Revolver would mark the moment when the Beatles went from being rock ‘n’ roll musicians to Rock stars. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis were all known as rock and roll artists, however by the mid 1960’s, popular music had begun to take itself a little more seriously. At the forefront of this new movement was none other than Bob Dylan, whose albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited were beginning to pave the way for different and (more importantly) none commercials forms of expression. And at the heart of this revolution was a substance known as LSD, something which was almost unheard of in England but easily available in America, where it was still legal. Acid was like the Pandora’s jar of creativity, because the moment it was opened, what became known as the counter-culture began to blossom, challenging the establishment and all that it represented. In other words, the western world was suddenly confronted with millions of teenagers who were really pissed off at their parents.
The Beatles had already begun such a transition with their previous album Rubber Soul, however it was Revolver more than anything else which successfully established them as being at the forefront of the psychedelic scene, and the first LP critics began to see them in a whole new light. No longer were they the cuddly Fab Four who wanted to hold your hand, from this point on they would be regarded as fully fledged artistes in their own right, exposing people to entirely different worlds, whether built around reality, illusion, or otherwise.
As soon as the stylus touches the record, we hear an obviously Liverpudlian voice announce “One, two…” before George Harrison’s “Tax Man” kicks in, with its distinctive semi-Hindu riffs and Ringo Starr’s marching band beat. Complaining about paying taxes was and remains a popular lament among the British, and now that the Beatles were starting to make a whole lot of money, it was only natural that they didn’t want too much of it going to the government. Though more importantly, they were clearly trying to draw a line between their teenybopper fans and the older, more sophisticated crowd.
Next is Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby”, which is practically Dickensian in its description of London life, whose characters come alive in every verse, and yet the entire song is possessed by a sentiment that is strangely depressing and uplifting at the same time. In other words, pop perfection. Lennon’s lethargic and slumbering “I’m Only Sleeping” is an absolute gem, and no doubt an autobiographical account of John’s penchant for smoking too much weed combined with sheer physical exhaustion.
Harrison’s increasing obsession with Indian music is represented on “Love You To”, while McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere” is a simple though affecting ballad. “Yellow Submarine”, written and sung by Ringo, is one of those tunes I absolutely adored as a child but now just gives me the shits. To the extent that part of me wishes that it would sink to the bottom of the sea entirely and squash Octopus’ garden while it’s there.
“She Said, She Said” sees John Lennon exploring his inner consciousness while acknowledging his own “Acid-Budda” in the process. The delightful and playful “Good Day Sunshine” is McCartney at his best. Catchy, uplifting and lively, in the best music hall tradition. Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” is another inspired track, which saw the group pushing the envelope just that little bit further. The Edwardian Vaudeville of “For No One” is a delightful McCartney ditty in which lies much of the musical DNA he would continue to explore not only over the next few years but throughout his entire career. Now tell me is “Doctor Robert” the Beatles’ answer to Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Lyrics such as “Take a drink from his special cup” would seem to suggest so.
The trippy vibes continue with “I Want to Tell You”, albeit in a subtle, mid sixties sort of way. “Got to Get You into My Life” reveals McCartney’s love of Motown, and American music in general, albeit with a subtle touch of Little Richard thrown in for good measure, just to give it that extra edge. If there was one thing the Beatles were geniuses at, it was absorbing other styles and reappropriating them to their own purposes.
If there’s one reason to own this album it’s the final track, the hallucinogenic trance-inducing “Tomorrow Never Knows” a song Lennon originally titled “The Void”, which was a term adopted by translators of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The very first line “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream” was taken directly from Timothy Leary’s book which contained instructions on how to negotiate an acid trip. Apart from all the ‘special effects’, including a multitude of tape loops, Lennon sings through a Leslie rotating speaker, chanting the mantra from his temple like an English Dalai Lama. It’s an extraordinary piece, and clearly the best thing Lennon had written up to that point. But if Lennon was hoping to absolve himself of ego, he was clearly delusional.
Revolver is an almost perfect album in every way, and one which is often voted by both fans and critics as the Beatles’ best album, and superior to its more famous follow-up, the technicoloured Sgt. Pepper. Certainly it is a work of innovation, not only in terms of song writing, but also production standards and recording techniques. Even the album cover, designed by their good friend Klaus Voorman, has a revolutionary aspect about it. Upon release, Revolver was not just another LP by just another pop band. It was an event. And when Justin Bieber is long past his use-by date, and whose entire contribution to humanity is left to rot on someone’s disused iPod, you can bet that Beatlemania will last for many generations to come.