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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Revolver

No matter how you take it, Revolver is as apt a title for a Beatles record as any. Whether you see this album as an open shot across the bow of their contemporaries (The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones) or as a revolution in The Beatles’ sound, Revolver capitalizes on the promise of Rubber Soul and then goes that album one better by perfectly blending about a million pop styles with as much veiled drug culture as could be shoehorned into a record released in mid-1966. The product is arguably the best album of The Beatles not inconsiderable career.

At the center of this sonic success was the flowering of all three songwriters in different experimental veins. Paul took the melodiousness he’d honed during Help! and Rubber Soul and dressed his new set of songs in as many styles as he could. His main contributions (“Eleanor Rigby”, “Here There And Everywhere”, “Good Day Sunshine”, “For No One”, “Got To Get You Into My Life”) could not be matched by any stylistic similarities other than they all feature Paul’s gorgeous tenor.

George came into his own on this album, bringing the proto-funk on “Taxman”*, experimenting with straight up Indian music on “Love You Too” and throwing in some atonalism on “I Want To Tell You”. All three songs are truly impressive and hint at the brilliant songwriter Harrison would become in his own right.

But the most experimental songs came courtesy of Mr. Lennon, who contributed the breezy, spend-the-day-in-bed-stoned-out-of-one’s-mind folk number “I’m Only Sleeping”, the blissfully Burroughs-ish “She Said She Said”, and the jangle-pop perfection of “And Your Bird Can Sing”. But it was the sonic warp of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that earned the record its reputation. Played on one chord, and wrapped in fuzzed guitar and tape loops, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a trippy, darkly indulgent closer to the record, which is both an invitation to come into the rabbit hole with The Beatles, and a warning to stay away if this stuff makes you nervous…because, as we will see, there was plenty more where that came from.

Revolver is a record of firsts: It was the first record to feature a song with all classical instruments, it was the first record to feature a song with all-Indian instruments, it was the first to feature backwards guitar solos and tape loops, but mostly it was the first time The Beatles blended their customary pop tunesmithing with adult themes. In short this is the album they grew up, and with them an entire generation was growing up too, forging a bond with these four lads from Liverpool that would endure for generations.


*The funk coming largely due to Paul’s gut-punching bass line, which is brought out gorgeously in the new stereo master. In fact, now that I'm on the topic I want to take a moment to gush about how f-ing incredible Paul McCartney's bass playing is on just about every Beatles album. But no album is this more evident than on Revolver. From start to finish every time his fingers touch the bass the song is instantly made better. I'm so glad that they've released these new masters because you can finally hear how brilliant the bass playing is.

2 comments:

Misopogon said...

One thing I just noticed going over the songs you pointed out: those songs that signify the three songwriters going in their directions were all brought together with significant contributions from other Beatles. You mentioned Paul's riff on Taxman. And with Tomorrow Never Knows, it was Paul who had the idea of using all those sound effects to transition the song in the place of chord changes. In turn, Eleanor Rigby had so much John help that the song's nascence later became a point of contention between them. "And Your Bird Can Sing" is driven by George's opening guitar solo, and it took Paul Martin, John Lennon, and a horn section to get "Got to Get You Into My Life" to keep moving with all the 7th chord resolutions Paul wrote into.

This is something lacking in late Beatles albums: strong evidence of other Beatles' contributions in every song.

The Crow said...

Extraordinarily astute of you, Miso. I was trying to hint (albeit very roundaboutedly) at that very thing with the footnote about Paul's hellacious basslines. But your broader point about the collaborative element inherent in these excellent mid-term Beatles records is well-taken.

I would further argue that, other than Let It Be, the high water mark for Beatles non-collaboration is the White Album (which I recently relistened to) and it shows in the album's ragtag junk-pile asthetic. It's still a great album, but it lacks the cohesion that the best Beatles records possess (e.g., Help! through Magical Mystery Tour).

Thanks for the comment. Seriously, bro, you need to guest write for Dog Eat Crow more often.