Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr comprise one of, if not the most influential band of all time, The Beatles. Formed in Liverpool, England in 1960, the Beatles burst unto the music scene in England and the United States in became extremely successful. While the appeal to young female audiences overseas and in the states can be discussed at great length, the music of the band’s catalog before the release of one of their many championed classics, Revolver, is what I’ll be discussing.
Prior to the release of Revolver, the Beatles were already largely popular in music and in pop culture in general. Albums such as their debut Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night and Help! Were filled with some of the bands biggest hits. Ticket to Ride, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, I Feel Fine, Yesterday and Twist and Shout were all poppy and catchy numbers from the group and they were all top hits on the music charts worldwide. The album released before Revolver was Rubber Soul an album that was mostly a folk rock record that was lyrically more progressive and according to some critics, darker than previous efforts. The albums’ soulful, and Bob Dylan influenced material would have an immediate impact on American producer and frequent Beach Boys collaborator, Brian Wilson, who was inspired to create his version of the record in The Beach Boys, equally popular Pet Sounds. Rubber Soul was and is one of the most talked about and celebrated albums in the bands discography.
After the release of Rubber Soul, the band began their work on Revolver. Working with frequent producer George Martin (often referred to as the fifth Beatle), the band entered EMI studios to record the masterpiece. Several recording tricks and techniques were used by the producer, engineer and the band themselves for the album. The use of compression, EQ, and a good amount of reverb was used throughout the album but in creative ways. For instance, the engineer/tape operator for Revolver, Geoff Emerick broke EMI rules and regulations to make the drum sound, thunderous and heavy if you will. By placing the mics right up on the speakers and compressing them using a Fairchild 660 limiter, he gave the drums a close and pounding feel. Drummer, Ringo Starr, was absolutely thrilled with the results. Another technique used for the album was the innovative guitar tracking.
Double tracking was used throughout the record and the effects proved to be very creative. On the track And Your Bird Can Sing, George and Paul performed dual lead guitar work that was looped via a Leslie cabinet and accompanied by strings and horns. It is one of my personal favorites from the album. Another track which, included more “out of the box” was the final cut from the album Tomorrow Never Knows. With the help of engineer Emerick and George Martin at the helm, McCartney wanted an effect of a hundred Tibetan monks chanting. To pull of the feat, McCartney’s vocals were wired from the console to the mics and into a rotating Leslie guitar cabinet. One of the studio techs, Ken Townsend also assisted with a technique now known as ADT (Automated Double Tracking). The vocal take from one machine was playing while another machine was set to delay the vocals. Both tape machines were synchronized so the doubling of the vocal effect could be executed. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard and through headphones it is quite trippy but awesome.
Lyrically the album is one of the most imaginative that the band has ever done.
Eleanor Rigby is described by some as a narrative for the lonely and overlooked. Others believe, it is based on post war life in Britain. Yellow Submarine, the b-side to Eleanor Rigby and initially a children’s song was largely interpreted to have socio-political undertones. This track would also go on to be the name of the band’s 10th studio album with an accompanied soundtrack of the same name. Another notable track that stands out lyrically on the album is the aforementioned Tomorrow Never Comes. Lennon mentioned in several interviews that the content of the song was lifted from The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by authors Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. One night while under the influence of LSD, Lennon found himself influenced by the lines in the “whenever in doubt, turn off your mind and float downstream”. The lyrical exploration of other recreational drugs continued on the track Got To Get You Into My Life (Marijuana). One of my favorites from the album Here, There and Everywhere, which as a huge Beach Boys and Pet Sounds influence, was inspired by McCartney’s relationship with actress Jane Asher. The whole album is sonically an exciting listen for me. Each time I sit down I find different nuances that I didn’t catch at first. The bold, and imaginative, experimental music created on Revolver would continue on later Beatles albums. The psychedelic style can found on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the previously mentioned Yellow Submarine soundtrack. I feel the innovation used on the record definitely influenced several bands and producers and engineers to experiment with different techniques. Revolver, in the midst of all the albums in the Beatles catalog, is still a standout from the band and one of my favorites personally. An excellent album.