I’m incredibly irritated that I lost my post on Revolver yesterday, but it’s a new day and I’m in the mood to try to recapture some of what I wrote yesterday about this very important Beatles album.
So first, as I heard on NPR yesterday, this album was released after a 3 month hiatus in Beatles work. It was really the first break they’d had since Beatlemania began, and it was when they started exploring Indian mysticism and, of course, drugs. So they had a chance to develop something a little different.
You start to hear them exploring new sounds. Paul, for instance, starts looking at different orchestration, stepping away from the ‘guitar band’ sound. So, on this album, you have ‘Elanor Rigby’, Paul with string quartet, ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’, Paul with horns, and ‘For No One’, Paul with french horn.
George also starts to find a new voice. The album starts with his ‘Taxman’ which is the first song I can think of which really starts to sound like George Harrison as apposed to Paul & John. And then later in the album there’s ‘Love You To’ which is the first time we hear him incorporating traditional Indian sounds into his music. We hear the great Ravi Shankar (I think – someone correct me if I’m wrong) playing the sitar! George will go on to learn the sitar himself and continue to incorporate it into his music.
We also start to hear some of the really silly stuff that they occasionally loved to do. Ringo gets his moment in the sun in ‘Yellow Submarine’, and really sounds pretty good!
And then of course there’s John. This is the album where he really starts to become John Lennon. We hear him really going off in new directions. It starts with ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ where we hear the backwards guitar solos, and then ends with that ‘great homage to the C-major chord’ (I don’t remember where I heard that one!) ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. This is a pretty radical tune compared to what was going around them at the time. It incorporates a bunch of strange electronic noises, backwards guitar playing, and just doesn’t really go anywhere harmonically! I remember that when I first heard the album I just couldn’t listen to it because it was just so whacked-out!
Even on relatively tame tracks like ‘She Said’ he’s starting to experiment with things like changing meters and asymmetric phrases.
The point is, this album is the bridge between the ‘Beatlemania’ Beatles of the early sixties and Beatles of the late ’60s where they start to really change music. It’s a run up to ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and ‘The White Album’, and ‘Abbey Road’, and if you don’t know it, you should because it really is one of the great rock albums of history, and one of the most important. You’ll hear a lot of other bands influenced by the sounds on this album.
And there are a lot of other just plain fun tracks on this album. I love ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ and ‘Doctor Robert’. They have tightly voiced harmonies and the band just sounds great on them. (I’m not sure, but I think these tracks aren’t on the original American release of the album, but were on the British release. They are both on the CD.)
On a personal note, I have to admit that the music of the Beatles is the only Rock music I can claim to know very well but it holds a very important role for my own musical development. I must have been 12 or 13 when I discovered my brother’s Beatles albums and started listening to them. Of course I liked the early stuff more at first, but the more I listened the more I came to love the later stuff. And that made me start to explore the other albums on the shelves, and it’s then that I started to discover some of the ‘classica’ music albums that my parents listened to. And from there I never looked back. These days, I can’t tell you much about the ‘Stones’ or anything that came after, but I can hold my own about Mahler and Bach!
The point to all this is that this is one of the great albums. If you don’t own it, you should.