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Revolver - The Beatles
Member Name: davidbuttery
Revolver - The Beatles
Date: 07/08/02, updated on 07/08/02 (197 review reads)
Advantages: A coherent whole, Packs in a huge anount of inventiveness
Disadvantages: Very short
A lot of people would place Revolver above Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as the best album the Beatles ever made. I wouldn't join them - for me their later masterpiece still comes out on top - but without a doubt this is the Fab Four at the very top of their game. Their turbulent American tour was over, but despite - or perhaps because of - the controversy, they were still by far the most famous group in the world. Although no-one knew it yet, they'd played their last live concert (unless the infamous rooftop gig counts), and were turning their thoughts toward the studio exclusively.
Revolver can be seen as a turning point in the Beatles' story, a snapshot of their journey from mop-top rock'n'roll to yogic mysticism. A glance at the back cover of the LP (ah, vinyl...) will make this obvious - the hair is getting long and the shirts are getting flowery, but there's no sign of the moustaches that have sprouted by the time of Sgt Pepper. The front cover, like the reverse, is in black and white, and consists of a mixture of line drawings and photos of the group in various poses. It's all very "arty" - deliberately so, in fact - but instantly recognisable.
So, to the really important bit - the songs themselves. There are just seven on each side, all except one under three minutes long (and the exception, Love You To, is just a second over the limit). If only certain bands of today could take the hint. This means that the album as a whole is very short indeed - only around half an hour - and it's a bit of a pain getting up to turn it over when you've barely settled into your chair. (What do you mean, you've got the CD? How are you supposed to see Revolver revolve, then?) But the sheer quality of the music on offer forestalls any whinging about value for money.
Yeah, this really was made in 1966. Sounds as though it'
;s a decade or so newer, doesn't it? (Insert obligatory Jam reference here.) Still, whatever year it's from, it provides a very strong start to the album - its count-in at the start sets the scene for all that is to follow. George may be doing the singing (and he makes a good job of it, showing just what he's capable of when kept away from all the waily sitar stuff), but the best bit by far is Paul's wonderful guitar solo, one of the best of the group's very considerable collection. Of course, beneath all the musical brilliance, this is in essence a whinge about paying taxes by a bunch of extremely rich young men. Not something that would normally appeal to me at all. Still, the boys do try to be even-handed with their references to both "Mr Wilson" and "Mr Heath", even if they should really be complaining about the Chancellor at the time - Mr Callaghan. Maybe it doesn't scan well enough. Anyhow, it's a great rock song, politics or no politics.
2) ELEANOR RIGBY
Covered by vast numbers of people, but - as usual - the original is the best. There's a bench in a road in Liverpool with a model of Ms Rigby sitting on it, dedicated "to all the lonely people", and anyone who's ever felt helpless and alone - all of us, surely - will be affected by this song. Thankfully, the Beatles don't go overboard with the lachrymosity (good word, eh?) as other, less talented people have done on their versions. The mournful string orchestration and the lyrics themselves ("buried along with her name") are quite enough to make the point.
3) I'M ONLY SLEEPING
Hmmm. "Stay in bed, float upstream" - this couldn't possibly be a - gasp! - *drug* reference, could it? How startling. All sarcasm aside, though, I'm Only Sleeping is actually a very good song to listen to when dozing - even in a non-drug-induced haze - of a summer Sunday. It's one of those songs
- like the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" - that perfectly encapsulate the listlessness and relaxation of those times when nothing seems to be urgent and everything can wait.
4) LOVE YOU TO
Groan. George And The Gurus Present Sitars of the Sixties. Again. Though it has to be said that, as these things go, Love You To is a long way from being the worst of the Eastern-influenced tracks George did - for one thing, it's only three minutes long, a world away from the interminable dirge of "Within You Without You" on Sgt Pepper. Not a lot to say about the lyrics, really - they're of the "make (lots and lots of) love not war" school, and don't have all that much of an underlying message. So let's move on to...
5) HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE
One of my very favourite Beatles tracks is this. Like many of the best ballads, it's very simple, with no unexpected tricks. It carries a timeless message of love and devotion, yet it's hard to think of many other bands that could imbue such a song with such emotional power. As with Eleanor Rigby, Paul resists the obvious temptation to go all melodramatic, and - thankfully - to sing at a ridiculously slow pace. This might be a love song, but it's a cheerful one, and so the relatively up-tempo beat is entirely appropriate. It still sends shivers down my spine, though.
6) YELLOW SUBMARINE
Considering the sense of reverence and awe with which most people describe Revolver, it often comes as a bit of shock to read the vitriolic terms in which this track is described. "Bizarrely awful" and "one of the worst Beatles singles ever", to quote two other Dooyoo reviews of the song. The underlying complaint seems to be that Yellow Submarine is only on here as the "Token Ringo Song", and - all right - he's not in the class of John or Paul when it comes to singing. But it's a bit much for people to laud th
e Fab Four to the skies for innovation and experiment, then come down like a ton of bricks when we actually get some! I wouldn't place it in the same league as A Day In The Life, or even I Am The Walrus, but it's really not as bad as it's been painted.
7) SHE SAID SHE SAID
Another song that could reasonably go in the "druggy trip" category, though in fact the inspiration was John's increasing boredom at an interminable story told to him by Peter Fonda. (Anyone know what it was?) "I know that I'm ready to leave", eh? Well, this is the last song on Side One, so I suppose that's not too worrying... I confess that She Said She Said is a "take it or leave it" song for me, and not a particularly strong end to the first half of the album. Still, there are another seven tracks to go, so let's get on with it....
1) GOOD DAY SUNSHINE
I'm an absolute sucker for the bottom end of the piano keyboard, so Good Day Sunshine is in my good books from the start. It's one of the most conventionally "poppy" songs on Revolver, without any of the strange subtexts of most of its companions, and is a bit of a throwback to the days of "I Feel Fine" and "She Loves You". Bouncy and cheerful, this song can always put a smile on your face, even if it is very short at barely two minutes. We all "need to laugh", don't we?
2) AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING
Another fairly straightforward pop-rock number, despite all the complicated guitar work, this song is a great foot-tapper, John Lennon makes the most of the simple lyrics, and - well - what else is there to say? Just enjoy it!
3) FOR NO ONE
Just when you thought it was safe to relax, though, along comes For No One. The title can be read as a dedication, to the lover who is no longer there, and it's a song of desolation and wretc
hedness, but most of all emptiness. Paul is expert at making the most of such emotions, as Yesterday proved. Some consider it a little bit overly sentimental, and I can see their point, but those in despair will often go over the same ground again and again, trying in vain to see where it all went wrong. Perhaps the answer lies in the line: "she says that long ago she knew someone but now he's gone".
4) DR. ROBERT
Most people seem to interpret this song as a straightforward rock'n'roll number, or at most an equally straightforward paean to John's friendly neighbourhood drug suppliers, but I've always found it a very unsettling track. The line "take a drink from his special cup", especially, unnerves me enormously - how often do you take medicines actually in the surgery, after all? What's Dr Robert got in there, and why is he so keen for you to sup from it? Of course, the unspoken word these days is "Shipman", but I felt this way about the song long before that. "He does everything he can", I'm sure. But what does that actually *mean*? Maybe I don't really want to know.
5) I WANT TO TELL YOU
Another very disturbing piece, though for different reasons. Deliberately dissonant, it comes across as the broken thoughts of a man with a broken mind, despite George's insistence that "if I seem to act unkind it's only me, it's not my mind that is confusing things". He's terribly frustrated by his inability to get across what he wants to say, but is determined to keep at it - "I could wait forever, I've got time". I Want To Tell You strikes me as being the voice of a man with something along the lines of Asperger's Syndrome, an "autistic spectrum disorder" (love that funky jargon, eh?) that tends to manifest itself in a lack of social skills. (And believe me, I know whereof I speak on this one, as a relative has it.)
6) GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE
Every Beatles album seems to contain one song that could have been made by anyone. On Sgt Pepper it's "With A Little Help From My Friends", and here it's this one. It's too loud and insistent, and just isn't memorable in the way that the vast majority of the Fab Four's compositions are. I'm not saying that it's a *bad* song exactly - there are a lot worse about - but it's not a song that, on hearing for the first time, you would necessarily recognise as being by the Beatles. Paul's "shouting voice" can work very well - the title track of Sgt Pepper being a good example - but it's overdone here.
7) TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
Blimey, John does a George, eh? This is the best contender on the disc for the "outright weirdness" award, consisting of Ringo's unrelenting drumbeats (listen to this, and you'll never complain about his drumming again) overlaid with all manner of strangeness, ranging from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to seagull noises. I can't say it's a particular favourite of mine, but then after your senses have been assailed by the stunning variety of the rest of the album, maybe the best thing to do is to "surrender to the void" and attempt to "see the meaning of within".
Revolver, despite its flaws, has deservedly taken its place in the list of the very greats. It packs far more fun, sadness, love, despair, dreaminess and thoughtfulness into its half hour than the great majority of albums twice its length. I don't like all the tracks, but I do think that they're all vital to the success of the enterprise. Take out any one of them - even Yellow Submarine or Got To Get You Into My Life - and you've removed a supporting arch for the whole structure. To all intents and purposes, Revolver *is* 1966.