Friday, August 5, 2016

The Beatles' 'Revolver' Turns 50

Revolver is, by many accounts, the Beatles' transitional record. It also marked the beginning of what was referred to, in Fab Four lore, as "the studio years." Even as it came out in early August of 1966, the Beatles were winding down their final tour. After over two years of Beatlemania, the band had become "performing fleas" -- competing with a banshee of bloodcurdling screams that continually erupted from a squirming legion of prepubescent girls. Less than a month after the release of their landmark album, the Beatles played their last show on August 29 in San Francisco, California. On that night, a change was definitely in the air for one significant reason: not a single number from Revolver was even played.
Of course, playing Revolver on stage, or for that matter any of the group's subsequent albums, would have been an extremely difficult task to pull off. Tuned in by new sounds, and given Carte Blanche by EMI and Abbey Road, the Beatles were endlessly toying with new musical ideas that were strictly confined to extensive and painstaking recording sessions. With Revolver, the experimentation came to a head. There's the lush orchestration and imagery of "Eleanor Rigby"; the droning backwards guitars of "I'm Only Sleeping"; and the sound effects and wacky ebullience of "Yellow Submarine," the first single featuring Ringo Starr on lead vocals. While John Lennon seemed intent on instilling a hallucinogenic spin onto several of his compositions ("Doctor Robert" and "She Said She Said" are chockfull of drug references), Paul McCartney adopted a more traditional stance, taking a leisurely stroll on "Good Day Sunshine" and bopping to the superb horn arrangements of "Got To Get You Into My Life."
If anyone rose to the occasion it was surely George Harrison. Contributing an unprecedented three cuts to the album, Harrison's songwriting and instrumental prowess cannot be underestimated. "Taxman," the leadoff track, sets a high caliber tone with a wall of harmonies and a spiraling guitar solo. For "Love You To" and Lennon's psychedelic anthem "Tomorrow Never Knows," Harrison's sitar work simply takes the record to another level. The third Harrison song, "I Want To Tell You," only confirms that the so-called quiet Beatle could make plenty of noise when he wanted to. In the book, Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums, which compiled more than 200,000 votes from record buyers and music journalists, Revolver ranked as number one. A timeless masterpiece and a scorching document of the Beatles' progress, it's not that difficult to understand why. "Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream..."
~ Shawn Perry