I took another break between Rubber Soul and Revolver, partly to simulate the wait Beatles fans would have between albums and partly because ambient house music beckoned me away for a week. Now I’m back and so are The Beatles, here to build on the increasingly grandiose promises they’ve made with each album being more ambitious than the last.
The moods of the album are established succinctly by the first three songs. Revolver starts like Rubber Soul, bursting out of the gate with one of the band’s best straight-ahead rockers, a George song entitled “Taxman”. The song is a satire of the intense English taxation that drove multimillionaires to other European countries by the band-load. It’s bouncy and funny and the guitar solos shred all over the place.
The mood is immediately pulled into an entirely opposite direction with “Eleanor Rigby”, a pop song as desolate and existential as any. Mournfully propulsive strings combine with surreal wordplay to paint a portrait of unloved, unnoticed lives, the sort of subject The Kinks would indulge for an entire career. The song is only let down by the chorus “all the lonely people/where do they all come from/all the lonely people/where do they all belong”, a painfully on the nose series of questions that takes me out of the mood every time I hear it.
The third song is “I’m Only Sleeping”, one of my favorite Beatles songs ever. It’s got a dreary, unsettling agitation to it, one that ties it immediately to the next song “Love You To”. The Beatles had an uncanny knack for nailing a very specific sense of unease, the sort of place a person arrives to when all the substances wear off but it’s still hours to go before bed. The songs point the way to future meditations on exhaustion (“I’m So Tired”) and waiting for something that may never come (“Blue Jay Way”) respectively.
The mood is lightened a little by “Here, There, and Everywhere”, a subtle ballad that works as a palette cleanser more than anything I would ever approach out of context. The mood is lightened considerably by the song “Yellow Submarine”, which is a song I never need to hear again as long as I live.
The mood is jerked back into psychedelic rock with the acid trip inspired “She Said She Said”, a song that manages to combine a jangly folk rock hook with lyrics that veer between inspired non sequiturs and the looming sloganeering of the LSD generation. Thankfully, the band’s best instincts win out and the hippy garbage is outweighed by lyrics that anticipate further childhood exorcisms by Lennon like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the solo song “Mother”.
“Good Day Sunshine” could be a number from a musical. Paul was derided, by John Lennon, and then the world, as making “grandmother music”. Reporting from the wizened old age of 26, I can assure you that there’s not a thing wrong here. It’s an endearing bit of sunshine pop, paving the way for future masterworks from The Archies and The Brady Bunch. If you’re sugar sensitive, skip this one and the next song, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, a poppier take on the band’s acidic folk rock. The title refers to Marianne Faithfull, I’m told, so there’s that.
“For No One” sounds like a dry run for the female character sketches “Lovely Rita” and “She’s Leaving Home” around the corner. It’s small and compact and uses a less drunken sounding brass part, similar to how “Yellow Submarine” added color to the verses. “Dr. Robert” is a bouncy rock ditty about the doctor who liberally prescribed drugs to the band and many other rock stars. It’s not bad. It’s not one of my favorites. It just is, I suppose. “Taxman” lite. Hold the shred. “I Want To Tell You”, another George number, follows. It’s got a bar band looseness to it, with a nicely dissonant piano part that punctures the sweetness of the vocal melodies. It’s a neat trick.
The song is unfortunately dwarfed by the concluding two numbers: “Got to Get You Into My Life” is a brassy, upbeat screamer dedicated to exactly how much Paul loved marijuana, which was a goddam lot. And it shows. Paul spends his other parts of the album cooing and gently dedicating his love to his female subjects, but when it’s time to talk about pot, Paul absolutely shrieks the chorus, demanding before that he and his dimebag will be together every day. Get it, Paul. All things in moderation.
The final song on the album deserves careful consideration because it’s probably my favorite Beatles song of all. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a song I first listened to on the sunniest day I can remember and it was like watching an alien spacecraft land. It anticipates and invents several psychedelic cliches wholesale. There’s sitar drone, circular drum loops, backward guitar, screeching tape loops, vocal treatments, lyrics about Buddhism. It’s like the album Dopesmoker condensed into three minutes.
Let’s talk about that drone. “Tomorrow Never Knows” gains a lot of mileage out of a single chord. This song, along with the contemporary work of The Monks and The Velvet Underground, would anticipate the motorik beat and the trebly noise of the impending Krautrock boom, and for that I am very thankful. It’s a bit strange to me to look back and see how psychedelia, as the product it would become, seemed to take the least interesting elements of this song and expand upon them infinitely. Maybe it’s because the most interesting parts of the song are the hardest to replicate. The song itself was done live through some godly masterwork on the end of producer George Martin, and the tape loops were largely the creation of Paul McCartney, who loved Stockhausen almost as much as he loved the music hall.
I don’t know how I would have reacted to this album had it hit me fresh out of nowhere, but even hearing it as a teenager in the decades after its influence, it took a few spins to process. This album is probably my favorite by The Beatles for its fresh-faced take on psychedelic innovation and its myriad of interesting melodies. The album drags in parts where the lyrics are still too blunt, but overall, it’s a quick brief trip and most of it remains fresh. Dig it, man.
This post appeared at Medium, Mar. 11, 2017.