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Music

The Beatles ‘Revolver’: The song that let down an otherwise perfect album

The Beatles undertook a dramatic transformation over their eight years of recorded output, and the most significant changes began to occur at the halfway point of the decade. This new page turned at the time the Liverpool lads decided to tour India in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment outside of hallucinogenic drugs. 

With their first group trip to the country in 1966, the famed odyssey in India was underpinned by the mentorship of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught them the powers of Hindu beliefs and the benefits of transcendental meditation. When The Beatles returned to the UK, they brought with them a wave of Indian influence to western culture that became enveloped in the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene. 

With 1965’s Rubber Soul, The Beatles seemed to be pointing in a new direction and oozed with the influence of Bob Dylan, their rival across the Atlantic. The language of verse had departed that of love and welcomed a richer vocabulary with avant-garde stylings. In fact, Dylan himself saw so much of his own pioneering style in the album’s second track, ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, that he took issue with it. 

Referring to the Rubber Soul cut in an interview shortly after its release, Dylan opined with a palpable tone of asperity: “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny and Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it.” Dylan later hid his retaliation within the 1966 parody track’ 4th Time Around’, which famously took aim at Lennon with the lyrics: “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine”. 

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‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ was also notable for its inclusion of sitar courtesy of George Harrison, who, at the time of recording, was the only Beatle to have visited India. It marked one of the earliest examples of Indian instrumentation in western music. 

Following the triumph of Rubber Soul, The Beatles hit the studio with the influence of India in one ear and the psychedelic, countercultural outcry of the hippie movement in the other. Where Rubber Soul turned a corner, 1966’s Revolver took a giant leap. 

Considered by many as The Beatles’ finest album, Revolver was home to a selection of truly absorbing and progressive tracks, from Harrison’s anti-establishment opener, ‘Taxman’, to the mind-blowing sitar and tape loop-laden ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. In the thick of the album, we stubble across the mighty ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with its strange, morose tale of loneliness, the vibrant ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and the sublimely slumberous ‘I’m Only Sleeping’. 

Even oft-forgotten deep cuts like ‘Dr. Robert’ and ‘I Want To Tell You’ hold a valid place on the album, but there’s a ghost at the feast, a fly in the ointment. Indeed, the rabbit dropping in the otherwise succulent granola that is Revolver, is ‘Yellow Submarine’. How Beatles purists can revere ‘Yellow Submarine’ with such unwavering conviction and then dismiss Ringo Starr’s valiant Abbey Road effort, ‘Octopus’s Garden’, with such disdain is beyond me. My only guess is that the former is attributed to the most successful songwriting partnership of all time. 

McCartney was the mastermind behind my Revolver sorrows. The genius octogenarian stumbled across the lyrics in a dreamlike state as he was falling asleep one night. The lyrics depict a convivial scene aboard a yellow submersible as the song bounces along with nursery rhyme innocence. 

McCartney summed up the puerile ditty back in 1966, “It’s a happy place, that’s all. You know, it was just… We were trying to write a children’s song. That was the basic idea. And there’s nothing more to be read into it than there is in the lyrics of any children’s song.”

I’ll concede that, as a children’s song, it’s up there with some of The Wombles’ greatest hits and blows the Noddy theme tune right out of the water, but, for me, it has no tangible business appearing on perhaps the greatest album by the biggest band of all time.