While many feel that Sgt Pepper is the peak I prefer Revolver, although there isn’t much to pick between them. Lyrically as good as any band before or since, musically far reaching, ambitious, every song is a work of art offering something new. Smashing through every boundary, melding genres, experimenting, creating new ways of thinking and playing The Beatles never sounded better than here. For an album over forty years old to sound as sparkling and new as it did the day it was released is quite an achievement. For it still to be so highly regarded and listened to and for so many new listeners and artists to be inspired by it is an even greater achievement.
`Taxman’ opens the album and as was the norm for Harrison songs, it is quite separate from the other songs. We know immediately from the count-in intro and opening guitar strains that we are dealing with a new, smarter, more mature Beatles. The guitar sounds fits in well, sounding jagged and crooked like the subject matter, and the lyrics are among the most biting and socially relevant the band would write. The song is quite fast yet lacks the bright melodies of earlier releases.
`Eleanor Rigby’ is a rarity for the band in none of the music is played by any Beatle and because each member contributed at least one line to the lyrics. The music suits the song perfectly sounding like a mournful lament and the lyrics stand out as they speak of loneliness and death after a life of anonymity. The Beatles give the character of Rigby fame though, and she can stand for any lonely person around the world. It sounds modern today- imagine what it was like in 66.
`I’m Only Sleeping’ has a distinct drowsy feel due mostly to the vocal style, with the band taking on a drunken, slurred tone. The backwards guitar effect adds greatly to this and also adds to the sense that this is all a drug induced daydream. The vocal harmonies were supposedly meant to sound to an alarm clock but they sound more pleasant and dream like than alarming. The Eastern sounding end to the song adds another interesting twist, and melds nicely with the intro to the next song.
`Love You Too’ (which always reminds me of Lava levels in Mario games) is the most Eastern driven songs, all Sitars and unusual electronic sounds imbued with new lyrical ideas. It is obviously Harrison’s work with only Ringo adding some percussion. It is one of the most experimental and unusual Beatles songs up to this point. The timing speeds up towards the end suggesting some sort of frenzy.
`Here There and Everywhere’ is a soft and sweet McCartney ballad notable for Paul’s high pitched vocals. It is saved from being sickly by the haunting harmonies and minor shifts throughout the song. It has a strong message of love almost being a drug which we need to wrap around ourselves at all times and has a clear trippy feel.
`Yellow Submarine’ is probably Ringo’s most famous vocal, a classic pop song which all kids somehow know even without having heard it. Overall it is a nonsensical song reminiscent of absurdist poetry. There are many samples highlighting the band entering full steam ahead experimentation. If it wasn’t for the wonderful melody and the fact that Ringo sings well this would be dismissed.
`She Said She Said’ is an acid fuelled song based on a Peter Fonda comment, and written while the band were being besieged by fans at home. There is an Eastern feel again, the harmonies are classic Beatles, and Ringo seems to drum whatever he feels like. The fade out suggests that the song will rotate and play ever onwards.
`Good Day Sunshine’ is a song eternally attached to waking up in the morning and will forever be glued to milk adverts the world over. There are plenty of instrumental flourishes with the first piano use in some time and it is masterfully constructed with a couple of interesting middle parts. The ending is also unusual with the vocal key increasing suddenly.
`And Your Bird Can Sing’ is one of the most joyous sounding songs the band ever wrote, with one of their best guitar riffs. The lyrics are either poetic and mystical or nonsense depending on how you interpret them. It is one of their most underrated pop songs, if anything the band did can be called underrated. My only wish is that it could be longer.
`For No One’ is another classic with strong McCartney melodies and lyrics. Paul sings of the end of a relationship yet it sounds hopeful rather than previous angrier or bleak songs. The inclusion of the French Horn adds a different dimension, particularly on the final single note which you would expect to continue into a string of notes.
`Doctor Robert’ is another drug referencing song and probably the weakest on the album. It rolls along fairly enough with twangy guitars and a trippy `well, well, well’ breakdown. The lyrics and music are fine but personally it doesn’t have the same impact as others here.
`I Want To Tell You’ is the third Harrison song on the album, a standard pop song made interesting by the philosophical lyrics and almost out of tune piano and minor changes. The ending features almost Eastern style vocals.
`Got To Get You into My Life’ is bursting with energy and instruments, growing and surging at points and pulling back at others. It is another song of joy contrasting with the darker songs on the album. McCartney sings more like he did on earlier albums and the guitars are rough and twangy.
`Tomorrow Never Knows’ is another song to jump across pits of lava to, and is the most experimental song on the album, full of strange sounds and techniques. The lyrics are the band at their most mystical, the backwards guitars are all over the place with riffs thrown in everywhere to create a splendid noise the likes of which no-one up to that point has heard before. The vocals sound like they are being sung through a portal and the drums are a precursor to modern dance music. The seagull sound and jangly pianos give the sense of a drug fuelled rampage through Blackpool gone wrong. It is a strong end to a great album.
Revolver is a genre bursting album which samples different styles and influenced a number of new movements from Psychedelic to Dance, from British Invasion bands to progressive rock and at the same time pulls off a number of pop classics. There truly is something here for everyone, even people who don’t like The Beatles will find a moment or a song here which they can appreciate, respect, and enjoy. This and the next album are definitive signs of a band at their peak in every conceivable area.
Updated with score via the Nightman Scoring System:
Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)
Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)
Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)
Originality: 5 (A step up from the previous experimentation, this is the band taking all of popular music in a new direction. From the recording, the approach to songwriting, the lyrics and lyrical subject matter, to the music itself, there hadn’t really been anything like this before)
Influence: 5 (The 60s exploded with this album as a host of new ideas and possibilities were made available to younger artists. The musical world all stepped up a notch after this one was released and even now musicians will look back to this for inspiration)
Musical Ability: 5 (The band continue to grow and stand out as masters of their individual crafts, but with this album they employ a variety of new instruments and players into their sound)
Lyrics: 5 (A massive shift in the lyrics, with all of the previous satire coming to the fore, with the band now tackling a diverse range of subjects with all of their trademark wit and skill. A brief glance at the opening trio sees a diatribe against the taxman, a forlorn telling of a lonesome life, and an honest depiction of an existence in the spotlight).
Melody: 5 (It’s another album filled with hooks and melodies which once heard will never be forgotten)
Emotion: 3 (With a more expansive and experimental sound, the emotional content takes a back seat, with songs focusing more on a sound or an idea rather than feeling, and a number of the songs lyrical content are drug-addled or humourous)
Lastibility: 5 (Although the band is now taking on some sounds which are known for having that distinct 60s sound, it’s one which nevertheless still sounds fresh today and can be listened to by seasoned fans or newcomers and still have the same impact)
Vocals: 4 (With some of the songs, the vocals take on a smaller role and are filtered through numerous effects, a few of the performances are deliberately drowsy or plain, but even Ringo has a stellar performance and other lads are awesome on most of the tracks)
Coherence: 4 (Even though many of the songs have a distinct sound, there is an overall pyschedelic rock feel and the melding of East, West, old, and new is clear throughout)
Mood: 4 (There is less consistency in the mood throughout, though individually, songs such as I’m Only Sleeping and Taxman convey tiredness and anger accurately, while And Your Bird Can Sing is an unusual mixture of joy and angst with John writing such a sunny song about rejection)
Production: 5 (Great work, still sounds stunning)
Effort: 5 (Impressive writing and creativity to make something new)
Relationship: 4 (It’s another album which most listeners should be able to relate to – even though there is less focus on the universal subjects of love and loss which the band had been known for, here they branch out to some more of the things we all feel and talk about but hadn’t necessarily heard in songs before. Then there are those other songs which it appears you may only relate too if you’ve popped a pill or two)
Genre Relation: 4 (It was a new frontier being ploughed and quite a few of the tracks didn’t sound like anything else which anyone else was doing, but the rest of the world would catch up soon)
Authenticity: 5 (The band sound entirely dedicated to branching out and making something new)
Personal: 5 (One of my favourite albums by the band, and it’s hard to argue against this being their best.
Miscellaneous: 4 (I’ve always found the artwork for this one a little stilted compared to others, while many of the stories of the recording and writing process are highly entertaining as usual)