Revolver was The Beatles' seventh album in three years, released on August 5, 1966. The album showcased a number of new stylistic developments which would become more pronounced on later albums. It reached #1 on both the UK and US charts.
Revolver is often cited as one of the greatest albums in pop music history. In 1997 it was named the 3rd greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 2, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 1 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001 the TV network VH1 named it the number 1 greatest album of all time, a position it also achieved in the Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums . A PopMatters review described the album as "the individual members of the greatest band in the history of pop music peaking at the exact same time" , while Ink Blot magazine claims it "stands at the summit of western pop music" . Hard rock legend Ozzy Osbourne has declared Revolver to be his favourite British album of all time in interviews. In 2002, the readers of Rolling Stone ranked the album the greatest of all time . In 2003, the album was ranked number 3 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The original US LP release of Revolver marked the last time Capitol would alter an "established" UK Beatles album for the US market. As three of its tracks: "I'm Only Sleeping", "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Doctor Robert" (all primarily John Lennon compositions) had been used for the earlier Yesterday . . . and Today compilation, they were simply deleted in the American version, yielding an 11 track album instead of the UK's 14 and shortening the time to 28:20. The CD era standardises this album to the original UK configuration.
One of Paul McCartney's more notable songs from this album is "Eleanor Rigby," which was released as a single (as a double A-side with "Yellow Submarine") concurrently with the album. This song contains McCartney's lyrical imagery and a string arrangement (scored by George Martin under McCartney's direction), which was inspired by the Bernard Herrmann score for François Truffaut's film Fahrenheit 451. The strings are recorded rather dry and compressed, giving a stark, urgent sound. Ringo Starr has confirmed that he contributed the line "Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear." It was originally written as 'Father McCartney', but this was changed as it was thought that listeners would assume that it referred to Paul's father. This song had a great impact upon release for its stark imagery and serious tone, which contrasted with The Beatles' prior output.
Lennon was the main writer of "I'm Only Sleeping". George Harrison played the notes for the lead guitar (and for the second guitar in the solo) in reverse order, then reversed the tape and mixed it in. The backwards guitar sound builds the sleepy, ominous, and weeping tone of the song. This, along with backwards vocals used on The Beatles song Rain (recorded at the sessions and released separately, as B-side to the "Paperback Writer" single) was the first recorded instance of backmasking, which Lennon discovered after mistakenly loading a reel-to-reel tape backwards under the influence of marijuana.
Another key production technique used for the first time on this album was Automatic double tracking (ADT), invented by engineer Ken Townsend on 6 April 1966. This technique used two linked tape recorders to automatically create a doubled vocal track, replacing the standard method, which was to double the vocal by singing the same piece twice onto a multitrack tape, a task Lennon particularly disliked. The Beatles were reportedly delighted with the invention and used it extensively on Revolver. ADT quickly became a standard pop production technique and led to related developments including phasing, flanging and chorus.
Lennon's other contributions included "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "She Said, She Said", both of which are guitar-laden tracks with swirling melodies.
McCartney's "Got to Get You Into My Life" was a Memphis Soul tribute inspired by Stax Records that used brass instrumentation extensively; although cast in the form of a love song, McCartney has since revealed that the song was actually an ode to marijuana (John Lennon is quoted in Anthology as claiming that the song is about LSD). It was released as a single in 1976, ten years after the album.
McCartney also contributed "For No One" (written for his then-girlfriend Jane Asher), a melancholy song featuring a horn solo played by Alan Civil; "Good Day Sunshine," a cheery mockery of The Lovin' Spoonful, which was quickly covered as a single by The Tremeloes; and the epic "Here, There, and Everywhere," written in the style of The Beach Boys, and a hit in 1976 for Emmylou Harris.
The Beatles' unfolding innovation in the studio reaches its apex with the album's final track. Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" was one of the first songs in the emerging genre of psychedelia, and included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals and looped tape effects. Musically, it is drone-like, with a strongly syncopated, repetitive drum-beat. The lyrics were inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although the title itself came from one of Ringo's inadvertently amusing turns of phrase.
Much of the backing track consists of a series of prepared tape loops, stemming from Lennon and McCartney's interest in and experiments with magnetic tape and musique concrète techniques at that time. According to Beatles session chronicler Mark Lewisohn, Lennon and McCartney prepared a series of loops at home, and these then were added to the pre-recorded backing track. This was reportedly done live in a single take, with multiple tape recorders running simultaneously, and some of the longer loops extended out of the control room and down the corridor.
Lennon's processed lead vocal was another innovation. Always in search of ways to enhance or alter the sound of his voice, he gave a directive to EMI engineer Geoff Emerick that he wanted to sound like he was singing from the top of a high mountain. Emerick solved the problem by splicing a line from the recording console into the studio's Leslie speaker, giving Lennon's vocal its ethereal filtered quality, although he was subsequently reprimanded by the studio management for doing so.
Revolver was also a breakthrough album for George Harrison as a songwriter, and he contributed three songs on Revolver, including the opening track "Taxman" (to which Lennon also contributed, albeit reluctantly). The blistering guitar solo is actually played by McCartney, which delighted Harrison because he looked up to McCartney, making "Taxman" one of relatively few Beatles songs on which Harrison did not play lead guitar. The "Mr. Wilson" and "Mr. Heath" in the lyrics refer to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who were respectively the British Labour Prime Minister and Conservative Leader of the Opposition of the time. This marked the first time that public figures were directly named in a Beatles song. The song refers to the high rates of income tax paid by high earners like The Beatles, which were sometimes as high as 95% of their income. This would lead to many top musicians becoming tax exiles in later years.
Harrison also wrote "I Want to Tell You" about his difficulty expressing himself in words. "Love You To", arguably one of the founding works of the genre which has since come to be known as world music, marked a significant expansion of his burgeoning interest in Indian music and the sitar, which started with "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" on 1965's Rubber Soul. It is known for its haunting musical melody and Harrison 's slight imitation of Indian singing styles, as well as the thoughtful lyrics. Beatles fans also point out the fact that it was the intro to "Love You To" that was playing in the background when George Harrison was first shown in Yellow Submarine, the animated Beatles movie released in 1968.
The lightest track on this album is the childlike "Yellow Submarine." The title is said to have originated from a remark made by Ringo during an LSD trip, although the song's main inspiration can be traced back to one of Lennon's school drawing books from the early 1950s. McCartney designed "Yellow Submarine" as a psychedelic song for Ringo to sing. Without receiving credit, Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan assisted with vocals and with the writing of the song itself, as he had become a close friend of the group. Donovan came up with the line, "Sky of blue, sea of green, in our yellow submarine." Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones may also be heard clinking glasses in the background. Beatles road manager Mal Evans also sang on the track. The Beatles, with the help of their EMI production team, overdubbed stock sound effects they found in the Abbey Road studio tape library. George Martin had collected these for his production of comedy recordings by The Goons.
Lennon said that some of the trippy lyrics of "She Said, She Said" were taken almost verbatim, albeit with minor changes, from an exchange he had with actor Peter Fonda. Lennon, Harrison and Starr were under the influence of LSD at The Beatles' rented house in Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills, California, in August 1965. Fonda stopped by to see his friends, members of The Byrds, and to meet The Beatles. Fonda told Harrison , "I know what it's like to be dead," because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lennon replied: "Who put all that shit in your head?"
McCartney, as stated above, has said that "Got To Get You Into My Life", long presumed to be a love song, was in fact a harmonic ode to marijuana.
The song "Doctor Robert" was likely a parody of a New York physician who supplied drugs to his celebrity patients.
In 1972 (quoted in Anthology), John offers context for the influence of drugs on The Beatles' creativity: "It's like saying, 'Did Dylan Thomas write Under Milk Wood on beer?' What does that have to do with it? The beer is to prevent the rest of the world from crowding in on you. The drugs are to prevent the rest of the world from crowding in on you. They don't make you write any better. I never wrote any better stuff because I was on acid or not on acid."
The cover illustration was created by German-born bassist and artist Klaus Voormann, who was one of The Beatles' oldest friends from their days at the Star Club in Hamburg. Voormann's illustration, part line drawing and part collage, included photographs by Robert Whitaker, who also took the back cover photographs and many other famous images of the group between 1964 and 1966, such as the infamous "Butcher cover" for Yesterday . . . and Today.
Voorman's own photo is included amongst George Harrison's hair on the right-hand side of the cover. In the Revolver cover appearing in his artwork for Anthology 3, he replaced this image with a more recent photo.
George's Revolver image was seen again on his single release of "When We Was Fab" along with an updated version of the same image.
The title Revolver, like Rubber Soul before it, is a pun, referring both to a kind of handgun as well as the "revolving" motion of the record as it is played on a turntable.