The story of the Beatles 1966 album Revolver.
I'm not a professional writer and have never dabbled in journalism. I'm doing this for fun. I live and work in London, but am originally from Bridgwater, in Somerset. Bridgwater has a tenuous connection to the Beatles: some of the scenes aboard the train in A Hard Day's Night were filmed on the line that runs throught the town. It doesn't get much more tenuous than that.
My aim is to produce a free, good quality history of the making of Revolver which doesn't (a) rely entirely on regurgitating chunks of other books or (b) unsubstaniated opinion. This has made the job harder than it might have been, but also a lot more fun.
Revolver is one of the greatest albums of all time, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Revolver has appeared in the top 10 of lists of “the greatest albums of all time” in Rolling Stone magazine (2003), NME (1975, 2003), The Guardian (1997), The Times (1993), Channel 4 television (2005) and on many other occasions1. The company it keeps varies – Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones was voted the 5th best album of all time by NME readers in 1985, but hasn't featured since – and its position on the list changes: sometimes it's below Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in recent years it has more often been above, creeping towards (and occasionally achieving) the top spot.
What is it that makes Revolver a contender – why are people drawn to listen to it, and why do they invariably fall in love with it when they do? That Revolver is a good album has never really been questioned by critics, but in 1966, they were still excited about Rubber Soul which had been released only 8 months earlier. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys memorably summed up Rubber Soul as containing “all good stuff”2, and he credits it with inspiring his own contender for the title “best album of all time", Pet Sounds. Many of the 14 songs on Revolver (10 in the USA) were similar in style and instrumentation to those on Rubber Soul. Even the sound of the sitar, in a superficial sense at least, represents a retread of Rubber Soul. Revolver was, in fact, made to the same formula as Rubber Soul. That is to say that they both have the same number of songs, many of which are in the same styles - soul or rhythm'n'blues with ornamentations, or classically influenced ballads, and folk-rock. Both albums start with an up-tempo bass-driven tune, and both feature a Ringo Starr vocal approximately midway through the running order. George Harrison himself said that there wasn't “much difference between Rubber Soul and Revolver. To me, they could be Volume 1 and Volume 2”3. He's right, to a degree. There are songs on Revolver which, in musical terms at least, would have fit perfectly well on Rubber Soul – “Here, There and Everywhere”, for example, or “Dr Robert”. In fact, so similar in style are some of these songs that Yesterday and Today, an LP released only in the USA between Rubber Soul and Revolver, combines leftover tracks and singles from the former with four tracks from the latter without creating a noticeably jarring effect.
And yet these two albums sit on opposite sides of a gulf. Sure, Rubber Soul has a sitar on it, but there is nothing really Indian in the arrangement or playing. Rubber Soul was written and recorded after Lennon and Harrison first encountered LSD, but there is no song on the album which tries to capture the experience in sound though it makes itself felt, tentatively, in some of the lyrics. Rubber Soul was written and recorded whilst Paul McCartney was living a “Bohemian” lifestyle, but this is reflected only conservatively in his songs. Revolver, however, is characterised by the presence of all three of these influences, fully devoured and digested.