I owe a whole lot to the Beatles. One of my earliest memories of sitting around and doing nothing but listening to music was the ‘Beatles 1’ compilation: I would lay on the floor directly in front of the stereo and listen to the whole disc over and over again. Suffice it to say, the Beatles were my first genuine connection to music that had been made in the most recent century (it was all classical before that). Fast forward to present day and I know all the Beatles tunes by heart, I’ve bought all of the albums multiple times, and have arranged Beatles covers for classical guitar for fun. Yes, I owe a whole lot to the Beatles indeed.
Revolver is what many consider the ‘turning point’ in the Beatles’ sound (though, if you ask me that honor should be Rubber Soul’s). Without a doubt, the album is monumental. I consider The Beatles to essentially be the Plato & Aristotle of Rock and Roll. Like P&A’s extensive chronicling of topics that would frame the entire cannon of future philosophical topics: The Beatles’ experimentation and genre defying moments can still frame the entire cannon of rock that has since come. Listening to The Beatles discography chronologically is amazing, because right around Revolver you hear the most amazing things happen to their sound.
It’s a literal explosion of creativity that happens here in 1966. And frankly, the powder keg was stocked: full of studio technology and drug induced sonic imagery. It was just one of those perfect storm moments. Here the sound changes from commercial pop, to an artistic adventure. Paul Ingles and friends discuss in his radio feature Everything was right: The Beatles’ revolver how Revolver was an album made by Beatles disenchanted by ‘Beatlemania’, it was meant to be anything other than fuel for that fire.
Like in the similarly timed Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, the studio had become an instrument (Howard, 2004). Sounds that had never been in popular circulation like sitars, reverse guitars, trippy spliced effects, and phased-artificial vocal dubs were part of the aural onslaught (Ingles, 2006). Lyrical content likewise became progressively more abstract from this point on as psychedelia made its nest. This was an album in which accommodating John Lennon’s desire to sound like the Dalai Lama was just another day in the studio (Howard, 2004) this was not just pop music anymore. Sure, drugs might be another reason why the album sounds so different from what came before. The Beatles reported tripped out hot tub sessions with Peter Fonda, and readings of Timothy Leary as things that inspired them around the time (Ingles, 2006). The colors and content that it brought to the music was something completely novel.
So, being born in ’87 perhaps I don’t get to appreciate how ‘ahead of it’s time’ this album was. But as a listener I hear Revolver and I hear modern rock sounds that still in use. Songs like She Said She Said or And Your Bird can Sing are stuffed to the gills with riff based rock. Then being able to switch to a Motown vibe for Got to Get You Into my life, evoke swooning ballads in Here, There, and Everywhere, and of course there’s George Martin’s chamber piece in Eleanor Rigby. Of course the crowning achievement in the album is Tomorrow Never Knows, a psychedelic opus. This was psychedelia of an entirely level and construction; this wasn’t just heady like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or Incredible String Band this was mind-melting in sonic palette.
When I was researching the album, I was shocked by the number of critics that consider this the apex of The Beatles. I wholeheartedly disagree, think this more like the starting gun after they had spent their previous albums warming up: I guess I’m a Sgt. Pepper’s guy. In any case, this album is music history. Its impression on studio production values, breadth and variety in arrangements, and what was considered commercial is still left. From 1966 on out it was a different and amazing world for the Beatles, and it starts with the revolution from Revolver.