The Beatles, the most popular and innovative rock group of their era — or any era — released their album Revolver 51 years ago this week. Though the album’s significance was largely overlooked at the time, the work is now widely thought of as even better than The Beatles’ acknowledged classic released a year later, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
The 14-track Revolver was released in the United Kingdom on August 5, 1966, after recording sessions that lasted from April 6 to June 21 of that year. But that two and a half month period was easily eclipsed by the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper, which began on November 24 of the same year but didn’t wrap up until April 21 of 1967. Pepper became the first Beatles album released in the United States in a version identical to its U.K. release. But when Revolver hit stores in the United States on August 8, 1966, the American version contained only 11 tracks.
Removing tracks and using them to fill out “new” albums, giving The Beatles additional product for the U.S. market, had been the practice for all six Beatles albums before Revolver, but after the U.S. record label Capitol tampered with the group’s careful sequencing of tracks on what they knew was their greatest artistic achievement so far, The Beatles would never allow the crassly commercial practice again.
The altered and shortened track listing in the U.S. may have been one of the reasons that Revolver never gained widespread recognition as a work equal to, or even better than, Sgt. Pepper — until almost 21 years after its debut when the American CD release finally exposed U.S. listeners to the full, 14-song original version. At that point, the album began to earn acceptance as perhaps the greatest work by the greatest band in rock music history.
Here are five more fascinating facts about Revolver, now considered perhaps the best Beatles album.
Revolver Happened Because A Third Beatles Movie Didn’t
By the time April of 1966 rolled around, The Beatles had been touring seemingly non-stop since they first exploded onto the British music scene in 1963 — with short breaks from the road mainly to film their first and second movies, A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and its follow-up, Help, in early 1965. The spring of 1966 had been earmarked for the group to film a third movie, but the four Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — could not find a script that excited them enough to commit to yet another acting assignment. Instead, they took the time to record a new album — just five months after they finished recording Rubber Soul, which on its release in December of 1965 was immediately recognized as the best album in rock’s then brief history.
The Most Groundbreaking Song Was The First One Recorded
While today, each one of Revolver’s 14 songs is looked on as a Beatles classic in its own right, one song in 1966 clearly stood out. The final track on both the U.K. and U.S. versions, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” sounded unlike anything The Beatles, or any rock group, had recorded before and almost singlehandedly invented the genre that came to be known as “psychedelic rock.”
The song’s principal author and lead vocalist, John Lennon, later acknowledged that he was consciously attempting to recreate the experience of an LSD trip with the song, even taking the opening lyrics — “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” — from a book by Timothy Leary, the former Harvard professor who was then the world’s top proponent of using LSD, a little-known drug at the time.
When the group entered the studio in April of 1966, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the first song they recorded, with Lennon famously instructing Beatles longtime producer George Martin to make his vocals sound “like the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop.”
Though the song was composed by Lennon, all four Beatles made significant contributions, with McCartney adding the bizarre sound effects from his personal collection of avant-garde tape loops, Harrison coming up with the now-iconic opening chord, and Starr creating the song’s title, albeit inadvertently. After rejecting such title ideas as “Mark I,” and “The Void,” Lennon recalled one of Starr’s many curious malapropisms and adopted the phrase as his song’s title, even though the words “Tomorrow Never Knows” do not appear in the lyrics.
Listen to The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” by clicking on the video below.
No Two Consecutive Tracks Feature The Same Lead Vocalist
The Beatles sequenced the track listing meticulously, at least for the 14-track U.K. release, stressing the group concept by — for the first time on any Beatles album — allowing no one Beatle to sing two songs back-to-back. The 11-track U.S. version ignored this careful sequencing technique, unfortunately. Harrison — for the first and last time on any single Beatles album — wrote and sang three songs, while Starr sang on the surreal children’s tune, “Yellow Submarine,” which inspired what eventually became the group’s long-delayed third movie, an animated, feature-length cartoon of the same name.
Another feature of the album’s song list: only two of Revolver‘s 14 tracks ran past the three-minute mark, and then by mere seconds, with Harrison’s Indian-themed “Love You To” clocking at 3:01 and Lennon’s ode to his own laziness, “I’m Only Sleeping,” timed at 3:02.
The Beatles Never Performed a Song From Revolver in Concert
After completing the recording sessions for Revolver, The Beatles embarked on what would turn out to be their final tour, performing their last live concert — except for the impromptu live session on the rooftop of Apple Records in 1969 — at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, three weeks after the U.S. release of the album. But the songs on Revolver were so technically complex in their recording techniques that with the primitive live music technology of 1966, none were possible to recreate in a live performance.
As a result, The Beatles never played a live concert version of any song from Revolver.
The Beatles Rejected Several Titles Before Settling On ‘Revolver’
The album title Revolver refers to nothing more than the motion of a record played on a turntable, revolving 33 1/3 times per minute. But before arriving at the deceptively simple title, The Beatles considered a number of other possible names for the album, including Beatles on Safari, and the Ringo Starr-suggested After Geography — a joking reference to what was then the most recent album by The Rolling Stones, Aftermath. Other suggestions included Pendulums, Magic Circle, Four Sides Of The Eternal Triangle, and the especially inexplicable Fat Man and Bobby before they finally found a title they all liked — Abracadabra. But that was already taken, so The Beatles just decided to call their new disc Revolver and be done with it.
[Featured Image by AP File Photo/AP Images]