classic albums

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Revolver

Friday marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles album Revolver, and I posted the fine Rolling Stone article from that day that posited Revolver as the Beatles’ first “on-purpose” masterpiece. It’s also arguably the point in The Beatles where Lennon’s influence and McCartney’s influence achieved the perfect balance. Before this point, Lennon had somewhat dominated as the creative force behind The Beatles, while from this point on, McCartney would largely drive the ship.

Is that why the album is so good? I think so. The Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, bolstered by George’s best material yet (Taxman! Love You To! I Want to Tell You!), results in a standout release with only one weak number (Yellow Submarine, probably–although perhaps that song is forever tainted by being a mandatory 6th grade chorus selection for most kids).

The band was also–largely due to McCartney at this point–beginning to experiment more and more in the studio, regarding it as yet another instrument. This forever changes how we view rock ‘n roll albums and alters our expectations moving forward. Tape loops, automatic double-tracking (ADT), backwards guitars, compression…

Songwriting. Production. A highly charged creative period. It all results in some fascinating moments:

  • Paul’s guitar solo in Taxman, apparently inspired by seeing Hendrix live, but truly unlike any guitar solo ever.
  • Eleanor Rigby’s string arrangement, inspired by Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score.
  • The dreamlike quality of Lennon’s ADT vocal and Harrison’s backward-masked guitar solo in I’m Only Sleeping.
  • The Indian music-inspired Love You To.
  • Here, There and Everywhere, McCartney’s answer to Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows.
  • The sound effects and playful atmosphere of Yellow Submarine.
  • The oblique lyrics of She Said, She Said.
  • The vaudeville pop of Good Day Sunshine, with a dollop of Lovin’ Spoonful-inspired ebullience.
  • That guitar line in And Your Bird Can Sing!
  • The lyrical maturity of something like For No One.
  • The Motown-inspired love song to marijuana that is Got to Get You into My Life.
  • And the moment that blew my mind–and everyone’s–upon first listen: Tomorrow Never Knows. That drumbeat! That droning chord! Those dreamy ADT vocals! Those Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired lyrics! Those tape loops and sounds that weave in and out of the track! Has anything in the history of recorded music trumped this track?

Like many kids in the U.S., I grew up with the U.S. version of the album–I still have my vinyl copy, which omitted classic tracks like I’m Only Sleeping, And Your Bird Can Sing, and Doctor Robert. To this day, I’m a bit surprised when these songs play next in the sequence, such is the power of early memories.

But hey–don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and put on Revolver today. You DO own it, right?