Over the Hill (plus 10): The Beatles' Revolver

When The Beatles' entire catalogue had been remastered in 2009, I penned a three-part review of the box set for No Ripcord.  For the band's 1966 release, Revolver, this is what I had to say:

"In a way, Revolver is a bolder album than Pepper was, an experimental hybrid clashing symphonic string arrangements ('Eleanor Rigby'), rock n’ jolly 'Singin’ In The Rain'-styled ditties ('Good Day Sunshine'), kid-friendly sing-alongs about friendly aquatic transports ('Yellow Submarine'), Eastern influences ('Love You To') and the decade’s introduction to psychedelic rock n’ roll ('She Said She Said,' 'Tomorrow Never Knows'). An absolute plethora of influences and styles at work and they marry perfectly onto Revolver with nary a concept at work, nor a marching suit to hide behind. 

Revolver is Beatlemania’s actual 'good riddance' and the very reason they couldn’t go on as a touring band. As a continually growing entity, confronted by the possibility of having to appease public expectations with renditions of 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' the studio was their only means to continue as a band. No single song spoke that truth louder than 'Tomorrow Never Knows,' its eerie and ultra-modern tonality quite possibly The Beatles’ most exciting contribution to rock music."

Today, Revolver turns 50 and still stands as one of the most important rock albums to date.  And, with this being the year that George Martin passed away, his vision having contributed significantly to the album's brilliance, it would almost seem disrespectful not to give Revolver a spin today.

As far as what to write, Revolver's been analyzed, critiqued, dismantled, and reconsidered enough times that it's pointless to try and add any new observations or even attempt to find its flaws.  The album's continued importance in the ongoing story of rock n' roll, not to mention our collective pop-fueled consciousness, will not be denied or usurped.  It's a permanent fixture that's transcended generations and influenced countless musicians and even studio techs.

And now that I've made the babyboomers happy by getting on my knees and bowing repeatedly to the tune of "we're not worthy...we're not worthy," I would like to express a couple of things personally that have made this album important to me.  (Because why not channel my own inner-babyboomer and make this all about me?)

First off, let's talk about that cover by Klaus Voormann

As a child, I drew.  A lot.  And being someone of the visual persuasion, Voorman's intricate and caricatured line drawing was something I'd stare at quite a bit.  It was like the original Where's Waldo, some obscure bit always hiding in plain sight within the contextual mire of collaged photos and ink. 

I'd thought about the cover differently, however, one day while home sick from school.  I was watching a VHS copy of The Compleat Beatles, an early 80s documentary about the band and I have a very vivid memory of the scene when they begin discussing the track, "Tomorrow Never Knows."  While the song played in the background, the camera would pan over the cover in varying ways, trying to visually capture the intensity and otherworldliness of the track.  It was a very simple device, but I watched that ten of fifteen seconds over and over again. 

Second, "Tomorrow Never Knows:"

I share this one with a lot of people.  In my mind, "Tomorrow Never Knows" is what ends most arguments that begin with claims that The Beatles were overrated.  That isn't to say they didn't have their moments when a song or two missed the mark, or that their reputations as Jelly Babies-smeared, cherub-faced moptops didn't have some validity prior to their most innovative period.  I'll concede that point, albeit begrudgingly.  But, "Tomorrow Never Knows" is, in many ways, defined how music would sound for years following. There's no hook, no bridge, no conventional structure. This song is a breathing stream of consciousness, John Lennon's Tibetan Book of the Dead inspired (Ringo Starr's whimsical thought bubble spoken aloud supplying the title) thoughts carried by one captivating bass rhythm and simplistic drum loop, which likely informed the later structural personas of drum-n-bass music, trance, post-punk...etc.  In addition to its altering of the pop song paradigm, its use of prerecorded samples, which were curated by Paul McCartney, is a remarkable innovation, something we take for granted now as music, primarily early hip-hop, has used sampling through the last 30 or more years.

I didn't know any of this, though, the first time I really listened to this song.  When I was about 10 or 11, I'd recorded Revolver onto a cassette tape, the vintage pops and cracks audibly carried from my father's original U.S. pressing.  I found myself concentrating on "Tomorrow Never Knows," understanding that it was NOT a Beatles track.  It was something else.  To this day, I get chills listening to this song.   

Third, Paul McCartney as bassist:

In all honesty, the George Harrison-scribed "Taxman" was the first song that made me actually think about Paul McCartney's brilliance as a bassist. I always felt he'd been buried up to that point, or it could be that the song's very minimalist structure allowed me the opportunity to listen to what he could actually do.  His near-funk riff truly drives this song and is its most distinguishing characteristic.  So, from the standpoint of listener and appreciator, one able to discern and distill elements from a song, "Taxman" was the track that first trained my ear to locate sounds. 

Letters From A Tapehead


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