The Beatles classic LP Revolver turned 51 this month and though the remixed stereo version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band stole the spotlight in June, many fans consider Revolver to be the Beatles' best album.  

In 1966, Revolver was cool, arty, and loud and completely unlike any pop record of the time. With its unique combination of Karlheinz Stockhausen-inspired tape loops, pre-Hendrix feedback, Psycho-screeching violins, voices and instruments recorded at varying tape speeds, and traditional Indian instruments, Revolver was a psychadelic soundtrack to the ongoing dismantling of the British Empire. The Queen and Prince Phillip were not only not amused but must have been thoroughly confused.  Yet Revolver's inspired exuberant combination of western and eastern influences could only have been made by a band from the (once) United Kingdom. Revolver was released only eight months after the release of the Beatles' first masterpiece, Rubber Soul, and although there are similarities, in many ways the two LPs sound as if they were made by different bands. 

While Rubber Soul's compositions were mostly personal internal dialogues based around acoustic guitars, Revolver featured knarly mixes of distorted string quartets, guitar feedback, keyboards, and booming drums mangled through overcharged amplifiers, equalizers, and limiters to sound unrecognizable. Revolver's use of tape loops, electronica, horns, sitars, and extreme effects produced an unsettling cacophony that was at once tuneful and disorienting, a reflection no doubt of what it felt like to be chased, harassed, threatened, and loved by the population of planet Earth. Even the first single from the album--"Eleanor Rigby" and the nautical nonsense of "Yellow Submarine"--were a bit odd since the Beatles never formerly "rocked out" as a quartet on either tune. Ringo and John Lennon were 26 in August 1966 while Paul McCartney had just turned 24 and George Harrison, the youngest, was only 23.  (Let that sink in for a moment.)

Most of the tracks were performed live in the studio with only a handful of takes. Jimi Hendrix and the Summer of Love were still a year away.  Twenty years later, Paul Weller, the Stone Roses, the Libertines, and Oasis were still emulating the album's heady mix of sounds and even the fab four's promotional photos.

Compared to the fuzzy fidelity heard on records by their rivals The Who, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones, the sound of Revolver was full and dimensional. Abbey Road's formidable engineers recently noted that the new mono-remastering of the Beatles catalog still couldn't exactly reproduce the band's original bass-heavy mix without making the needle jump. So if you want to hear Revolver the way The Beatles (or at least Paul) intended, you'll have to go to Abbey Road and listen to the original master on reel to reel.

Much of the album's unique timbre can be attributed to Geoff Emerick, age 20, who took over for the Beatles' original engineer Norman Smith in early 1966 after Smith left Abbey Road to work with a new act he thought might have some promise, The Pink Floyd.  Emerick's first day on the job was recording "Tomorrow Never Knows."

"The group encouraged us to break the rules," Emerick told Mojo. "It was implanted when we started Revolver that every instrument should sound unlike itself: a piano shouldn't sound like a piano, a guitar shouldn't sound like a guitar. There were lots of things I wanted to try, we were listening to American records and they sounded so different, the engineers [at Abbey Road] had been using the same [methods] for years and years."

Looking Back on Revolver Today, "Tomorrow Never Knows," seems to anticipate grunge, punk, and new wave all at once (not to mention Radiohead) and still sounds as strange and wonderful as when it was made.

Revolver was nearly cut at Stax Studios in Memphis until word got out and manager Brian Epstein feared for the group's safety and canceled the sessions. Recording in Memphis certainly would have made for some great tracks.  The inclusion of Booker T. & the MGs and perhaps Atlantic and Stax engineer Tom Dowd on classics like "Here There & Everywhere," "Taxman," and "Got to Get You Into My Life" would have been an easy fit with a bit of piano by by Issac Hayes. How about Otis Redding and Carla Thomas on backing vocals? Perhaps Sam & Dave singing harmony on "I Want to Tell You"? Maybe Rufus Thomas on "Yellow Submarine."  We can only dream.

Though Revolver is not the first Beatles album to feature the Epiphone Casino, the P-90-powered archtop is easily the album's most distinctive sound.  Check out the short film about the making of Revolver plus Sir Paul and his band performing "Paperback Writer" on his original Epiphone Casino!