Depending on what day you ask me, Revolver is either my favorite album by The Beatles, one of my 20 favorite albums of all time, or, quite simply, the greatest record I have ever listened to.
It is the album that has a little bit of everything.
- The song that makes a social statement – “Taxman”
- A fun sing-along with Ringo track – “Yellow Submarine”
- Majestic fusions of pop and classical music – “Eleanor Rigby”
- Good old-fashioned rockers: “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “I Want to Tell You”
- Feel good inspirationals: “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life”
- Trippy pop psychedila: “Tomorrow Never Knows”
While I can’t go back in time to April 6, 1966, I find it fun to imagine listening to these albums in the context of their time. Imagine being that Beatles fan who went to the record store on April 6, 1966 to pick up the new record by the Beatles. You first come face to face with an album cover of unconventional imagery – rich with layers to explore using the naked eye. You take the album home, unwrap it, pull out the vinyl from the sleeve and stick the needle on song 1 of side 1. Taxman starts the album off pretty normally by mid-60s rock standards, but that second song…the one with no drums, no bass, and no electric guitar. The one that sounds like the London Philharmonic invaded it. About a woman “Wearing a face that she keeps in the jar by the door”. THAT song. What the hell would you possibly think about that? It doesn’t quite hit you. And you wonder if that’s even a rock and roll song. Or why is there classical music on a Beatles album. Whatever you think, you can’t deny that it has impact. And you can’t deny that is … well, precious.
But that’s the real beauty of Revolver. Something truly unique and completely different from the song preceding it lurks beyond every 5 second space between tracks. Imagine being a teenager in 1966…getting lost in side 1 while staring into infinite space at and through that album cover. “She Said She Said” fades out on side 1 before you even look up and realize what the hell is happening. And what’s happening if your perception of “what is rock music?” has been forever altered.
By the time you reach the end of side 2, you’ve travelled through about 10 different genres of music. Including Middle Eastern and Big Band. And when you reach the end, you are confronted – and I do mean CONFRONTED – with “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and we know what tomorrow did bring for The Beatles. It brought us Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Personally, I find it impossible to listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and not think about Sgt. Peppers. It’s as if there was some grand scheme to the Beatles and the 60’s that I’ll never truly understand. After all, I wasn’t there.
Perhaps trying to read too much into the meanings and agenda of the latter half of The Beatles albums is the mistake. The critical acclaim and symbolic awarding of best album ever to Sgt Peppers always confused me a bit. Now…understand what Springsteen would tell you: that musicians use music to express an emotion and capture it within a moment of time. Given that, I suppose you have to use the full context surrounding a album of recorded music in giving it any kind of review. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about a collection of songs. And the collection on Revolver always seemed a bit superior to anything else The Beatles did.