A while back, we caught up with Dougie Payne from Travis, and he celebrated Revolver as one of his nine favourite records of all time. However, aside from the quality of the album, he also noted how the sonic shift represents the most important chapter in the entire Beatles story. “To my mind, The Beatles are like two different bands,” he explained. “When I was little, my sister was a Beatles obsessive, and her room was next to mine so their records would filter through the wall — so, they just sort of seeped in.”
However, when Revolver was released in 1966, that all changed. “[My sister] was only into the mop-top Beatles albums so that to me was The Beatles. Years later when I discovered the weird, hairy, druggy Beatles I absolutely fell in love with them all over again. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ 55 years on still sounds like it was recorded tomorrow,” he concluded of its Promethean sound and the influential wallop that it landed.
The Beatles that his sister loved had traversed to the top of the mountain, and now they were breathing rarefied air, enjoying the view and looking around, wondering where to go next. Whenever the rise of The Beatles to that lofty height is discussed, it is often rightfully dubbed an explosion. And trying the contain that boom were four working-class kids from Liverpool scarcely in their twenties. In this regard, their early tales of holding hands, dancefloor twists and perhaps stealing a kiss were befitting and rhythmically wonderful all the same.
With the insatiable rise of Beatlemania ensuring fame and fortune forevermore, it would have been very easy for the band to acquiesce to safe pastures or else the raucous pitfalls of success. Instead, the band used their position to open up doors into a new bohemian realm, and with it, they created a shift not only in their own back catalogue but everyone else’s too. The Beatles had grown up; they were establishing themselves with confidence, an unfettered curiosity about where they could take it, and an uncompromising will to head there at all costs.
The monochrome kaleidoscope of the album cover hinted at the wavy otherworldliness of LSD that had snook into their oeuvre, but also, in a more removed sense, it symbolised a new sketchy artistry. Interestingly, they all remain together on the cover with equal billing. This was the second, often overlooked, but essential element of the album; they didn’t reach the top of the hill and go their separate ways. They remained a true four-piece even as they dabbled in extreme experimentation.
This mix is felt full-on in the heady melting pot of Revolver. In the movie Boyhood, Ethan Hawke rattles off a rant that declares, “There is no favourite Beatle! That’s what I’m saying, it’s in the balance, and that’s what made them the greatest f—king rock band in the world.”
That perfect balance was, in itself, a balancing act, and it is a credit to all involved that the giant leap of their LSD album didn’t derail them. As Ethan Hawke goes on to say, “Paul takes you to the party, George talks to you about God, John says ‘Nah it’s about love and pain’, then Ringo who just says ‘hey, can’t we just enjoy what we have when we have it?'”
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would soon see the band push on in the same vein, but it was Revolver that cleared that path for them, and, in many ways, it is a more uncompromising record in the true sense of the word because of this. The boundary-pushing on the album is driven by curiosity, not by design: it’s more a question of what more can we do, as opposed to the notable remark of what more should we do on later records. The studio simply became a fifth member on Revolver, it wasn’t yet a gatekeeper for the band.
That is not the say that Revolver is The Beatles best album; that’s a debate for another day, but it is their most important record because with it, their evolution was catalysed and as such so was the entire pop culture movement. An album no longer had to be a succinctly packaged and manageable beast; it could be an unfurling creative splurge. If you went into a record store prior to August 5th 1966, you would find folk, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and pop all neatly delineated, then The Beatles got high, heralded George Martin, and ruffled it all up with Revolver.