the band’s recording career. The album marked an expansion of Rubber Soul in terms of style and experimentation, affirmed the Beatles as true studio innovators, and was the first time the quartet set out to create a masterpiece intentionally. George Harrison once told Rolling Stone, “I don’t see too much difference between Revolver and Rubber Soul. To me, they could be ‘Volume I’ and ‘Volume II’.”
Revolver sees the rise of George Harrison and Paul McCartney as more-or-less equals to John Lennon with regard to songwriting and creative control. In his book Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘n’ Roll, Robert Rodriguez states that Lennon was the Beatles’ principal creative force through 1965, but with Revolver McCartney and to a lesser extent Harrison, with his interest in Indian music and culture, became much more involved in the creative process.
Upon the release of Revolver, UK critics heralded the album as “forward-thinking,” however its reception in the US was initially lackluster due to the controversy surrounding John Lennon’s March 1966 statement, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” This muted view soon fell away, and Revolver toped the Billboard album chart for six weeks, spawning several singles. The record spent 34 weeks on the UK Albums Chart, seven of those at the number one spot. Revolver eventually received a double platinum certification in the UK and Canada, platinum status in Australia, and 5x platinum in the US.
The US version of Revolver contained only 11 tracks rather than the 14 seen on the UK release. The omitted three tracks are “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “Doctor Robert.” Capitol Records shortened the album for the US market.
Production credit on Revolver goes to Sir George Martin, producer, arranger, composer, musician, and audio engineer. He is often referred to as the “fifth Beatle” by many in the recording industry and the Beatles themselves, due to his extensive involvement nearly every Beatles album, producing all of their releases except for Let It Be (1970), which was produced by Phil Spector. In addition to the Beatles, Martin also produced albums by Neil Sedaka, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Jeff Beck, and America among others. He also worked with Pete Townshend on the arrangement for musical stage production of The Who’s Tommy.
Recording took place at Abby Road Studios (called EMI Studios London at the time) from April 6 through June 21, 1966. Prior to this recording session, the Beatles (and most bands at the time) used the studio simply as a tool to capture their live performances. Revolver marks the first time the Beatles consciously incorporated novel recording techniques and experimentation in the creative process. This was cutting edge; very few artists regarded the studio this way at the time. Perhaps the only act that beat the Beatles to the punch in this capacity were the Beach Boys with Pet Sounds. Produced and arranged by Brian Wilson, it was released while the Beatles were recording Revolver in May of 1966.
Novel recording techniques include the incorporation of non-instrumental sounds, tape loops, backwards recordings, the use of headphones when overdubbing, recording at different tape speeds, known as vari-speeding, and automatic double tracking (ADT), a technique invented by Abby Road engineers during the recording of Revolver. ADT employed two linked tape recorders to automatically create a doubled vocal track. Prior to this, in order to get a doubled effect, the singer would have to sing the piece two times onto a multitrack tape. ADT soon became a standard technique and led to chorus vocal effects later on.
Revolver’s import on rock music is huge, and some critics consider it the best album the Beatles ever made (of course many others point to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). In 1997 Revolver was named the third greatest album of all time in a UK music poll arranged by HMV, the BBC, and The Guardian, and it tops nearly ever list of the best albums ever made. Some of these include:
–Entertainment Weekly named Revolver the greatest album in history in 2013.
-No. 1 on Q Magazine’s list of the 50 Greatest British Albums.
-Named “Greatest album in history” by VH1 in 2001.
–Time included Revolver as one of the 100 best albums ever.
-Named 10th best guitar album of all time by Guitar World readers poll.
-Ranked third on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul are ranked number 1 and number 5, respectively).
Revolver’s cover art was created by German-born artist and friend of the band, Klaus Voormann. It is part line drawing and part collage. Voorman was paid only £40 for his effort. It won a Grammy for Best Album Cover in 1966. Voorman was also a bass player and later played with Manfred Mann.
Supposedly, the album’s title is a pun, referring to a handgun and the spinning motion of a turntable. The Beatles originally had wanted to call the album Abracadabra, until they learned another band had already used the title. After that, various other titles were discussed until finally settling on Revolver. These included Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle, Beatles on Safari, Pendulum, and After Geography (playing on the Rolling Stone’s Aftermath).
There was a real “Doctor Robert.” The song referenced Dr. Robert Freymann, a Manhatten based celebrity doctor who was known for giving patients B12 shots with speed.
The strange alien sea gull noises on “Tomorrow Never Knows” are recordings of McCartney laughing to himself, guitars, and wine glasses ringing. These recordings were distorted and reversed on five different tape machines by McCartney himself.
Paul McCartney claims Eleanor Rigby is fictional, but there is an Eleanor Rigby buried in the yard of St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, the place where McCartney met John Lennon for the first time in their youth.
“She Said She Said” is supposedly a song about an LSD trip that John Lennon shared with Peter Fonda.
The Beatles were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and in 1999 Revolver was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.