Today I got a copy of The Beatles' Revolver. Alongside Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and Rubber Soul, it is one of my favourite Beatles albums of all time (which, of course, means it is one of my favourite albums, period). First released on August 5, 1966 in Britain, it has since become regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In the United Kingdom in 1997 it was ranked as the third greatest album of the Millennium in a poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, Classic FM, and The Guardian. A 1998 poll conducted by Q Magazine ranked it at number 2. In both VH1 and the survey that resulted in the book Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums it did even better--it was named the greatest album of all time.
The reason for all of the acclaim that Revolver has received over the years is not hard to find. The album represented a number of stylistic advancements and hence a new sophistication that had not been seen in a rock album before. Indeed, the album represents the first use of automatic doubletracking or ADT. Using synchronised recorders and an electronic delay, ADT could duplicate a sound instantly, simultaneously, and nearly exactly. This replaced the previous doubletracking technique in which a singer would have to sing a vocal again or a musican would have to play an instrumental piece again, careful to synchronise everything with the original. Beyond the development of ADT, The Beatles also utilised other unusual techniques for the album. On "I'm Only Sleeping" George Harrison played the notes for his lead guitar backwards, then reversed the tape before mixing it. That is what creates the song's rather somnolent mood. Perhaps the most experimental song on the album was Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows." The song foresaw the rise of psychedelia, which is even more impressive when one considers it was the first song recorded for Revolver. Its unusual sound was created using a number of tape looping effects, processing John's vocal through a Leslie speaker (generally used for instruments, not vocals), reverse guitar, and compressed drums.
The Beatles' various experiments in recording aside, however, it is the songs on Revovler that make it one of the greatest albums of all time. Arguably, this is the album on which George Harrison really began to shine. Indeed, it is the first Beatles album to lead off with a song by George--"Tax Man." That song was his protest against the British tax policies of the time. He also contributed "I Want to Tell You," a guitar driven ode to an inability to express one's feelings.
By this time the Lennon/McCartney partnership was largely a thing of the past, with the two of them writing their own songs with only a few contributions from the other. Regardless, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did some of their best work on Revolver. McCartney's most impressive contribution may well have been "Eleanor Rigby," possibly one of the most identifiable Beatles songs of all time. In the song McCartney paints images of two lonely people, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, both doomed to live lives of solitude. It was also to Revolver that Paul contributed his best love song besides "Michelle (possibly my favourite Paul song besides "Back in the U.S.S.R.")"--"Here, There, and Everywhere." The song is a simple, yet haunting expression of affection of a man for the lady he loves. Paul also wrote "Good Day Sunshine," inspired by the bouncy, cheery sound of The Lovin' Spoonful.
While Paul contributed "Eleanor Rigby" to Revolver, John Lennon contributed "I'm Only Sleeping," his paen to, well, sleeping. Not all of Lennon's songs on Revolver were so light hearted. Tomorrow Never Knows takes its inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, while "She Said, She Said" sounds like a contemplation on death.
Indeed, it is on Revolver that The Beatles expanded greatly on the subjects considered acceptable on a rock album. On various songs they covered protest against taxes ("Tax Man"), lonely people ("Eleanor Rigby"), death ("She Said, She Said"), and drug dealing physicians ("Dr. Robert"). The days when The Beatles were content to write about holding hands and not being able to buy love were long past.
Revolver was not just revolutionary in the music it featured, but even in its packaging. Nowhere on the cover does the name "The Beatles" appear. Instead, the entirety of the cover is taken up by a collage created by Klaus Voorman, German artist and the bassist for Manfred Mann. Featured in the collage are line drawings of The Beatles by Voorman and various photographs of the band taken from 1964 onwards. Even the name of the album, Revolver (yet another pun of John's--a record being something that revolves...) was revolutionary for the era.
Quite frankly, I have always thought that Revolver was not simply a must have album for Beatles fan, but for any fan of rock music who has a keen interest in the history of the genre. It was truly a groundbreaking album, in some ways more so than the classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band. Indeed, Revolver made the later album possible. Of course, even looking beyond its innovations and stylistic experiments, Revolver is quite simply one of the best albums ever released with regards to musical quality.