The Beatles – Revolver, 50 Years On...
We’re celebrating the 50th birthday of a seriously iconic album - Revolver by The Beatles. Here’s a rundown of what made it such a pivotal album.
Before we delve into the meaty stuff, let’s take a look at some quick facts and figures:
- 300 hours of studio time were used to complete the album
- Recorded in EMIs Studio 3 at Abbey Road
- Spent 34 weeks in the UK album charts, seven at the top spot
- Featured only two singles; Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine.
- Placed 3rd in ‘Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list
- Considered names for the album included: Abracadabra, After Geography, Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle and Beatles On Safari.
- The cover art created by Klaus Voorman won a Grammy for Best Album Artwork, he was paid £50 for his efforts.
Following the release of the rushed yet still fantastic Rubber Soul the year before, The Beatles were due to make their third film but shelved it as they couldn’t agree on a script. The three months down time however wasn’t wasted as it allowed the band to develop their song writing ability and try out some very different ideas for their next studio album Revolver. The term ‘studio album’ in particular holds weight, as the band were looking to put the touring part of their career on hold, giving them the chance to try out ideas where they didn’t need to worry too much about recreating the tracks in a live setting. John Lennon himself noted: “One thing’s for sure, the next LP is going to be very different…Paul and I are very keen on this electronic music.”
And he was right. Revolver was the start of a turning point of sorts for the Fab Four. Many music enthusiasts have noted that their seventh studio album is a sort of marker, separating two sides to The Beatles. The earlier half consisting of pure pop classics that kicked off Beatlemania worldwide and the second demonstrating the evolution and maturity of their song writing craft, where their psychedelic experimentation lies. It’s Revolver and onwards that has helped us perceive what we see as the 60s to this day.
Changing a Winning Formula
What’s noticeable is that the regular guitar, bass and drums Beatles line up known the world over was being invaded by a range of new instruments and influences. In fact, Eleanor Rigby was the first track none of The Beatles actually played instruments on. It used four violins, two violas, and two cellos composed by the late George Martin. It was also the lyrical content that took a huge departure from conventional upbeat love songs, as the track told the story of a lonely woman and her eventual death. Something the screaming fans weren’t used to! Love You To and Tomorrow Never Knows take an even further stride from the norm with their clear psychedelic and multi-cultural influences. In particular the closing track Tomorrow Never Knows was John Lennon’s way of transferring a three minute LSD trip into song form. Although drug experimentation had started to become a catalyst for inspiration (Doctor Robert was about a New York physician that helped rock stars obtain ‘exotic’ drugs…), the band agreed that the recording studio wasn’t the place to be under the influence.
A particular encounter with marijuana led to a recording technique called Backmasking being included on the album. Backmasking is when sound or a message is recorded backwards onto a track that is intended to be played forward. Lennon under the influence accidentally played the tapes to the earlier released single Rain backwards and liked what he heard. You can hear the technique used in particular in the guitar solo of Tomorrow Never Knows. This wouldn’t be the last time backmasking would be linked to The Beatles, as during the time of the 1968s White Album there were rumours that Paul McCartney had died, with evidence hidden using backmasking in tracks on the album. The technique has gone on to be quite controversial over the years fueling plenty of musical urban myths, especially in the realm of rock music.
Even More Sonic Experiments
It wasn’t just John, but the entire band that began to take home tapes and recorders to experiment with. Playing tracks backwards, sped up, slowed down, loops and the invention of ADT (Artificial Double Tracking). This was where The Beatles really began to exploit the ever evolving recording technology. Going back to Tomorrow Never Knows, Lennon wanted a vocal effect that gave the ‘sound of a guru on a mountaintop’. George Martin ran the vocal track through a rotating speaker called a Leslie Spinning Speaker. As it span, it produced a strange sound similar to the Doppler effect (the effect on frequency and wavelength in motion, think of a passing ambulance as an example) Combine this with the ADT, tape loops and reversed instruments and a truly unique song was born. Many of these techniques can be heard across the entire album if you listen closely enough.
For its wild creativity, daring studio experimentation and use of eclectic influences, Revolver wasn’t only a career defining moment for The Beatles, but an album that helped change the industry both musically and in recording technology for good.