Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Revolver - The Beatles

Radiohead had a five year hiatus between King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool. Bowie, Kate Bush, The Killers - artists today have a luxury not afforded Dylan or The Beach Boys, or even The Beatles. Rubber Soul was released in December 1965. This keystone of rock evolution was still producing hits, still on Billboard’s Top Ten when The Beatles returned to Abbey Road on April 6, 1966 for Revolver. Unlike Pink Floyd's concerns after DSOTM, The Beatles weren’t fixated on the great critical acclaim offered one of rock's masterstrokes, they’d merely returned to the studio to continue what they did; out of it would come an LP that Sgt. Pepper naysayers and critics alike often refer to as the greatest LP of all time. Suffice it to say that artists today are spoiled.

Despite the hurry-up offense (or because of it), a naive but pure and beautiful overindulgence is accomplished throughout Revolver and never more so than on Lennon's "Tomorrow Never knows," so ahead of its time for its obtuse lyrical imagery and whacked production that we still haven't caught up. Crafted utilizing tape loops, distorted vocals, and backward guitar riffs, knobhead, knob twiddler, George Martin, clearly (?) channeled Lennon's psyche to orchestrate this incomparable track, topically on target for the times, the content matter and the drug references (borrowing from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience and The Tibetan Book of the Dead) remain instantly accessible. Using a single guitar chord throughout, the song captivates its listener as it transports them to higher consciousness. Ommm. (The Beatles, of course, had the benefit of having as much studio time as they needed, while many a band from the era were stifled by studio restrictions and funds.) A bootlegged documentary on the music scene in Haight-Ashbury had members of the Byrds and The Grateful Dead reminiscing the times. A nondescript voice-over stated that the day they heard "Tomorrow Never Knows" they were like, "Damn! Those Brits have gone and beaten us at our own game." I apologize for any lack of resource, but no shit.

Though there was no concept or red thread, the collection of songs is cohesive and satisfying. Funny thing, Revolver is the Beatles outing that spawned the fewest hit-singles. Casual listeners will recognize the children's classic "Yellow Submarine" and of course, "Eleanor Rigby," but the remainder is hardly known to those who know their Beatles via compilations or by radio. The album opens with the George Harrison ditty "Taxman," featuring a nasty garage guitar solo by Paul that sets the mood for what's to come in this trippy musical adventure. 

Paul offers up "Eleanor Rigby" on which he's accompanied by classical instrumentation instead of the band. One of the Beatles' most popular songs and probably the song every sophomore in high school heard when her English teacher went all nostalgic, "Eleanor Rigby" is an ethereal Gothic joint, particularly melancholy while utterly hummable. Prof. Colin Campbell of NYU pointed out that Eleanor Rigby is the only Beatles song with a story that takes place over an extended period, and unique in that it's about two disparate characters, presented separately, who are then drawn together. It's the kind of beauty in lyric form that would become the mainstay of the singer/songwriter in years to come.
The first draft of Lennon's lyrics for "I'm Only Sleeping," written on the back of a letter (how would you like to have that?), suggests a desire to simply stay in bed and relax, rather than having a focus on drugs. Lennon would often spend his leisure time reading, writing or watching TV, indeed under the influence of drugs, but unlike the media's portrait of a generation, drugs were an enhancement to a lifestyle and philosophy, not a lifestyle unto themselves. The song features a reversed guitar duet recorded by Harrison in a five-hour late-night session with Martin, truly on this LP the 5th Beatle.

"Love You To" is notable, not for being George's first venture into Indian music (that was "Norwegian Wood"), but for being a song immersed in the Sitar and the Tabla. Indeed Harrison recorded the song solo, utilizing Indian musicians known as the Asian Music Circle. Like "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Love You To" was a bold step where no one had gone before in Western music.

Paul's inspiration for "Here, There and Everywhere" was Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows." These are beautiful pop songs that rank right there with the most gorgeous American Standards. These tunes are the 60's answer to songs like "You Are Too Beautiful" and "I Cover the Waterfront." Only Paul Simon's "America" achieves this lovely plateau in rock music. I have to stop writing for a moment to go listen.

So... "Yellow Submarine," go ahead, rip it up; it's corny as Iowa, but it's a children's song for cake's sake!  To quote Bill Hicks: "Do you know how fucking high they were when they wrote that? They had to pull Ringo off the ceiling with a rake to sing that fucking song." At any given moment, I might love it, I might hate it. Who really knows? I skip it in the car, but I sing it to my kids. If The Beatles ever made something like Dylan's Self Portrait, it would have been perfect, but there are those who say it shouldn't be on what many consider a contender for The Beatles' best album. Imagine, they say, if "The Mighty Quinn" was on Highway 61 Revisited, Lord almighty! In those trippy days, childhood flashbacks were cool song fodder (what do you think "Strawberry Fields" is?); "Yellow Submarine" has gone from hip song to a kid's sing-along; what's your problem with that? Bands today are too concerned with their image to dare something like this, which leads to the question, what other cool stuff might they be suppressing in the name of their anal retentiveness?

"She Said She Said" is a trippy manifesto about Peter Fonda's visit with The Beatles in a Benedict Canhouse rented by Brian Epstein when the Beatles played The Hollywood Bowl. Check out the article below for a complete rundown.

"Good Day Sunshine" is obviously a Paul song.  I can't really gush about it, but it's one of those songs you get more when you're in love. Billy Joel's one of the most passionate singer/songwriters in rock history, but the LP he produced after meeting Christie Brinkley was so much squeaky clean love that you just wanted to puke. That's love for you.  I've read the claim that the song is about a form of LSD named "Golden Sunshine." If that's the case, it's not a corny love song. It's a corny LSD song. (Now I've got it in my head; it's kind of a nice song for one's head.)

Upbeat and catchy with a healthy dose of bitterness, "And Your Bird Can Sing" is not really a part of the Beatle formula. John called it "One of my throw-aways." This is a throwaway. Nice.

"For No One." This is more like it: A sad song! Guess that sunshine girl didn't work out so well eh Paul? (after some research: Paul cheated on his fiance Jane Asher, who caught him in the act. Oops.) A particularly poignant approach to the end of a relationship.

When in New York, be sure to visit Dr. Robert. Typical tongue in cheek John. Paul said, "The song was a joke about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquilizers. Dr. Robert just kept New York high." It's a fine tune and my least favorite on the LP.

"I Want to Tell You" is inspired by George Harrison's use of LSD. Say what you will about the cause and effect of LSD-25, but it was Harrison's finding a constant supply of the drug that simultaneously established his maturity as a song writer. Not a proponent of the use of psychedelics; just sayin'.

A precursor to songs like "Hello-Goodbye" and "Penny Lane," "Got To Get You Into My Life" is just plain fun and somehow showcases the odd brilliance of Martin's ordering of the songs; just in time for a finale only surpassed by "A Day in the Life."

Six months after the AM9 of Rubber Soul is the AM10 of Revolver, a sonic masterpiece, as good a listen today as it was in 1966.

More: Despite their return to the studio just five months after the Rubber Soul sessions, The Beatles only recorded 19 tracks in 1966, the fewest of any Beatle year. 14 of the tracks appear on the British version of Revolver. They also recorded "Paperback Writer" and "Rain," an A/B single released at the end of '66. Before the end of the year, they would also record "Strawberry Fields Forever," "When I'm Sixty-four" and "Penny Lane," each of which was intended for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper. However, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were issued as a double A-side single that became the group's first single release of 1967. "When I'm Sixty-Four" of course would indeed become the first recording for Sgt. Pepper, also released in 1967.