The Beatles are the most talked about, written about, discussed, analyzed, and dissected group in the history of music. Almost all of the Beatles' songs are liked by some segment of Beatle fans. The actual "most popular" Beatles song is up for grabs. Various polls on the subject have been conducted, with diverse results.
Some like the love songs, some like the hard rock, some like "John songs," some prefer the "Paul songs," some like the later, freakier stuff, and some like the simplicity of the early stuff. But always, in every poll on the subject ever taken, one song stands out, alone and undisputed, as the "least popular" Beatles song of all-time.
It's hard to actually call "Revolution 9" a song at all. It's more of a patchwork of sounds, fragments, clips, odd instruments, disjointed voices, tape loops, a weird, eerie collage of what John Lennon and his then-girlfriend called "avant-garde" art (?) and music (?). "Revolution 9" is the penultimate song on the Beatles' otherwise brilliant and eclectic masterpiece of music The Beatles, otherwise known as "the White Album."
The Beatles (the White Album) was the band's 10th album consisting of 30 songs. Although protests came from various quarters about including "Revolution 9" on the album, John remained proud of his strange concoction, proclaiming, "This is the music of the future. You can forget about the rest of the s**t we've done. This is it! Everybody will be making this stuff one day!"
Lennon was no Nostradamus.
Recording of "Revolution 9" was begun on June 6th, 1968, continued on June 10th and 11th, and was concluded on June 20th and 21st at Abbey Road Studios. Lennon's usual writing partner, Paul McCartney, was absent from the sessions, and even if he had been present, it was becoming all too horribly apparent that John had found a new partner anyway, one he liked better.
John's inseparable relationship with his Japanese artist and gal-pal Yoko Ono took full bloom during the White Album sessions, and, as much as the other three Beatles, producer George Martin, various friends and associates, and countless millions of Beatle fans around the world hated the fact, John and Yoko were to be intertwined for the vast majority of the last 12 years of Lennon's life.
"Revolution 9" was influenced and inspired mainly by Yoko, and also the recent social disturbances that had cropped up during the early months of 1968. Lennon elaborated about the song: "It was an unconscious picture of what I think will happen when (a revolution) happens." But later he corrected himself and added, "I thought I was painting in sound a picture of revolution, but I made a mistake. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution."
Lennon and Ono disliked the negativity and violence of late-sixties radicalism, taking a particularly dim view of the Chicago riots of August 1968. Yes, they wanted a revolution, but through peace, not violence.
The genesis of the song was actually take 18 of John's song "Revolution 1," which was recorded on May 30, 1968, on the first day of recording sessions for the White Album. The song stretched out to ten full minutes, the last six described as "pure chaos," including feedback, John's maniacal shouts of "All right!" and Yoko stating calmly, "You become naked."
"Revolution 9" opens with a very staid, conservative man's voice continually saying the phrase "number nine" over and over. The was a looped announcement taken from examination tapes from the Royal Academy of Music once stored at Abbey Road.
Over the next few weeks, more than 100 sound fragments were added from various sources, including opera and classical music, spoken-word fragments from John, Yoko, and George Harrison (the only other Beatle to participate in the song's recording), applause, and gunfire.
The actual number "9" was in the song because of John's great love of the number. He was born on October 9, 1940 and grew up in a house at 9 Newcastle Road. From his earliest days, John considered 9 to be his lucky number and believed it had a magical effect throughout his life.
One other influence on "Revolution 9" was also, obviously, John's continued love affair with LSD (and possibly marijuana). John described himself during this period as having taken "literally thousands of LSD trips."
McCartney was in New York during much of the "Revolution 9" recording, leaving John, Yoko, and George to mix up the track with random interjections, i.e. "The Twist," "The Watusi," "El Dorado," "Right," and of course, Yoko's "You become naked." Paul was understandably underwhelmed when he returned and heard the final result, and did not want it to be included on the album.
Many believe John to be the original avant-garde Beatle, but this is actually untrue. Paul was dabbling in avant-garde, making bizarre home movies, listening to Stockhausen, helping out at the then-radical Indica Book Store, and exploring various underground arts, while Lennon was cooped up in his middle-class home in 1966, right before and after the Beatles stopped touring in August.
Paul's dislike of the song probably wasn't middle-class conservatism, but was more of an objection to the song's cynical darkness of tone. Paul didn't want such a song released under the hallowed "Lennon-McCartney" moniker, but ultimately John and "Revolution 9" won out. (For the record, Beatles producer George Martin sided with Paul, trying to discourage John from including the song on the White Album,too.)
The final version of "Revolution 9" clocked in at 8 minus and 15 seconds, making it the longest-ever Beatles song. It also took the longest time to record of any song on the White Album.
"Revolution 9" also contributed to the soon-to-be-rumors of the death of Paul McCartney. Supposedly, if you played "Revolution 9" backwards, you could hear a car crash (Paul supposedly died in an automobile accident) and the words "turn me on, dead man."
Trying to describe "Revolution 9" without the listener actually hearing it for himself or herself, is rather like trying to describe a beautiful woman to a blind man, or, more accurately, trying to describe a migraine headache to someone who has never experienced one.
The song can be "appreciated," but only by the very most open-minded of Beatles fans -and the most loyal of John Lennon fans. But however you view or listen to it, "Revolution 9" remains the Beatles most bizarre song, and well as far and away their least popular.