The History of The Albums – n°316
noun [C] - A small barrel firearm, often known as a pistol. Basically a revolver is the system that allows you to fire several shots without interruption.
noun [C] - designating the 6th album of the Beatles released in 1966, recognized as one of the great albums of all time that established many innovations and fundamental bases for the Pop Rock genre.
It is complex to understand at what period the term "Pop Rock" really emerged since the debates and contrasts between specialists and artists are still as fed to this day. Pop Rock is rarely defined as a musical style in its own right, but rather as a hybrid genre that brings together a multitude of musical styles in a way that distinguishes it from the pure R&B, Jazz, Folk, Classical Music etc. families. In the 50's and still during a large part of the 60's, specialists and artists had to have a totally different classification nowadays since it is often in a retrospective way and by the influencers that we often "invented" these famous terms that define our musical genres/styles. The best example of this is when John Lennon said in 1966 "We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity" letting us believe that for them they were doing "Rock and Roll" while for us retrospectively Rock and Roll was extinguished at the end of the 60's, for Beat music, Garage Rock or Folk Rock. All this to say that according to me the Beatles, supported by other legendary groups were the precursors without knowing it of the evolution of the music "Rock" in a completely definitive way. They had already changed it when they brought a whole new breath to their beginnings with Beat Music, and with Revolver in 1966 they almost single-handedly defined what we can call today "Pop Rock" in the form we still know today. A fusion that changed everything for the future. In August 1966, the Beatles offer us Revolver, an album even more sovereign than their previous ones, which is already a miracle when you think about it. They had already touched the sky with Rubber Soul in December 1965, an album of an already stratospheric level. The year 1966 is therefore a decisive year for the Beatles, as all the time you will say, but finally can be one of the most important, since it forsakes the Folk to survey new grounds, like inventors trying to discover the antidote of the immortality. Without wanting to make generalities that everyone knows, Revolver is mainly marked by the new psychedelic directions in almost all their forms, but not only since it also marks the first steps of the Beatles in the Avant-Garde, the Baroque Pop, the Art Rock, the Art Pop, the Soft Rock, the Power Pop (of which they are the real first pioneers the last 4 musical styles that I quoted). There are not enough words to describe perfectly Revolver, as there are not enough powerful words to define what they managed to achieve on this one.
By 1966, the Beatles had reached the top of the world to such an extent that they were really the only popular band with so much artistic freedom and so much free time. Tired of useless live performances, the Beatles took a well-deserved break, with a few exceptions. Besides, after the release of Revolver, the Beatles will leave for their very last tour. However, the 4 boys were not going to be bored either, especially when they were targeted by some controversies, notably by the war between the group and the American label and distributor Capitol, the hallucinating declaration of John Lennon about Christianity which created a deflagration especially in the United States or their trip to the Philippines. In short, the Beatles have known their first difficulties without it really affecting them when you think about it. The most interesting thing to remember is that the natives of Liverpool went for the first time to India, where they met Ravi Shankar who taught the sitar to George Harrison. An essential turning point for the band and Harrison for the future, although they had already explored the Raga Rock with Norwegian Wood. Originally, this 6th album was supposed to be the concept for a 3rd movie, which also explains that they had about 3 months of break to think and build a scenario, but fortunately in a way, they never found the inspiration for that. Instead, the Beatles went back to the studio in early April 1966 to start writing and composing Revolver, until it was completed in June. If I don't really go into the historical context of the album in a global sense, it's simply because the content speaks for itself. In total contrast to the homogeneous concept of Rubber Soul, mainly oriented towards the same Folk paths, or even on the previous albums, Revolver marks the turning point where each of the Beatles create what they want. On the one hand you have John Lennon, who was very much into the psychedelic movement and LSD, Harrison, who was into his budding love of Indian music, the atypical Ringo Starr, who was always into his own delusions, and Paul McCartney, who fell in love with the avant-garde movement, art and surrealism, especially thanks to his girlfriend at the time Jane Asher. For this reason, even if the Beatles followed the trends and the mutual state of mind of the hippies and the "Peace and Love", marked by the psychedelic music, the result of Revolver is a condensation of distinct personalities. Moreover they will keep this "individual" state of mind in their next albums until this attitude reaches its paroxysm. To add one last element to this, the title Revolver is itself inspired by a play on words to describe just how the gun spins ammunition, thus releasing the metaphor that the members of the Beatles alternate in each song to deliver its own performance.
One of the elements that explains why the Beatles gave a new dimension to Pop Rock music is simply the way they thought Revolver. That is to say, they already knew that they were going to withdraw from live performances, which pushed them to experiment with studio techniques even more sophisticated than Rubber Soul that they could not reproduce on stage. It is therefore an example of one of the first "popular" albums created as an album for its format and not for live performance and almost not for radio/TV. Several proofs go in this direction, as for example the fact that Revolver contains only one single "Yellow Submarine", the UFO of the album, without forgetting that it is supported by the singles Michelle and Nowhere Man included in Rubber Soul but released after the diffusion of the album. On top of that, the Beatles released Paperback Writer, a single off album as they used to do to consolidate all this. By the way, a small parenthesis on Paperback Writer is necessary, because it would be criminal not to talk about one of the greatest songs of the Beatles and of all times. This marvel is just one more example that shows that the Beatles have defined the term Pop Rock, especially by merging a set of musical styles to give an atypical form crossever. To go even further this song obviously contains particles of psychedelia since it was their global direction of the moment, but this song is also known as a pioneer song of Hard Rock and especially of Power Pop (which is recognized as the very first one). In addition to the musical interpretation and innovative effects that compose it, Paperback Writer also supports Paul McCartney's genius for songwriting, since it was inspired by a discussion with his aunt criticizing him for writing only love songs. McCartney then decided to create a storytelling that had nothing to do with romance to prove that the Beatles did not know only that. But now back to Revolver. Revolver doesn't really have a very structured concept but it can be understood as an album of "experimentation". The famous cover was imagined on this principle, since its author Klaus Voormann was inspired by the experimental content of Revolver to create his work. This cover also describes perfectly the state of mind of the group and the conception of the album, with notably this collage of photo allied to the drawing, thus illustrating the members of the Beatles to look in opposite directions and the ideas coming out of their heads.
Now that you know everything, let's get to the content. Revolver starts with Taxman, a Harrison song. Although we can't dispute the fact that Harrison has always been in the shadow of the leaders Lennon/McCartney, he still has 3 songs on the album, one more than the previous one, including one as an introduction, which is already quite significant. However, the choice of Taxman as an introduction is not really explained by the kindness of the leaders to let Harrison the opportunity to debut, it is mainly because Taxman is a song engaged. Thematically Taxman is the first and rare political song of the Beatles, following the immense frustrations of the hallucinating taxes they paid by their income. There is a real sense of mad rage (for the time) combined with irony towards the body politic, to the point that this song became one of the premise of the British punk rock of the 70's a decade ahead of its time (although according to the actors of the time, they had "supposedly" established a total break with the pop rock of the 60's/70's). Taxman is a marvel, both lyrically and musically, as this song exudes an electric fusion of psychedelia, garage rock, R&B/soul and mod. I never see/read it anywhere, but the groovy rhythm backed by the Overdubbing sounds more like Funk than pure Soul, 1 year after its creation thanks to James Brown & The Famous Flames. There is this screaming guitar imitating a kind of alarm hyper annoying, these effects of bass which bounce from left to right illustrating dance steps in accelerated or this end fade pricked with acid. In short, I may repeat myself several times throughout the album, but Taxman is an extraordinary song, one of my favorites of the Beatles. And to think that they admitted that they could have done it even better by recording it in Memphis in the Stax studio, disgusted that it wasn't done because according to them they could have obtained a much purer "sound". The album takes a direct turn with the jewel Eleanor Rigby, one of the most beautiful songs of the McCartney repertoire and globally of all times (maybe in my top 10). Accompanied by a double quartet orchestra and directed by their producer George Martin, McCartney delivers again a song that can be qualified as "solo" (after Yesterday) since in reality Lennon/Harrison are present only for the backing harmonies, while the percussions are non-existent. As announced in the previous paragraphs, McCartney, pushed by his partner Jane Asher, had been gaining a great interest for almost a year in art and avant-garde movements, which led him to break the conventions of the "popular" bases to make it more sophisticated. What he has achieved on Eleanor Rigby is simply incredible, since he has not only given a new dimension to the Beatles' content, but he has also taken "Pop Rock" music to a new level by transforming it into "Art" (Art Pop / Art Rock). Once again McCartney proves lyrically that he can write songs different from the romantic aspect, absolutely more complex and philosophical. Of course, McCartney's genius alone was not enough, because he was helped a lot by George Martin. This is the case for the whole album, George Martin became the 5th Beatles from Revolver, notably by helping the Beatles to push their limits of capacities and also by refining some details.
If McCartney's senses were heightened by his cultural openness, Lennon's were mainly heightened by LSD consumption. I'm Only Sleeping is the pure example, a psychedelic ballad absolutely absorbing as if you were held by an invisible attractive force. It was at this time that Lennon began his "dreamy" period of not really being productive, lazy and only interested in simple, comfortable entertainment. It was so pronounced that McCartney often had to go and wake him up to go and record. This song is therefore ultra introspective but also spiritual in the sense that Lennon describes his state of mind at the time. One finds there logically very paralyzing and volatile musical sounds as if the spirit moves but the body does not. I'm Only Sleeping is an innovative song (totally pioneering) notably in the use of the backwards guitar effects, on which they worked for hours to succeed. Although Lennon is very affected by his LSD consumption, which explains why for once he takes less space on an album, it is to his credit that his work is not tainted by this, on the contrary his content continues to shine with genius. It's funny how the first side of Revolver is the witness of all the different directions that each member of the Beatles take. Love You To is the perfect example of Harrison's love for Indian music. This time, he didn't just introduce folk sounds in his songs, he gave a whole new dimension to make it absolutely authentic. Accompanied by additional musicians, Ringo Starr on the Tambourine and McCartney on the backing vocals, George Harrison plays the multi-instrumentalist card, offering a song that is as danceable as it is trippy, absolutely epic from start to finish. What is also amazing is that Harrison was not content to reproduce an Indian music, he brought the Beatles touch, by associating a love song and the elements of the counter-culture of the time. McCartney will then offer us again a pop marvel that enters again as a standard of the genre Here, There and Everywhere. Accompanied by sublime arrangements, warm harmonies and angelic horns, Here There Everywhere is the example of the simple yet paradoxically hyper-emotional pop ballad that McCartney knew how to write. Originally inspired by the Beach Boys' God Only Know (on Pet Sounds), for which McCartney still holds an ultimate cult following (he's not wrong), this song turned into a "friendly" competition. I mentioned this in my review of Pet Sounds, which said that Brian Wilson created this album to do better than Rubber Soul. I won't say that Revolver is an answer to Pet Sounds, because most of the songs were already finished before its release in May 1966, that's why Sgt. Pepper remains the real answer, however McCartney was one of the first Beatles (it's also related to their common point with Brian Wilson) to question whether he could do better than Pet Sounds.
Although if you compare it with the best songs of Revolver it seems to be obvious, I don't understand the bad opinions about Yellow Submarine, Ringo's only song. This very funny song, mixing the Sea Shanties' soul with a brassy orchestration, became not only a standard of popular music but also one of the most cult songs of the Beatles' repertoire. In fact, for those who know very little about the Beatles, Yellow Submarine is probably the only song that everyone knows, that's how popular it is. The most reluctant will say that it is the example that the Beatles albums always present 1 or 2 totally forgettable songs, which is not false in reality, however I can tell you that if it was another group than the Beatles who would have released this, people would not have the same negative eye on it. After Lennon delivers She Said She Said, a trippy ballad that can be classified as part of the nascent Acid Rock genre, which shows once again that the Beatles are still among the forerunners even though they weren't necessarily the very first, the B-side starts with the amazing ballad Good Day Sunshine. Written mostly by McCartney, Good Day Sunshine is an explosive and ultra joyful mix, symbol of the flower pop, where he alternates between psychedelia and a Piano Rock that type cabaret or Western. If the songs of the post-Help Beatles tend to always sound like timeless, there are others that are even more significant, like And Your Bird Can Sing that sounds like a recent song even to this day. It's clearly one of my favorite Lennon songs on Revolver, as it's frighteningly catchy, whether it's the verses, the chorus or the bridge, the rock parts are energetic and approach the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal aesthetic before its time. Many specialists think that we find in this one the Californian soul of the Byrds, but in reality I find rather that it is a song which breathes the Southern Rock a little country. A real Pop Rock gem.
In contrast to the previous song, McCartney offers us a new absolutely divine Baroque Pop song called For No One. The construction of this song and the minimalist interpretation is stratospheric. It is mainly led by McCartney's bass, slightly supported by Ringo's percussion, where we find a fusion between the clavichord and the French Horn as seductive as poignant. Without forgetting the perfect voice of McCartney which comes to sublimate a writing of an extraordinary level, between elegance and complexity. It is still a song that proves for those who were not yet conquered the weight that McCartney took on Revolver. The album then goes on with two very psychedelic songs, accessing the theme and metaphors of LSD consumption, with on one side Doctor Robert by Lennon with hallucinogenic bridges that give the impression of traveling in a parallel dimension or I Want To Tell You by Harrison with a rhythmic Indian psychedelia. The penultimate song of Revolver is a new demonstration of Motown inspiration, with the dreaded Got To Get You into My Life. I have to admit that I love this song so much, it's like a breath of oxygen filled with happiness, how perfect everything is. It's a warm Pop Rock/Soul fusion, articulated around a great instrumentation, between the horns and the rock part. From the beginning to the end it is a real madness, between the variations of melodies and voice of McCartney or the instrumental surprises which compose it. To conclude on Revolver, what could be better than to talk about the outroduction Tomorrow Never Knows, one of the most important song in the history of music. It is the holy grail of Psychedelic music, and a major element of Electronic music. Based again on an LSD theme, Tomorrow Never Knows was typically the example of a song that was impossible to reproduce live at the time. The whole Beatles deliver a quantity of effects of studio manipulations absolutely innovative for the time with the help mainly of the sampling by Tape Loops. Everything is absolutely distorted and therefore impossible to play at once, we find the techniques of reversed tape and played backwards, the sound distortions of each element or the game of electroacoustics. All this is obviously a very basic summary of what they managed to accomplish because the complexity and the multitudes of details exceed my skills. The inspirations taken from Indian music, spirituality and the avant-garde John Cage or Karlheinz Stockhausen were real bases and engines for the Beatles who sought to break the limits, while complicating the task of starting from several constraints, by giving a final result absolutely époustouflant. Because finally when you think about it, Tomorrow Never Knows doesn't sound like a mostly abstract work reserved for the connoisseurs, the strength of the Beatles was also to make this condensed experimentation accessible. There was no better way to end Revolver with Tomorrow Never Knows, a kind of correlation link between the 3 personalities of the band (Lennon/McCartney/Harrison), pushing in its paroxysm the state of mind of experimentation, for a breathtaking final.