Is Revolver the greatest of all Beatles albums?
Every time I am asked to write about new Beatles remixes, I’m confronted with the enormous task of listening to the entire package which, in their expanded versions, is an awful lot of material. In the case of the Revolver: Special Edition, the Super Deluxe version, there are five disks containing 63 tracks and a 100-page hardbound book in a slip case. The Super Deluxe vinyl version has four LPs and a 7-inch EP with the aforementioned book.
There are other options for the less well-heeled or insanely interested: A deluxe 2-CD Digipak with a 40-page booklet, a single-CD, a 1-LP vinyl issue, or a 1-LP vinyl record with a turntable mat with the Revolver cover artwork. You can also get it as a digital download.
Did you really expect anything less?
As for my job to review all of this, I have to deal with all the emotional issues that come with it.
Each new expanded track version and all of the associated bonus written material creates a dilemma. You see, I can’t just report this stuff. I lived this music and this forces me to confront my past in regards to where I was when first exposed and what it meant to me at time.
How could it not?
I am reviewing a holy grail of pop culture.
It’s not just the music. It’s the foundation of all that came after.
Rubber Soul may represent the base camp of the acceptance of the Beatles as the greatest band to have ever existed but Revolver is where the band put on parachutes and jumped out of the plane!
I know that Rubber Soul (an album that I’m sure will be the next in line for a remix) certainly was an astonishing piece of work, but Revolver…well…read on.
It has become very fashionable over the last several years for music critics and committed Beatles fans to place Revolver ahead of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the greatest of all Beatles albums. Furthermore, this new remix of Revolver has me reflecting on my own experience of hearing Revolver and Sgt. Pepper for the first time.
I was 14 when Revolver was released in August of 1966 and still 14 when Sgt. Pepper was released in May of 1967.
I clearly remember buying Revolver, going home, and listening to it on my $40 mono Westinghouse one-box record player/speaker system.
While I really loved the songs, I can’t recall my friends calling me up to discuss its “mind blowing” contents.
Yes, there were songs with violins and cellos, tambouras, sitars, French horns and backwards drums and guitars and eerie vocals, but strangely, it all seemed kind of normal because this was the Beatles after all, But in retrospect, clearly, none of this was “normal.”
The double-sided single “Paperback Writer/Rain” had come out a couple of months before the release of Revolver and that began the Beatles’ artistic sea change. This actually was the dividing line for me for when the Beatles changed from a pop band to a rock band.
Rock was in its infancy but the Beatles were dragging us along. “Rain” sounded really weird at first while “Paperback Writer” was still a pop song. I bring this up because Giles Martin had to know full well that those sessions, recorded smack in the middle of the Revolver sessions, had to be included in this expanded Revolver package. [My interview with Giles Martin will appear in the next issue of Copper.
Remember as well that “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were supposed to be on the Sgt. Pepper album.
The Beatles, George Martin, and Brian Epstein also knew something was going on. Just look at what happened in the 12 months from April 1966 to April 1967: two incredible era-defining albums (Revolver and Sgt. Pepper) and two groundbreaking singles (“Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever”).
Whew…the mind boggles. But I digress.
The Beatles were still touring during the Rubber Soul period.
That ended in August of 1966 with their last live show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Afterward, unencumbered by the distractions of touring, the band could turn their full attention to the follow up to Rubber Soul.
The band entered Studio Three at EMI Recording Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) on April 6, 1966 and laid down the music for their most experimental track to date: “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
What an opening statement of intent! (Although it was the first song to be recorded for Revolver, it actually closes the album.) This was about as far away from moptop pop as one could get. It was so far out that I believe the band left it for the last track rather than shock their fans with it as the opening song. And, as the album closer, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a perfect lead-in to what we could expect from Sgt. Pepper.
It was a completely non-hook-driven drone sung by John, whose vocals were processed through a rotating Leslie speaker. Ringo’s powerful incendiary drum loop pattern, George’s backwards guitar solo and tambora, and John’s totally out there lyrics seem to be setting up the following 1967 Summer of Love.
Paul McCartney told the NME (New Musical Express) in an interview at the time: “We did it because I, for one, am sick of doing sounds that people can claim had been heard before.”
The very next day, on April 7th, they wrapped up the “Tomorrow Never Knows” sessions and began recording “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
To be a fly on the wall!
It now appears as if an artistic tsunami had been unleashed.
I now can process “Tomorrow Never Knows” and its ultimate status.
Upon spending so much time on re-listening to all the new remixes and bonus material (which includes early demos and slowly-developed recordings of many of the tracks – you can hear the evolution of the material as the Beatles refined it) I can say that this is one amazing package to behold.
However, as much as Revolver is absolutely groundbreaking and showed the way forward, Sgt. Pepper set the world of rock on fire and that can never be disputed. Friends of mine gathered around their newly-bought stereos just to experience the aural soundscape of Sgt. Pepper. No matter what could be written about Revolver, the zeitgeist of the 1967 Summer of Love and the almost concurrent releases of debut albums by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and the constant media coverage of LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary and the (soon to be Beatles spiritual leader) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought forth historical events that shaped the entire youth culture of the world.
It is now, upon reflection nearly 56 years later, that I can deal with the question of where Revolver sits in considering which are the “best Beatles albums.”
It is impossible to contextualize the experience of listening to the new Revolver remixes without understanding the thought process that began with the Giles Martin music remixes for the Cirque Du Soleil-produced Beatles Love show in Las Vegas, and continuing through the recent remixes The Beatles (aka the “White Album”), Abbey Road and Let it Be.
Of course, it all begins with the music, but the historical add-ons (be they alternate takes, early demos, and of course endless writing and analysis) are all monumental commercial creations and the elaborate packaging of these remix sets has grown ever more so with each project, with ever more extravagance. All of this creates “must haves” for completist Beatles fans, of which there remain millions worldwide.
If the market wasn’t there, trust me, none of these projects would continue. This is not to say that these remixes are not worthwhile, because they are for many reasons, but let us acknowledge that history will show (we are now entering the seventh decade of Beatlemania) that the Beatles will become the “classical music” of the 20th century.
The actual business of remixing Revolver could not have been done at this level of specificity even five years ago.
This is a purely technical issue.
Sgt. Pepper has been credited as the first four-track recording the Beatles made, and the ability to separate the tracks for the purpose of digitizing and remixing was fairly straightforward. Moving up to the “White Album” and beyond there were eight tracks to work with.
Revolver, however, also used multiple tracks: all the instruments on one track, extra guitars on a second track, and all the vocals on a third track – and as much as the wording “remixing” is thrown around, there is actually a process of de-mixing – pulling all the sounds out of each recording one by one – that allows the remixing to happen.
With the remixes of Revolver, we are, for the first time, going backwards in terms of the band’s and George Martin’s recording technology (compared to the remixes of The Beatles, Abbey Road and Let it Be). This, however, did not become a problem, as the newly-available de-mixing technology allowed Giles to actually isolate not only every instrument, but almost every piece of what was then primitive backwards tape mixing and tape speed manipulation.
To hear the ultimate expression of the way the new remixes sound, I was able to listen to the album in Dolby Atmos at a listening session for journalists in a Manhattan studio. This surround-sound presentation is, under ideal circumstances, a revelation. I wondered, as I was listening, how the new remixes would fare in a normal stereo configuration. I was sent all the new mixes for listening on my home computer audio system, which is pretty sophisticated.
As I didn’t get the actual CDs or vinyl, I can’t comment on how they will sound on my reference audio system, but all things being equal, all the comparisons were done through my reference computer system, whose resolution is way above most users’.
Instruments (and vocals) that you didn’t know were there are now easy to pick out, and the surround mix is outstanding.
I got what I expected to hear and then some.
As an American who grew up with the US Capitol Records version of Revolver, the US track listing was different than the original UK release. The US version had three fewer songs: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Doctor Robert. These the were held back for a different US release, Yesterday and Today.
Over the last 20 years or so, All the US Beatles releases have been reissued with the correct (UK) track listings. Revolver was, famously, the last of the US-released “butchered” Beatles albums.
Here is the 5-disc Super Deluxe package line-up:
CD 1: the 14 tracks of the original UK release, all in newly remixed stereo:
The vocals are clearer, as are many of the instruments. They do sound great, but it takes some getting used to because of how our brains are wired to remember things as they were.
CD 2 (14 tracks):
“Tomorrow Never Knows” (two versions)
“Got To Get You Into My Life” (three versions)
“Love to You” (three versions)
“Paperback Writer” (one version)
“Rain” (two versions) – these are actually mind-blowing as they let you hear the original-speed recording, and then how the track was slowed down for the final master that we all know.
“Doctor Robert” (one take)
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (two versions)
CD 3 (17 tracks):
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (second, version Take 5)
“Taxman” (Take 11)
“I’m Only Sleeping” (three versions)
“Eleanor Rigby” (two versions)
“For No One” (one version)
“Yellow Submarine” (four versions) – the development of this song from acoustic demo to finished product is astounding.
“Here, There and Everywhere” (Take 6)
“She Said, She Said” (John’s demo)
“She Said, She Said” (Take 15)
CD 4: the mono remastered version of Revolver:
CD 5: the Revolver EP
“Paperback Writer” (new stereo mix)
“Rain” (new stereo mix)
“Paperback Writer” (original mono mix remastered)
“Rain” (original mono mix remastered)
For me, I have come to the conclusion that “And Your Bird Can Sing” is one of the greatest pure guitars-and-vocal tracks Lennon (as lead vocalist) and the band ever recorded.
The laughing between the band members on many of the alternate/outtakes will bring a smile (or tear) to your face.
Now that I have had the immense pleasure to delve into the heart of these tracks I have changed my view of the importance of Revolver. Put simply, Sgt. Pepper could never have happened without Revolver leading the way. Now that the band were free from the rigors of touring, their astonishing creativity finally could be revealed in ever-more-astonishing ways.
Many of you probably don’t have the ability to hear the Dolby Atmos mixes, but they take the album to an even higher level.
I can hear some say that all of these elaborate remix packages including Revolver are just a cash grab.
To those people I will say, “then don’t buy it.”
I for one continue to be astonished at what the Beatles, Apple Corps and Universal Music Group (in association with Giles Martin) continue to produce as it extends the interest and shelf life of some of the greatest pop music ever created.
Next issue: I interview Giles Martin about Revolver.
This article originally appeared in Goldmine magazine and is used here with permission, slightly edited from the original.
Header image: The Beatles, Revolver LP cover. © Apple Corps Ltd.
16 comments on “Revolver Returns: Remixed and Reloaded, Part One”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Nice, JJ. What a great piece of writing and memories. Thank you.
Thank you Paul. I also want to thank the Copper editor Frank Doris, who does an amazing job of making my writing better, asking all the right questions for clarification and for providing all the extra photos and videos.
I truly can’t imagine how he does this week in and week out because of all the amazing content in this ‘magazine’. On a side note, writing this piece made me think of my old Westinghouse record player and how happy I was when my parents bought it for me. I remember loading about a half dozen of my 45’s onto the huge black cylinder and listening to each and looking in wonderment as every one of them dropped onto the platter, one after one. That was the beginning of this hobby we all share and the Beatles are inexorably connected to that experience. Look how far this hobby of ours has come
Yes, Frank is a force of nature. How he does this—putting out a world class magazine every two weeks—is stunning to me.
And for those who don’t know you so well let me add that old Westinghouse record player your folks bought for you set you a-sail on an incredible musical journey.
For those readers that do not know Jay Jay, you might take an hour or so and watch https://www.amazon.com/Are-Twisted-Sister-Jay-French/dp/B01BPMGMBC a wonderful documentary on Jay Jay and friends.
Jay Jay was at the forefront of a musical revolution. The last time I saw this film I believe it was on Netflix but now it seems Amazon has picked it up.
Thanks for the kind words, Paul
Maybe I’ll change the name of my column in the future to:
TS Audio! 🙂
JJ, Excellent article and review of one of the greatest LPs of all space & time! I couldn’t agree more about how revolutionary this LP actually was. I confess when the word was that the LPs were going to be remastered and remixed yet again…. & by the son (Giles Martin) of George Martin; I was leary to say the least.
I’m glad to say my apprehension was for nothing, what an amazing job deconstructing and reconstructing these songs. They have never sounded better, not to mention all the Bonus material for all us insanely interested people. Can’t wait for your interview with Giles & hearing about the nuts and bolts of deconstructing & reconstructing this LP.
My fellow Beatlemaniacs and I were just about to start high school when Revolver was released, and it blew our young minds. Up until then we had already been enraptured with their music for several years. After an initial period of disdain and resistance by our parents for this moptop revolution, even they were won over by the sheer forces of talent and musicality they presented. I agree with Mr. French’s take on the historical impact of Revolver and the Beatles’ music and the cultural shift they fomented. Their impact can not be minimized or doubted. The Beatles changed the world. Great article, Jay Jay.
I agree with the other comments – another great article on Copper. I bought the high-res download of Revolver as soon as it was available. No question that there was a big improvement in sound. One thing, however, that I found strange: on Eleanor Rigby, in particular, I could clearly hear that the vocals and the instruments were recorded separately. Maybe that’s just a reflection of the overall improvement in sound quality.
what is up with the Mono mix? – seems lifeless
Rain at original speed is a revelation
listen to She Said instruments only – then listen to Giles’ remix of the song…what happened to the drums?
The mono LP of Revolver included in the new vinyl box set has not been touched since the remastered versions were completed several years ago for the “Beatles in Mono” box set
It is from that project and It was added as a bonus disc for comparison but stands alone in that it wasn’t “remixed” for this box set.
Once again, many thanks to Frank and PS Audio for bringing Jay Jay’s excellent review to print in Cooper. I have read several articles on the new reissue but this one was the best by far. I was lucky enough to see the Beatles twice as a preteen. I still have indelible memories all these years later. Being from Chicago area my record player was a Zenith not a Westinghouse. Can’t wait for the next month and Jay Jay’s interview with Giles!
What breaks my heart is my hearing loss -from birth defects that gradually worsened-forces me to rely on memory so not sure I can ascertain whether new mixes do anything for me but I will say “Revolver” is the best Beatles album.I remember a department store in California decorated like a birthday party for the release of “Sgt. Peppers” which is symbolic for I feel it’s the most hyped Beatles album often topping lists (like Rolling Stones’) best all of all times because it was “first concept album”.But I don’t buy it -that notion -although of course I bought whatever version it has been available in.My response to the marching band suits as a 9 year old was pretty accurate I feel.” Drugs! “Not all effects of LSD were beneficial.Still love the band (of course!) and was so thrilled that Peter Jackson gave us more “Let It Be” footage.Thanks for your article, Mr. French!
JJ, from my first hearing “Revolver” has been a favorite album, so thanks for this detailed review.
However I must question your statement, “Rock was in its infancy but the Beatles were dragging us along.”
I believe there has been much debate over when rock (and roll) was born. Some attribute that to recordings by R&B artists like Amos Milburn or Bull Moose Jackson. But those didn’t penetrate the pop charts. More likely it was later, at least 1954 when a number of R&B performances were listed on the pop charts. But most likely the conception can be attributed to Bill Haley & the Comets who recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in April that year. The birth likely happened then in 1955 when it topped the pop music charts, the first R&R song to do so. Rock had arrived.
That would mean that rock was 11 when the Beatles released “Revolver”, so perhaps better described as reaching adolescence by that time. ;^)
Rock was not rock n roll. Rock is a different animal. Of course r&r began as early as 1951 with Ike Turners Rocket 88 although some say that Sonny Tll & the Orioles were the first. That’s just an historical marker. The big difference was the demarcation between ‘singles’ and ‘albums’ This is a subjective observation by me. The Dave Clark 5 was a rock n roll/ pop band that never converted. The Beatles were a rock n roll band that morphed into a pop band that morphed into a rock band
They dragged us all along for the ride.
Thanks JJ, I don’t remember ever seeing rock differentiated from rock and roll by albums VS singles.
I became a teen ager during the mid-50s when R&R was established, whichever particular year that happened. I never thought to separate R&R from rock, I just assumed like many names it became popular to go with the shorter version. Your involvement in the music industry likely provided insights some of us may not have had.
But this makes me wonder about most of the artists/groups introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Is that now a misnomer?
There is no hard and fast rule concerning the differentiation between Rock n Roll and Rock vis a vis singles vs.albums but It is generally accepted however that the dividing line between a singles based music approach vs. an album based approach happened to occur at this juncture.
For example Chuck Berry is Rock n Roll. Pink Floyd is rock. Etc. The Beatles and Beach Boys were rock n roll and evolved into rock artists. The Doors are rock not r&r. Led Zep are rock not r&r.
It is correct to call the Rock n Roll HoF by its name as Rock n Roll is the overarching sensibility
Rock n roll begat folk rock, acid rock, Latin rock, blues rock, country rock, jazz rock punk rock, Prog rock, alt rock, stoner rock, Classic rock, as well as many more tributaries covering broad swaths of R&B, soul, rap, hip hop, jazz, metal,
Great effort and writing, as always, Mr. French.
I appreciate how hard it is to generate cogent, thoughtful and informative prose and you manage to do so consistently.