Revolver: Song by Song (part 1 of 2)

Welcome to a new feature here on the site in which we take a classic album and dissect exactly what makes it tick. We’ll go song by song, deconstructing the magic in such excruciating detail that you may never actually enjoy any of these songs again. Doesn’t that sound fun? Does it matter?

I thought I’d pick Revolver for the first time around, simply because it (and Pepper) are usually the albums that show up at the top of “Best Album” lists. I’m not under any misapprehension: I know that the Beatles have been exhaustively discussed for half a century. Paul McCartney has been dead since 1966 for God’s sake!

What I’m trying to do, ultimately, is examine a much-hyped album as a simple collection of songs. What works? What doesn’t? The Beatles were young and cute and foreign (at least, in the U.S.), and it’s not as if they were trying not to cultivate an image, but the songs are ultimately the reason anyone still knows who they are. So, I will present a short burst of thoughts on each song, trying to examine each well-worn pop chestnut as though I’m hearing it for the first time. Because someone is hearing the Beatles right now for the first time. And hopefully, that sort of thing happens every day from here on out.

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1. Taxman 

Let’s start this off right: I don’t really like “Taxman.” Don’t get me wrong, The lyrics are a scathing indictment of various British policies/specific politicians of the time (though his situation is admittedly ultra-specific. Really only three other people can relate to it and they were all in the recording studio at the time). I also recognize what a huge achievement it is for George Harrison to get a Side One Track One on a Beatles album. That must have been huge for his confidence and, for all we know, gave him the boost needed to write “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Something.” I just don’t like it all that much.

2. Eleanor Rigby 

Hey, it’s that song that invented the Moody Blues and Procol Harem and Electric Light Orchestra! It’s not often that you meet a song that carries the burden of chamber-pop and orchestral rock on its shoulders. “Rigby” is a classic rock Atlas, holding up enormous genres for years on end. It’s a deeply sad, deeply perfect pop song. These Beatles, they don’t fuck around.

3. I’m Only Sleeping

Do we really need a song explaining exactly how lazy John Lennon was during the mid-60’s?  As it turns out, we totally do. I took an informal poll among my friends of their favorite Beatles songs, and this song made multiple appearances, (along with “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Something.”) It’s easy to see why. The jangly stomp and jaunty bass line are appealingly ramshackle, much as Lennon describes himself. If you buy the whole dichotomy of McCartney as the perfectionist craftsman and Lennon as the effortless, accidental genius, this song works pretty well to reinforce that whole business. Lennon’s voice is something extraordinary here; it’s thick, languid and almost syrupy in its reluctance. You can almost envision him wasting the day away in bed. He’ll write a song after this dream plays out, and it will be better than anything you can possibly imagine.

4. Love You To

Not a huge fan. This seems to be a case of experimentation over coherence. I like the impeccably recorded sitar, but I feel like this is more of a goof between the bandmates, a sort of “look what we can do,” than an actual song. It seems to reference “Love Me Do,” but only very obliquely. Unless I’m in the mood to listen to the whole album, this one is usually a “skip.”

5. Here, There And Everywhere

Speaking of perfect songs, this is the best song on Revolver, which puts it on a pretty short list for best Beatles song overall. I know that declaring a “best Beatles song” is patently absurd (it’s “Glass Onion”), but Paul McCartney has been known to list this as perhaps the best song he’s ever written. He’s certainly responsible for some of the best pop songs of the last 55 years, but this may rank at the top.

6. Yellow Submarine

Try not to smile during this song. It’s slight and a bit silly, but still better produced than 99% of other music at the time. If someone says this is their favorite Beatles song you should still probably head at a steady pace in the opposite direction, but I get the limited appeal. “Yellow Submarine” seems like a great entry point for children, and the sooner I can get my (hypothetical) children onto a steady diet of Beatles and other classic rock and away from Top 40 radio, the better.

7. She Said She Said

As legend has it, this song was inspired by an interaction between John Lennon and the actor Peter Fonda at some sort of party in the mid-60’s. This is sort of a thought that one could only come up with while tripping on LSD, but is the best human approximation of death the feeling of extreme sadness? The unknown narrator of the song (probably Lennon) says “she’s making me feel like I was never born”, which is something decidedly worse than death. Never being born is never existing at all, which is a far cry from existing and then expiring naturally. As the story goes, Fonda was the one making Lennon feel as though he’d never been born, showing off his bullet wound and just generally doing uncool things, especially if you’re tripping balls and have to associate with him. This song captures the feeling of a party that’s just about to go off the rails extremely well, and though I know it was scary for everyone involved, I still kind of wish I was there.


See you next time for part two!

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