The Beatles

Capitol Records, 1966

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In trilogies, the second act is normally where things get dark and dire, setting the stage for the action-packed resolution in part three.  Leave it to the Beatles to break that mold, too.  For Revolver -- part two of the Beatles’ three-album flowering from a band that sold a lot of records to the band that changed the course of popular music -- is in fact an opening outward, a bold embrace of new and disparate musical elements and approaches. 

Rubber Soul saw the once-Fab Four take their first tentative steps outside the pop box, not yet abandoning the love song, but adding new elements like sitar and fuzz bass and hints of philosophical and social relevance in the lyrics.  With Revolver, the music took a quantum leap forward in inventiveness and daring.  To an audience conditioned to two-point-five-minute verse-chorus-verse guitar-pop love songs, the Beatles presented an album that exploded that formula into a hundred tiny pieces, mixing and matching r&b-fueled rock numbers with new sounds that virtually invented genres as diverse as psychedelia, world music, space rock, jam-band, power-pop and others.

It’s impossible to talk about how the band accomplished this without commenting on the sequencing, which is thoroughly counter-intuitive and explicitly part of the strategy here.  The kings of pop chose to open Revolver with Harrison’s “Taxman,” a bracing diatribe featuring chunky, stabbing guitars leading what was, for its time, a startlingly heavy sonic assault.  Only the beautifully-arranged harmonies soften the song’s blunt-implement forcefulness.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Next -- as if previewing Monty Python’s infamous line “…and now for something completely different” -- comes “Eleanor Rigby,” one of Paul McCartney’s shining moments as a songwriter, as the band is replaced by an assertive string section delivering an urgent reimagining of what might otherwise have come out as a sorrowful blues number.

And then it’s Lennon’s turn, as “I’m Only Sleeping” takes some of the woozy melodicism of Rubber Soul’s “Girl” and transforms it from a love-gone-bad scenario to a surreal piece of autobiography.  One of Lennon’s prouder inventions -- backwards guitar -- adds to the dreamlike quality of the song’s closing moments, leading in perfectly to the utter trippiness of the sitar-tabla duet that opens Harrison’s startling and otherwordly “Love You To.”

Coming down from this Eastern-tinged acid trip, the boys turn to Paul for one of his patented upbeat numbers, except “Here There And Everywhere” is anything but typical, another sleepy-rhythmed, slightly surrealistic number that again eschews love as narrative cog (e.g. “She Loves You”) for love as philosophy.  And then… “Yellow Submarine.”  Enough said!

One imagines this album hitting the turntables of Beatles fans in 1966 and meeting with a combination of the following reactions:  a) “What the hell is wrong with these guys?  They used to be good…” b) “This is unbelievable!” and/or c) “Where can I get some of whatever they’ve been smoking?”

But I digress.  Eight more songs decorate Revolver after that mind-blowing opening six, ranging from the hybrid psychedelic love song “She Said She Said” to the Tin Pan Alley-tinged pop of “Good Day Sunshine.”  The clear highlights are Paul’s horn-driven, giddy r&b shouter “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Lennon’s ahead-of-its-time space-rock opus “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

On the rating scale, Revolver edges Rubber Soul for a hundred small reasons… the ferocious guitar lines on “Taxman”; the bluesy grit of McCartney’s vocals on “Got To Get You Into My Life”; the pure daring and brilliance of “Tomorrow Never Knows” -- and the fact they gave Ringo a much better song than “What Goes On” to sing.

Having blown open the doors of pop-music convention with Rubber Soul, and stepped outside with Revolver, the Beatles’ next challenge would be to decide what to do with their new-found artistic freedom.  The answer would come in the form of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.