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50 years of Revolver: the album on which The Beatles emptied the chamber

August 28, 2016

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Eagle-eyed followers of this blog (come on, I know there’s one or two of you out there; erm, aren’t there?) may have noticed that each of this year’s monthly playlists have featured a rare cover of a song from The Beatles’ Revolver album. Why? Because this year – this month, in fact – marks its 50th anniversary. Worth commemorating, indeed; for it’s not just The Fabs’ best album, but (in this blogger’s humble opinion, at least) the best album ever recorded.

Yes, I did just write that. For me, more than any other (even say, The Beach BoysPet Sounds), Revolver is a perfect storm of an album. A select few albums may contain a flawless collection of tracks, sure, but no other surely features the variety of styles; dynamism, audacity and creativity; innovation and (studio) experimentation and all-round quality and entertainment that Revolver does. Think its terrific, but hampered by the ‘nonsense song’ Yellow Submarine? Think again; for that tune features the first ever example of sampling. Not sure it can truly be that good when Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road have always been talked about more? Listen to them and you discover, brilliant though they are, there’s more filler on both of them.

If the band’s previous album – its superb sixth, Rubber Soul – saw them experiment and start to mix things up, then this trend continues and is only deepened on Revolver. Less burdened – and maybe creatively freed up – by their recent decision to give up on touring and performing live, its recording marked the point when they (and ace producer George Martin) began to seriously explore all that the modern music studio technology could offer; merging the beat rock and pop balladry of their early years with drug references, the influence of LSD-use, Indian mysticism/ music and out-and-out psychedelia (in the shape of head-swirling closer Tomorrow Never Knows). I once read somewhere that Revolver is where The Beatles started to ‘turn up at the corners’; that’s an excellent way of putting it, I think.

Anyway, as a celebratory blog post, don’t worry, this one’s not going to delve into each of the album’s 14 tracks in detail (that’s been done before and surely better than I ever could); no, instead it’s going to share rarely seen shots from the album’s recording and some lesser-known facts about its making and legacy. So, please do scroll down and enjoy what follows – and then, should you not be familiar with it, download Revolver itself and give it a listen. Trust me, you’ll feel like you’ve shot and scored…

 

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Fab fact

Revolver’s album cover was created by artist and old friend of the band Klaus Voorman, whom drew each of the Beatles from memory and, despite his efforts winning a Grammy, was paid just £40.

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Fab fact

Backing vocals – all uncredited – were provided by Brit rock movers and shakers of the era, such as Rolling Stone Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull, George Harrison’s model wife Pattie Boyd and Donovan (whom also contributed to the lyrics of Yellow Submarine).

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Fab fact

Amazingly, The Fabs weren’t under contract to regular publisher EMI at the time they recorded the album, which sort of means the latter received it for nothing; moreover, the band initially wanted to record it in the United States (possibly Memphis) and not at EMI’s iconic Abbey Road Studios.

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Fab fact

Revolver could have been – but wasn’t – called ‘Abracadabra’, ‘Beatles On Safari’, ‘Pendulums’, ‘Magic Circle’, ‘Four Sides Of The Circle’, ‘Four Sides Of The Eternal Triangle’ and ‘Fat Man And Bobby’ (the latter influenced by the US atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII, perhaps?).

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Fab fact

The album took a humongous 77 days to record (April 6-June 21 1966), but made it into the record shops just six weeks after it was completed; going on sale on August 5.

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Fab fact

Ray Davies, lead singer and creative leader of Fabs contemporaries The Kinks, was enlisted by the magazine Disc And Music Echo to review Revolver – he concluded that Yellow Submarine is ‘a load of rubbish, really’.

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Fab fact

For Tomorrow Never Knows, John Lennon’s trippy climax to the record, he fancied sounding like the Dalai Lama on a hilltop; this effect was ‘achieved’ by having his voiced recorded through a rotating Leslie speaker and using  automatic double-tracking – just one of the album’s many innovations.

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Fab fact

Like Tomorrow Never Knows, Taxman and I’m Only Sleeping include backwards recording techniques, while Eleanor Rigby is the first Beatles song to feature no guitars at all and its lyrics were contributed to by all four band members – although only Paul and Ringo performed on For No One (Ringo the drums obviously; Paul everything else, apart from the French horn solo).

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Fab fact

It’s been postulated that at least 11 of the album’s 14 tracks are patently influenced by and/ or reference drug use – not least Doctor Robert, which is effectively about Manhattan celebrity doc Robert Freymann whom liked to offer patients B12 shots blended with speed.

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Fab fact

Those seagull-like sounds on Tomorrow Never Knows weren’t derived from examples of the supreme seaside scavenger at all – they’re actually a repeated electronic distortion of Paul McCartney laughing.

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Fab fact

Good old sunny Good Day Sunshine has been deployed to wake up astronauts and cosmonauts on numerous tours on the International Space Station; in fact, Macca himself performed it for this purpose live in 2005 – the album version’s piano solo was played by producer George Martin.

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Fab fact

John Lennon made his ‘bigger than Jesus’ comment around the time of the album’s recording (March 1966), which unsurprisingly was publicly denounced by The Vatican – yet, years later in 2010, the record was named ‘Best Pop Album’ by L’Osservatore Romano, its official newspaper. Go figure.

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