Record #31: The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

And then, the Beatles dropped acid/went to India/spent too much time in the record studio and got bored…
Revolver features a number of firsts for the group, all of them would go on to be Beatles trademarks, such as use of a sitar (George’s excellent Love You To), heavy psychedelic influence (I’m Only Sleeping, tragically missing from the US release), non-rock arrangements (the famous Eleanor Rigby), and studio noodling (the absolutely terrifying Tomorrow Never Knows, my favorite Beatles song of all time).

Beyond that, the songs are all just plain excellent. From Taxman to She Said She Said to Good Day Sunshine to Tomorrow Never Knows, there’s not a single bad song on the record (except Yellow Submarine, against which I am severely biased). The already great songwriters, composers, and performers had been for years placed in a context to nurture those skills, and along with producer George Martin (nicknamed the fifth Beatle) grew to legendary proportions.

The album also features three George Harrison tunes, more than any other Beatles offering prior, and those three songs happen to be three of the best songs on here. The three Lennon-led omissions on the US release (thankfully the last time Capitol would meddle with playlists) make for an interesting lack of John, with him only singing two songs, George his three, Paul five, and Ringo one. Although, the two Lennon tracks that made the cut (She Said She Said and Tomorrow Never Knows) are among his best.

And can we just talk about Tomorrow Never Knows for a second? This song is high and above the most ambitious thing the Beatles had ever done at that point, but more amazing than that is the fact that they actually pull it off without sounding too out there.

It’s still at its base, a three minute pop song. It just happens to be a pop song based around a single drone chord and filled with tape loops and reverse guitar solos. Appearing at the tail of end of the entire catalogue that preceded it, it’s the best transition into their more ambitious psychedelic period possible.

Whereas other songs here and there hinted at what was to come, Tomorrow Never Knows screams it. I can only imagine how listeners in 1966 would have reacted, hearing this completely otherworldly noise coming out of their speakers, with the sitars buzzing, loops squawking, and Ringo playing with more menace and power than he ever had before.

And when John’s voice comes in, howling through a rotary organ speaker (Parlophone had a word with them about the proper use of equipment after that one) singing “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”…There’s really nothing to do after that but to do what he says.

​And by the end of the track, the Beatles have made it clear–they’re capable of so much more than we could have ever imagined.  

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