The Beatles – Revolver – 8/5/1966

Even though the Beatles became the most popular band in the world once they cleaned themselves up and started doing sappy love songs, it wasn’t until later that they became great. Around 1967 they shocked the world with their daring (and out-of-left-field) originality by having one of the most famous identity crises of all time. With the release of Revolver, they were right on the cusp.

“One, two, three, four:” a standard opening for a song, especially for Paul McCartney, who had done that on many Beatles recordings previously. But this time, there was a strange tape loop in the background, and the voice counting sounded like it had emphysema, or like an alien. Then, the harsh, stabbing guitar licks that open “Taxman.” To a listener in 1966, this must have been a naturally uncomfortable moment. He must have thought, “Wait a sec. What happened to ‘baby you can drive my car?’ Where did this ‘one for you, nineteen for me’ stuff come from?” Instead of sweet but rocking love songs, we get George Harrison being angry that he’s paying about 95% of his earnings in taxes. I can see people being very confused.

Then “Eleanor Rigby,” and the confusion increases tenfold. Completely orchestral music, and lyrics about an insane dead woman and the minister who was the sole attendant to her funeral; grim stuff.  More than that, “Eleanor Rigby” was unlike any pop song released as a single that had ever come out. It didn’t actually feature any of the Beatles on instruments; only Paul singing lead, John and George singing some harmonies, and an orchestra performing all the instrumentation. Clearly, there’s no sign of the Beatles as listeners knew them.

“I’m Only Sleeping” is at least a slight return to Beatles normalcy, with an at once bouncy and laconic rhythm, and lyrics about laziness. But with “Love You To,” we’re right back where we started in a song driven by a sitar, of all things. What the hell happened? There’s no squishy love, no simple romanticism, no “’Til There Was You”-esque moments at all.

None of this was on my mind the first time I listened to Revolver. In fact, when I first checked the Beatles out in college, I didn’t even bother with anything pre-Sgt. Pepper. I missed out on some real revelation, since familiarizing myself with their bubble-gum catalog would have given me a deeper appreciation for the turn they took in 1966. Besides that, I would have actually known that they took that turn in ’66, not ’67. It’s only a difference of ten months, but it’s significant.

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