Friday, August 5, 2016

50 Years Ago Today: The Beatles' Revolver Fires Imaginations


Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles album Revolver, a major milestone in Beatles history and rock history. The album was ranked #1 in the book All-Time Top 1000 Albums by Colin Larkin, creator and editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Rolling Stone lists it as #3 in its list of Top 500 greatest albums of all time, two notches down from the pinnacle slot, also owned by The Beatles. Sgt. Pepper, naturally.

It was a great year for ground-breaking albums. Dylan released Blonde on Blonde in May. The Beach Boys, who just happen to be performing this weekend here in Duluth at AMSOIL Arena, released Pet Sounds the same day.

Revolver was the beginning of a true revolution in the way albums were created. In the old days, the band would gather in the studio and record a song in real time. You can get the gist by watching films like O Brother Where Art Thou or Ray. The studio equipment existed to capture the performers. With Revolver, the studio itself became much more. That is, the studio became consciously incorporated into the entirety of the project so that in addition to unusual instrumentation, the production included variable speed recording, backward looping and reversed tapes, and techniques created by Abbey Road studio engineers.

It's probable that the release of the album might have made a bigger splash in the U.S. if John Lennon hadn't made that off-the-cuff remark that The Beatles had become "bigger than Jesus." As it was, every rock group in the world paid attention to that album's innovations, and despite the temporary razzing (Beatles albums were being burned in the Deep South) the album went on to go 5X Platinum. The cover art, too, won a Grammy for bassist Klaus Voorman whom the Fab Four met during their time in Germany.

Over the years I've had at least a couple of friends insist that Rubber Soul was the critical turning point in the Beatles legacy. I argued that Sgt. Pepper was the perfected example of a fully conceived and executed concept album using the entire bag of tricks. But as I re-listened Revolver this week and Sgt Pepper last, I sense that I under-rated what this album truly achieved.

These albums signaled a noteworthy feature of this period in The Beatles' career: a transition from music for wriggling teeny-boppers to the more mature subject matter that Dylan had been producing for years. (eg. Hard Rain, Blowin' in the Wiind, Like a Rolling Stone, Only a Pawn, etc.) It wasn't Dylan's "turning on their minds" (drugs) that transformed The Beatles. Rather, he showed them new horizons in terms of lyrical possibilities and themes. They were genius enough to recognize what he was doing and took advantage. It's been said that when The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan came out (while they were on tour in Paris three years earlier) The Beatles listened to it for three weeks straight.

One thing's for sure: Revolver has some revolutionary sounds and it heralded a new direction for John, Paul, George and Ringo.

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While reading up on the album I learned that the guys had trouble coming up with an album name that they could agree on. Naming can be a problem sometimes. Ultimately what they settled on was agreeable because of the double meaning of the word revolver. Until I read this I always assumed it had to do with the album turning round and round on the turntable. It's also a handgun. Duh.

The American version of the album was lighter by three tracks than the British release. The songs "I'm Only Sleeping", "Your Bird Can Sing" and "Doctor Robert" were excluded because they had already appeared on the previous Beatles'  Yesterday and Today, a compilation that was assembled for U.S. consumption only. This, and the fact that there wasn't as much marketing muscle thrown into it, may well be why the album failed to deliver the impact that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band did a year later.

Much more could be written, including a few personal anecdotes, but you'll find plenty of details about the album here at WikipediaOr you can just buy Revolver here and relive your memories.

Meantime, life goes on all around you... here, there and everywhere.

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