Revolver: the Beatles' Greatest Album?

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Revolver was the seventh studio album released by the Beatles, the landmark recording came out on August 5, 1966. Without question, no Beatles album has risen in the esteem of critics, reviewers, fans and aficionados over the past 40 years as Revolver.

When the Fabs called it quits in 1969, it was pretty much agreed that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, their breakthrough 1967 album, was the band's pinnacle. Now, interestingly, Sgt. Pepper is deemed by many Beatle people as being slightly dated, still very good, but a bit of a flower power era relic, too much caught in a set period of time, whereas the Beatles music, like all great art, has more of a timeless quality and effect. Revolver is now judged by possibly a majority of Beatle followers as being the group's pinnacle as a recording team, their masterwork.

Before the title Revolver was chosen, several other possible titles were tossed around by the boys, including Abracadabra, Beatles on Safari, Pendulum, and Magic Circles. John suggested Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle, while Ringo wittily thought of dubbing it After Geography (the Rolling Stones' had recently released the LP After Math).

Finally, Revolver was agreed upon by all four of the Beatles, apparently in Tokyo, while they were jointly working on a group painting. (The Revolver does not refer to a gun or firearm, but to that fact that a record album "revolves" on the turntable.)

Revolver also was the harbinger of the Beatles clearly defined second chapter. After being the four "mop tops" for going on four years, the group's creativity, experimentation with drugs, and natural boredom and restlessness was soon to usher in an entirely new era for the world's most popular quartet. Soon, in very short order, the cuddly, cheerful, wisecracking Liverpool musicians would be caught up in a political scandal with the first family in Manila, get death threats for daring to playing in the sacred Budokan Arena in Tokyo, and worst of all, John Lennon would cause an international scandal by sarcastically claiming that the Beatles "were more popular than Jesus.”

Touring by the Beatles would cease soon after the Revolver release, and the world's most beloved haircuts, the legendary Beatle locks, would be shorn by the boys (each Beatle also would soon stop shaving and grow facial hair). All this aside, as always with the Beatles, the music transcended all. Revolver was and is a treasure trove of awesome, groundbreaking music and lyrics.

Paul scores with what is possibly his finest-ever achievement with the soulful ballad "Eleanor Rigby." Originally called "Daisy Hawkins," Paul later decided on title character name change. The "Eleanor" was from actress Eleanor Bron, the Beatles' female co-star in their movie Help!, the Rigby derived from "Rigby & Evans," a wine shop Paul noticed in Bristol. Interestingly, a real-life gravestone of an “Eleanor Rigby" resides in the cemetery of St. Peter's Church (St. Peter's Church is where John and Paul first met, the gravestone is a few hundred feet from the exact spot.) Paul may or may not have glanced the headstone over the intervening years and placed it in his "subconscious mind" for later reference.

"Eleanor Rigby" is unique, in that it may be the only Beatles song ever composed with lyrical contributions from all four Beatles. A great majority of the song was composed by Paul, although John was to claim authorship of "40% of the lyrics," this claim is highly disputed by those present at the time of the song's joint composition. George contributed the lovely chorus "Ah, look at all the lonely people," and Ringo chipped in the "Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there" as well as "Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear."

"Yellow Submarine" was basically "a children's song" Paul wrote for Ringo (of course, the song was also to later be the title subject of the Beatles' 1968 animated film classic). Like so many Beatle songs, many critics "interpreted" the song to be a homage to drugs. Not only did the Beatles dispute that it was based on a drug, they were also to state that they had never seen or even heard of a drug or pill called a "Yellow Submarine."

But if "Yellow Submarine" wasn't drug-inspired, Paul's "Got to Get You into My Life" was. Thought by many to be an intense love song, "Got to Get You into My Life" was admittedly Paul's paean to his beloved drug of choice- marijuana.

John chimes in with the beautiful droning of his "I’m Only Sleeping." The song, like so many John songs, is basically autobiographical (in a then-recent interview, John had described himself as "the laziest person in England." Interestingly, the song also shows John's deep boredom, monotony, and dissatisfaction with his own life, both within and outside of the Beatles.

As one listens to the unhappiness and unfulfilled feeling of "I’m Only Sleeping," one can easily understand and almost predict John's soon-to-be cataclysmic love and worship of his future life partner, Yoko Ono, who was to sweep John away in a 180-degree new direction, both musically and personally.

John's very catchy "Dr. Robert" is John's own tribute payment to a notorious drug-dispensing doctor, well-known in rock circles.

"She Said, She Said," another drug-inspired tune, came from John's adverse reaction to actor Peter Fonda, who kept saying the phrase "I know what it's like to be dead" over and over during one of John's LSD trips. Fonda kept saying he "knew what it was like to be dead" because of a self-induced gunshot wound he'd experienced as boy.

Unquestionably, John's greatest contribution to Revolver was the album's concluding tune "Tomorrow Never Knows." Based on Timothy Leary's influential book The Psychedelic Experience, the song was one of the first of the soon-to-be prevalent psychedelic songs of the late '60's. An incredibly original and effecting song, complete with John's droning voice, tricky guitar tracking, and special effects, John had originally told the recording engineer that he wanted the song to "sound like Dalai Lama singing from the top of a mountain.”

The opening sounds of "Seagulls" were actually a backwards tape loop of Paul laughing. John seems to be taking us through his own personal acid trip as we are carried away by the unforgettable melody and lyrics.

George, universally acknowledged as the least of the three active Beatle composers, also broke new ground on Revolver, for the first time getting to contribute three tunes. "Taxman," the LP's opening track, is George's tongue-in-cheek tribute to the British tax system, which skimmed 90% of the band's earnings off the top. (George was always the most "money-conscious" Beatle.)

“I Want to Tell You" is, ironically, George's song dealing with his difficulty expressing himself in words. “Love You To" clearly showed George's newly found infatuation with the Far East and was the first Beatle song to be based exclusively on Indian music.

Revolver, besides being a huge musical breakthrough, sported one of rock's greatest-ever album covers. A combination sketch of the four Beatles faces, blended in with a collage of Beatle photo clippings (from 1964-66), the stark black & white cover was created by the Beatles' old friend from their early days in Hamburg, artist Klaus Voormann. Voormann was to win a Grammy Award in 1967 for Best Album Cover- Graphic Arts.

In 2001, Revolver was named "#1 album of all-time" by TV channel VH1, Q magazine voted it "the #1 greatest British album" in 2000, and Rolling Stone named it #3 on it's list of Greatest Albums of All-time in 2003.

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On rare occasions, the radio would pick up a Honolulu pop music station - I heard the second half of Tomorrow Never Knows on the radio shortly after it came out. It was so different than anything I had ever heard, I thought for a few moments that I had drunk some bad coconut juice. I didn't hear the rest of the album until many years later, but it certainly was revolutionary.
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George Harrison once said and I fully agree that Rubber Soul and Revolver could have been a double album. The songs are similar on both but Revolver does progress slightly more.
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