Fifty three years ago this month in 1966, The Beatles released their seventh album in three years, Revolver,
which many fans consider their best. Cool, arty (thanks to the now-iconic cover by Hamburg mate Klaus Voormann), and loud, Revolver
remains an inspired and exuberant combination of western and eastern influences that perhaps only a band from the United Kingdom (or what was left of it) could have made. Revolver
was released on August 5, 1966 only eight months after their previous LP Rubber Soul
and although there are similarities, in many ways it sounds as if it were made by an entirely different group of musicians.
featured knarly guitars (mainly the Epiphone Casino
), string quartets, booming drums, tape loops, electronica, horns, sitars, distortion, and extreme effects. It was no doubt a microcosm of what it felt like to be chased, harassed, threatened, and loved by the population of planet Earth. Some songs faded in or included mumbled count-offs, which might be common today but was totally bizarre to most listeners in 1966. The album’s introduction, "Taxman," was not even written by the band's famed songwriting team and the first single, "Eleanor Rigby," hardly featured the band at all. Upon its release, there was nothing groovier or heavier in pop music than Revolver
with Jimi Hendrix and the 'Summer of Love' still a year away. In retrospect, Revolver
seemed to foretell the anger, resentment and ambivalence to come in the late 60s. (It should be noted that The Beatles, along with Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton, were fast fans of Jimi Hendrix after he arrived in swinging London in 1966. However, the rest of the world would have to wait for Hendrix’s debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967.)
Compared to the fuzzy fidelity heard on LPs by their rivals The Who, The Kinks, and Rolling Stones, Revolver
was both a revelation and a challenge to The Beatles' colleagues, who were still recording their albums within strict 4-hour sessions. The Beatles, meanwhile, had reached a level of pop royalty status (they were presented with MBE awards a year earlier by Queen Elizabeth II). By 1966, their every whim was met without question. And at Abbey Road studios, the foursome were clearly working without a clock. Thanks to unlimited studio time, the band had limitless opportunity to out pace their copycat competitors. And in the process, made pop music a new art form. The sound of Revolver
was full, dimensional, and balanced with so much bass that even the recent vinyl-remastering still couldn't reproduce the band's original mix without making cutting the needle jump. Fans and critics consider Revolver
a center stone that divides the band's career into two distinct eras sonically and musically. Much of the album's unique timbre can be attributed to the band's new engineer, the late Geoff Emerick.
"The group encouraged us to break the rules," Emerick told Mojo
. Emerick was just 20 years old at the time and had been appointed as the band's new engineer after their previous engineer, Norman Smith, had left Abbey Road to produce Pink Floyd. "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."
is not the first Beatles album to feature the Epiphone Casino,
the P-90-powered archtop is easily the most distinctive sound of the guitar-heavy album. The first session Emerick recorded for the band resulted in "Tomorrow Never Knows," which seems to anticipate Grunge, Punk, and New Wave (not to mention Radiohead) all at once and still sounds as fresh and strange today as it did when it was first released. In the summer of 1966, the top records in the UK included Eddy Arnold's "Make the World Go Away" and Roger Miller's "England Swings."
The Beatles released two cool Revolver
-esque singles in 1966, too--"Rain" and "Paperback Writer." But by the time the world had absorbed this heady brew, the fellows had already moved on to make "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" (which producer George Martin later regretted was not included on the follow-up LP, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
was almost recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis until word leaked to the press and manager Brian Epstein feared for the group's safety and canceled the sessions. (Check out the instrumental "12 Bar Original" on Anthology
for the Fab Four's attempt at a Booker T & MGs groove.) Recording in Memphis certainly would have made for some great tracks. The inclusion of the MGs and perhaps 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 Issac Hayes. How about Otis Redding and Carla Thomas on backing vocals? Or some harmony by Sam & Dave on "I Want to Tell You" and maybe Rufus Thomas on "Yellow Submarine." We can only dream.
Pick up the mono mix of Revolver
while you still can and check out the short film about the making of album plus Sir Paul and his band performing "Paperback Writer" on his original Epiphone Casino