I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there...
George Harrison's snarling takedown of the "Taxman" opened The Beatles' Revolver with a powerful sting. The so-called Quiet Beatle took on the first-person role with the relish of (and a musical nod to) a Batman villain. Though 1965's folk-rock-influenced Rubber Soul had seen the Fab Four's songwriting grow by leaps and bounds, Revolver matched the songwriting strides with revelatory studio processes including ADT (Artificial Double Tracking), tape loops, close miking, varispeed and reversed tapes, and non-traditional instrumentation including sitar, tamboura, tabla, harmonium, clavichord, and one song in which a lone Beatle was accompanied solely by a string octet. The album proved hugely influential as it broadened the definition of pop to encompass electronica, world music, and beyond. Now, Revolver is the latest entry in Apple Corps' ongoing series of deluxe expanded editions, following last year's Let It Be set. The centerpiece of the reissue campaign is the 5CD box which premieres Giles Martin and Sam Okell's new stereo mix of the original album as well as two discs of session material alongside the original mono album master and an EP.
Revolver was the product of the many influences The Beatles had soaked up in their desire to create something new, from Indian music to Pet Sounds to psychedelics. The accompanying 100-page hardcover tome quotes Paul speaking with NME in June 1966 about "Tomorrow Never Knows," which was largely recorded during the first two days of sessions: "We did it because I, for one, am sick of doing sounds that people can claim to have heard before." It turned out to be the final song on Revolver and a definitive statement that The Beatles were always looking forward.
As sessions commenced, roughly five months had passed since the group finished Rubber Soul; though today that seems like the blink of an eye, it was a near-eternity for pop stars in the mid-'60s. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, who had previously worked Beatles sessions as a tape operator, were ready to bring the band's newest set of songs to vivid and often startlingly unusual sonic life. Their work is more remarkable considering that Revolver was recorded on four-track tape. (Today, the number of tracks available to a recording artist is infinite.) One song on each of the Fabs' last two albums had required "bouncing down" (the process in which several tracks from a take on one tape are combined while recording to tracks on a second tape, therefore freeing up space to do overdubs). This process was used for ten of the fourteen ambitious songs on Revolver.
That a new mix exists at all is a testament to contemporary technology; in his introduction, Giles Martin describes the task of "de-mixing" the original tapes to isolate the individual elements. Despite that herculean effort, Martin admits "there's nothing too extreme" in his and Okell's stereo remix. Instead, it brings newfound clarity and punch to what was already on the tapes and familiar to longtime listeners, whether McCartney's prominent bass on "Taxman," the shimmering harmonies on "Here, There, and Everywhere," the whimsical sound effects on "Yellow Submarine," the handclaps on "Good Day Sunshine," or Alan Civil's mournful French horn on "For No One." (In the case of "Yellow Submarine," Martin and Okell modeled their remix on the mono master, with its added opening guitar strum and John's "a life of ease" included.) Some of the fades have been slightly extended, as well. Everything sparkles on this iteration of Revolver, particularly the vocals and Ringo's drums, while remaining largely faithful to the elder Martin's 1966 blueprint. The stereo remix has been mastered by Miles Showell. The original mono mix is heard on its own disc in Thomas Hall's crisp remaster.
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...
As with past boxes in this series, the session material makes for exciting listening. Though a number of the alternate versions have been heard on Anthology and via bootlegs, there's much that's new (and in greatly improved fidelity) in these 2022 Giles Martin mixes. Every song on Revolver other than "Good Day Sunshine" is represented on the Sessions discs which are arranged in chronological order of recording.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is heard both in its dense, murky first take (extended from its Anthology 2 appearance) and in the mono mix RM11. The latter was featured on the quickly-withdrawn first pressing of Revolver before George Martin felt RM8 was the stronger mix; RM8 found its way to every subsequent pressing but RM11 is a fun alternative with its sound effects placed differently than on the final mix. The development of the brass-heavy "Got to Get You Into My Life" is one of the strongest sequences on Sessions, beginning with Take 5 of the first version. The loose Take 5 has lead singer Paul on a carnival-esque organ, George on acoustic guitar, Ringo hitting the hi-hat, and John and George offering harmony vocals; the composition is very much intact but the arrangement barely resembles that of the finished version. The unnumbered mix of the second version finds major strides made; George kicks off the song with his fuzz guitar in familiar fashion and then creates the parts that would eventually be taken by a five-piece horn section. This take is much more aggressive than its predecessor, with Ringo locked into an urgent groove and Paul nailing the vocal. Finally, Take 8 of the second version is an instrumental mix emphasizing the powerful brass (three trumpets and two tenor saxophones) that became the song's calling card.
Another three takes illuminate Harrison's Ravi Shankar-inspired "Love You To" including the spare voice-and-guitar Take 1 (when the song was still being referred to as "Granny Smith," after Emerick's favorite kind of apple) with Paul harmonizing to George's lead; a fragment of Paul and George rehearsing the tamboura and sitar, respectively; and a reduction mix of Take 7 which finds all of the pieces coming together including Anil Bhagwat's powerful tabla, Ringo's tambourine, additional guitar from George, and Paul's harmony vocal (faded out for the final mixes). Harrison's driving "I Want to Tell You" is sampled in very brief instrumental form with studio chatter. Though the Sessions discs don't offer every take of every song, the selections present a true progression and spotlight individual elements, adding a new dimension to an album we all thought we knew.
The Beatles introduced many memorable characters on Revolver. The paean to drug-dispensing "Doctor Robert" was one of the more straightforward productions on the album, but the extended version here (Take 7) features a third middle-eight that was excised from the final release. The vitriolic "Taxman" is heard (Take 11) with overdubs that, too, were subsequently cut from the master. These include busy, frenetic falsetto vocals from John and Paul. On both "Doctor Robert" and "Taxman," The Beatles and George Martin were unafraid to experiment but equally unafraid to pare back when a part wasn't necessary or impacted the song's overall economy and power.
But the most famous character to emerge from Revolver is undoubtedly "Eleanor Rigby." The composition was musically and lyrically adventurous: empathetic and enigmatic, haunting and poetic. George Martin scored Bernard Herrmann-esque parts for four violins, two violas, and two cellos as the sole accompaniment for Paul's lead vocal. (John and George supplied the harmonies.) It was the first Beatles record with no instrumental participate on from any of the foursome, stark in its beauty and drama. Take 2 is preceded here by the fascinating dialogue between conductor Martin, McCartney, and the musicians as they determine whether or not to use vibrato.
Paul's maturity as a songwriter was equally in evidence elsewhere. The affecting "For No One," a melancholy slice of life, shared the stately classical air of "Eleanor" thanks to Alan Civil's French horn and Paul's use of the clavichord. It's presented in instrumental form with some lovely banter between Paul and Ringo. "Here, There, and Everywhere" - often cited as McCartney's favorite of his own songs - was his answer to Brian Wilson's ravishing Pet Sounds: a richly melodic instant standard soon adopted by Andy Williams, Cilla Black, Matt Monro, and countless others. Only two completed takes of "Here, There, and Everywhere" were recorded. This is the earlier one (Take 6), pre-overdubs and sans its trademark harmonies. Its intimate, homespun, and lo-fi feel anticipates Macca's earliest solo work.
Like "Got to Get You Into My Life," the arrangement of the jangly "And Your Bird Can Sing" changed considerably during the recording process as chronicled in three distinctive versions here. Take 2 of its first version is in a lower key than the final take; this mix is derived from three tracks of a tape. The fourth track of that tape found John and Paul unable to contain their laughter; though their breakup was originally issued on Anthology 2, the new mix here removes the original vocals from that track to emphasize their fit of the giggles. The third "Bird" (Version 2, Take 5) was once considered as a potential master. It's heavier and not as lyrical than the final version with Ringo pounding the drums hard and a less confident vocal from John. Keys and tempos were also in play as the group tackled the hypnotic "I'm Only Sleeping" over various dates in late April-early May 1966. Best of the four attempts here (including a rehearsal fragment) is the full uptempo version played by the Fabs with the knowledge that it would be slowed down for the final album. An alternate mono mix (RM1) of the final version features the innovative backwards guitar parts faded up and down at different points.
The work tape of John quietly strumming his guitar while singing a rather sad set of lyrics ("In the place where I was born, no one cared/No one cared...") as he composes the familiar melody to "Yellow Submarine" is spine-tingling. The song's development is further traced via the work tape in which the eventual lyric takes shape (with some priceless discussion between Lennon and McCartney, both of whom brought their own song fragments to create the final song) as well as in the jaunty, sped-up Take 4 and a 2022 mix with John's spoken intro (first heard on the Real Love single) and the inventive sound effects brought to the fore. Sessions came to a close with "She Said, She Said" which was recorded in just one session (June 21, 1966). John's original demo is joined by a rehearsal take of the instrumental track.
That's not all, though. The non-LP single of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" - released months prior to Revolver, and a chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic - is also represented here. In addition to the original mono and new stereo mixes on the CD EP, both songs are featured on the Sessions discs. The ferocious backing track to "Paperback Writer" gets an airing, and Take 5 of "Rain" is heard twice: once at its originally-recorded speed (instrumental) and once in slowed-down form (vocal). Ringo's bravura drumming, so often cited as his finest ever, shines even more brightly on the faster instrumental mix; the vocal take was an experiment on John's part before numerous overdubs were made including John, Paul, and George's harmonies.
Please don't wake me...
The Revolver box emphasizes quality over quantity, with the previously unreleased studio material clocking in at a bit over 81 minutes (or a little longer than one standard CD). In contrast, Abbey Road offered two hours' worth of outtakes; The Beatles, a.k.a. The White Album, offered roughly two-and-a-half hours of session material plus the Esher demos; and Sgt. Pepper's had over 90 minutes' worth. Let It Be had over 70 minutes plus the Glyn Johns album assembly. Yet despite its relatively short running time, the Revolver Sessions material proves to be the strongest set of outtakes on any of these recent collections: consistently fascinating and truly revealing. (But couldn't we at least have gotten an instrumental mix of "Good Day Sunshine," at the very least?)
The most controversial aspect of this package is the lack of a surround mix on a physical disc. Disappointingly, the new Dolby Atmos mix is only available digitally; relegating it to such "second-class citizen" status seems a puzzling choice for such an otherwise-impressive package.
Revolver is housed in an LP-sized slipcase. A folder modeled after Klaus Voormann's famous original album artwork contains the five CDs, each of which is in a custom sleeve. The CD labels beautifully replicate the Parlophone style. Typical for this series, the 100-page hardcover book is worth the price of admission. Paul McCartney and Giles Martin have penned a foreword and an introduction, respectively, and Questlove has written about how the music affected his own life as well as the broader culture of rhythm and blues and hip-hop. Kevin Howlett has done the heavy lifting, however, with his compelling essay and tech-heavy track-by-track liner notes. Along the way, there are dozens of photos, and tape box scans and handwritten lyrics for each tune. One chapter is dedicated to Voormann's indelible cover image; the story of its creation is told through his perspective in comic book format (extracted from his graphic novel birth of an icon: REVOLVER). The text closes with a section on the album's reception, and detailed credits are also provided.
It's difficult to overstate the impact of Revolver on popular music, and this set pays vivid tribute to its legacy - not as a relic of the past, though, but as powerfully relevant and impactful here, there, and everywhere.
Revolver is available in a variety of formats:
5CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
4LP + 7": Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
1CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
1LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Official Store (Picture Disc)