Revolver: Song by Song (part 2 of 2)



I’ve been thinking about the title “Revolver” a lot lately. Like many Beatles titles, it has a bit of a cheeky double meaning. In this case, the world “revolver” could refer to any number of things; perhaps it’s a reference to the rotation of a spinning record. Maybe it refers to the explosive power of the group as a whole (you know, like a gun). Ultimately, I think the title refers to transition. This is both short-term transition, shown in the sometimes jarring juxtaposition of McCartney, Lennon and Harrison tracks. All three songwriters have distinct voices and tackle radically different subject matter. More on that when we get to the meat of the article.

Transition from one form to another can also describe the group’s move from touring act to studio-only band. From now on, as Paul McCartney explained in the Beatles Anthology Documentary, the band would stay home and the album itself would go on tour. Revolver wasn’t the first example of a music album as a cohesive work of art, but it certainly helped usher in the Album-Oriented era. The idea of a rock musician using the studio as more than a means to an end was a relatively new one, and the Beatles were restlessly innovative with their recording techniques as well as their actual songs. You have to love an album title that means so many things simultaneously (or anything at all, really) and I think the amount of thought that clearly went into every aspect of Revolver justifies a song-by-song breakdown. Luckily, that is what we are already in the process of doing! Life is truly funny sometimes.

8. Good Day Sunshine

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This is one of those jaunty McCartney tracks that you hate until you’re actually listening to it. No, it’s not full of political commentary like “Taxman” or drug references like “Doctor Robert,” but that’s not actually what we’re looking for from Paul. We need a bit of unforced and guileless optimism to counterbalance all the sometimes alienating experimentation coming from the other creative members. Though McCartney’s songs may sound simple sometimes, don’t be fooled. It takes a great talent to make pop music appear so effortless. It’s a hell of a lot harder to write an unforgettable pop hook than to hear one.

9. And Your Bird Can Sing

Though it sounds perfectly happy, this song is actually a fairly harsh indictment of someone who has seen everything and experienced everything else, yet lacks basic human empathy. We all have that friend (or friends) that is constantly travelling, constantly in motion, and constantly annoying about it on Facebook. Hey, we’d all love to go to Iceland for three months, but my day job probably wouldn’t “save a seat for me,” so to speak.

Not everyone who travels is empty inside, but there is that very specific kind of person who tries to fill an emotional void with awesome experiences. They return from their expensive and immersive trips with a moleskin notebook packed with stories, but still have zero understanding of the human condition and how to maintain productive relationships. Obviously, I’m thinking of someone very specific here, but you probably know someone like this, too. It’s the sort of real-life archetype that manifests itself ad infinitum.

10. For No One

Remember when I was talking about Paul McCartney as the good-natured pop machine? Well, he’s got another side to him. As seen on “Eleanor Rigby” and this track, Paul is one of the absolute sad-story-song masters (See also “She’s Leaving Home”). Reportedly about the breakup of McCartney and Jane Asher, this song is absolutely fucking brutal.

“And in her eyes you see nothing/no sign of love behind the tears/cried for no one/a love that should have lasted years.”

Holy shit, that’s dark. Yet, the song is catchy and has a bitchin’ French horn solo. It should also be noted that the bulk of the instruments on this track were played by McCartney and Starr. Harrison and Lennon allegedly recorded guitar parts but McCartney scrapped them, in a chilling portent of things to come!

11. Dr. Robert

Who doesn’t love a motivated, enthusiastic drug dealer? This one seems to be operating in the guise of a medical professional, but what do you call someone who prescribes amphetamine injections to his patients? Things were probably different in the 60’s but speed is speed, right? Anyway, this song is allegedly about an NYC physician with unorthodox methods (read: fun drugs) of treatment. Though the lyrics are some good old fashioned John Lennon irreverence, I don’t think the tune is anything special. Thematically, the song is important in that it allows Lennon to explore more socially-conscious themes (something beyond “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), but if we’re being honest, this is nobody’s favorite Beatles song.

Note: If “Dr. Robert” is your favorite Beatles song, then please contact me. I wish to know your entire story.

12. I Want to Tell You

Harrison’s perfectly pleasant ode to being inarticulate doesn’t really pack the same lyrical punch as “Taxman,” though I actually like this song better. While Lennon and McCartney were making great songwriting strides, Harrison was always just a few years behind them. Consequently, he didn’t really come into his own until 1968’s The Beatles double album, but it’s fascinating to listen to him figure things out. In time, he would blossom into a songwriter every bit as powerful as his bandmates.

13. Got to Get You Into My Life

This song is so obviously about marijuana that it’s barely even funny. In fact, “Got to Get You Into My Life” is a great entry in the “drug songs that sound like love songs” canon. Obviously, this genre would reach its apex in 1971 with Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.”

I like pot, but I don’t really like this song very much. It’s aggressively fine.

14. Tomorrow Never Knows

Speaking of drug songs, this is pretty much the Alpha and Omega. There’s a lot going on here, what with the reversed guitars, tape loops (about 20 years before “sampling” became the foundation of hip-hop) and heavily processed audio. It’s pretty easy to forget that this entire song is based around a single chord (C). “Tomorrow Never Knows” utterly dispensed with pop tropes, taking its structure from traditional Indian music. The result is a recording which seems to simultaneously nod toward the past and the future. The sheer creativity and excitement of “Tomorrow” more than compensates for the less-than-great moments on this record. The answer to the question “What did the Beatles ever do that was so goddamn important?” begins right here.

Hey, hope you enjoyed this exhaustive bullshit! Let me know your thoughts on the various songs on this record. See you next time, when we discuss Limp Bizkit’s “Three Dollar Bill Y’all.”

Wait, we’re going to do the opposite of that.

 

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