One of the most miraculous things about the Beatles was their ability to transform. Having started their life as a besuited pop outfit, releasing singles for the sole delight of their clamouring adolescent fanbase, they somehow managed to metamorphose into a band with the power to inform the spiritual landscape of the modern western world – all while remaining in the charts. It would have been easy for John Lennon Paul McCartney George Harrison and Ringo Starr to remain inside their self-contained bubble. And yet, they chose to embark on a journey of self-discovery and musical exploration that contributed to a worldwide cultural movement, the effect of which is still being felt today.
The Beatles were often asked if they knew at the time that they were making music that would change the world. According to George Harrison, at least, they were only aware of their own development as individuals: “Around the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver it was like I had a sudden flash, and it all seemed to be happening for some real purpose. The main thing for me was having the realization that there was definitely some reason for being here. And now the rest of my life as a person and a musician is about finding out what that reason is, and how to build upon it.”
George wasn’t the only one to notice a change. Between the release of Rubber Soul and Revolver, The Beatles – wobbling under the strain of their US stadium tour – collectively decided to stop performing live and concentrate on their studio work. This retreat from public life, in retrospect, seems to reflect The Beatles renewed focus on their inner lives. As individuals who had spent all of their early 20s in the limelight, they’d likely felt a part of themselves had been sold-off for the benefit of the public; the question was how to replace it.
The answer, Harrison later claimed, was music. Instead of turning away from their craft entirely, they took inspiration from the likes of Bob Dylan and The Byrds – using songwriting as a diaristic space, where they could explore their frustrations, desires, and creative ambitions in full technicolour: “Rock could now deal with our inner lives, alienation, spirituality and frustration, things which it had never dealt so directly with before. And the guitars and music warped into a new dimension,” Harrison said.
At the same time, The Beatles had started delving into transcendental Eastern philosophy as well as yogic and meditative practices, giving George a heightened perspective on the purpose of his music. Suddenly, he realised that songs could be used as tools for personal and cultural betterment.
“Around the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver we just became more conscious of so many things,” Harrison said. “We even listened deeper, somehow. That’s when I really enjoyed getting creative with the music-not just with my guitar playing and songwriting but with everything we did as a band, including the songs that the others wrote. It all deepened and became more meaningful.”