The start of 1966 turned into something The Beatles hadn't really had since the beginnings of the mania: a break. Relaxed and refreshed, they recorded Revolver
in the spring/early summer. Like every Beatles release, it represented a huge stride forward from its predecessor: not only for its technical innovations but also in the diversity of the compositions included. If, as John Lennon once commented, the previous year's Rubber Soul
had been their pot-smoking album, this time it was LSD which provided the inspiration. Though the acid had certainly eaten into its predecessor a little, by the time of Revolver
it was at peak Ph within the group. Even the reluctant Mr McCartney was on the verge of succumbing to 'lysergic liberation'. Perhaps George's evaluation of the two LPs as "Volume One and Volume Two" is closer to the mark.
Fresh from his honeymoon, he was delighted to have no fewer than three of his songs included, finally beginning to emerge as a writer from the monstrous shadow cast by the Lennon/ McCartney partnership. Three strikingly different compositions they were, too: from the finger-pointing opening attack of "Taxman"
to the introspective "I Want To Tell You"
, with the sitar soaked "Love You To"
creating a whole new musical genre.
Macca managed get one more than John onto the record: six tracks to five. In truth, few of their songs by this time were truly co-written: it's not hard to distinguish a John tune from one of Paul's. Nevertheless, both were still open to one another's contributions and suggestions: anything to make every track as good as it could possibly be. As Ringo observed from his back seat (or stool), "The Beatles ... worked like dogs to get it right".
Lennon, at least, started the project quite convinced that it was "going to be very different from the last one". Just how different, maybe even he didn't realise at the time. George Martin and newly-promoted chief engineer Geoff Emerick once again broke most of the established rules of recording, inventing several new ones in the process. Emerick, taking over from Norman Smith, was by no means a newcomer to the band, having worked as a technician since their very first Parlophone session — his second day on the job! His first day on Revolver
was the groundwork for "Tomorrow Never Knows"
While the album's hallucinogenic climax remains John's indisputable masterpiece on it, his other contributions — equally acid-tinged — are fine pieces of work also. George 'n' Geoff once again worked wonders for the soporific slur of "Only Sleeping"
. "She Said"
, "Bird Can Sing"
and "Doc Robert"
, meanwhile, still stand as some of the best guitar-driven psychedelic pop/rock ever to have been committed to vinyl.
Paul's songs are particularly diverse: you only have to listen to "Yellow Sub"
, the double-A single more or less coinciding with the album release. "Rigby", of course, continued the strings thing that had started with "Yesterday"
and, with its dark plot and sharp social criticism, was the track which really had the 'serious critics' twitching. The instrumental experimentation went on with "For No One"
's clavichord and French horn and the sax/trumpet flair of Into My Life
. Ah yeah: an' a little more 'Granny Shit' here and there
Long-time collaborator Bob Freeman forwarded a kaleidoscope-faced sleeve design for the album. Who decided to drop it, and why, remains unclear. It was animated years later for LOVE
's "Within You Without You"/"Tomorrow Never Knows"
video-clip. The now famous black and white photo-collage was designed by Klaus Voormann, an old friend from their apprenticeship days in Hamburg and the bass player with Manfred Mann.
While it isn't exactly psychedelic in terms of swirling dayglo colours, it certainly must have given its proto-hippie purchasers something interesting to roll a spliff on... Klaus remained a close confidante, later playing with John on JL/Plastic Ono Band
. The photos on the back were the work of Robert Whitaker, who had also been responsible for the notorious 'butcher shots' intended for the US "Yesterday"... And Today
had already given "Sleeping", "Bird" and "Robert" to America, they were duly omitted from the Capitol version of Revolver
, leaving just the other eleven tracks (and not even running to half an hour's playtime).
The Beatles may have (almost) all been tripped out of their brains in their free time, but — aside from the odd joint on the roof between takes — they remained remarkably straight and focussed at work at Abbey Road. Listening to the complex combination of sounds on the album, it's all too easy to understand why they were sick of playing at being 'The Fab Four Live', unable to even hear themselves through inadequate PAs over an incessant barrage of screaming.
Within a month of the record's release in August, they had played their last gig, having also endured hotel confinement in Japan, near-arrest in Haiti and a further round of death-threats in The States.
The end of an era.
The dawning of a new one...