Ranking the songs on The Beatles’ classic album ‘Revolver’
“One thing’s for sure— the next LP is going to be very different.”—John Lennon, 1966
Released in 1966, Revolver is often seen as one of the moments of crystal clear creativity for the Fab Four. Buoyed by the success of their previous studio album Rubber Soul, and the departure from their previous ‘pop group’ moniker, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr delivered one of the most highly influential albums of their careers.
The seventh album from the Fab Four sees the group take a huge leap into the unknown and push forward with their desire for musical experimentation. It saw George Harrison once again begin to establish his own songwriting career while Lennon and McCartney were arguably nearing their creative peak. It’s arguably one of the band’s greatest albums of all time.
Not only was the album a serious attempt for artistic purity, but it was also highlighted with the humour and distinct candour The Beatles had brought to all their work. Songs ranging from the hilarious and nostalgic to the hallucinatory and nihilistic marked The Beatles out as more than just a band, they were now icons.
The songs on the album are influenced by the burgeoning acid scene of the 1960s. Despite Sgt. Pepper often being seen as the band’s first brush with psychedelia, John Lennon later confirmed in 1972 that Revolver was the first studio trip, “We’d had acid on Revolver. Everybody is under this illusion— even George Martin was saying, ‘Pepper was their first acid album.’ But we’d had acid, including Paul, by the time Revolver was finished.”
It’s a small part of what gives the album its distinct flavour but we’d argue the real joy of the record is seeing the next stepping stones to their legendary status be gleefully skipped over by a band at their very best.
The Beatles’ album Revolver ranked:
14. ‘Good Day Sunshine’
We all know that feeling when you wake up to a sunny day and the energy surges through you and a smile is inevitable. When that happened to Paul McCartney he would write perfect pop ditties like this.
Speaking in 1984, McCartney said of the song, “Wrote that out at John’s one day… the sun was shining. Influenced by the Lovin’ Spoonful.”
The fact that this gem of a song is bottom of the pile says a lot about the calibre of the album.
13. ‘Doctor Robert’
John Lennon was never afraid to throw a bit of dark humour into a song and, on ‘Doctor Robert’, he and McCartney parodied the idea of a helpful doctor and the explosion of drugs in the sixties. It’s a perfect little toe-tapper and the flourish of wit is always an added charm.
Lennon told Playboy’s David Sheff back in 1980 that the song was, “Mainly about drugs and pills. It was about myself. I was the one that carried all the pills on tour… later on the roadies did it. We just kept them in our pockets, loose, in case of trouble.”
12. ‘I Want To Tell You’
Another Harrison composition added to the album since his success within Rubber Soul meant the guitarist was able to share some more of his thoughts on record.
Harrison said of the song in 1980 that it was “about the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit,” fitting for a songwriter beginning to find his feet on solid ground.
11. ‘Love You To’
If this was a list of incredible intros then ‘Love You To’ would be top of the list. But the first song Harrison purposefully tried to write on the sitar (as opposed to the accidental ‘Norwegian Wood’ riff) perhaps suffers from the bombastic introduction.
The song gently lilts away after the truly inspirational intro and it’s yet more proof that Harrison’s song creation was beginning to match the levels of Lennon and McCartney.
10. ‘Yellow Submarine’
Here we have our first contentious position. ‘Yellow Submarine’ for a few fans out there, will be one of their absolute favourite songs. Written by Paul McCartney as he was drifting off to sleep, the song is undeniably charged with happiness and childlike innocence.
Paul McCartney quite perfectly sums up the song 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.”
9. ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’
Despite John Lennon labelling the song “another horror” and “another of my throwaways”, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ is still littered with glittering moments. Though Lennon is likely focusing on the lyrical content of the track, which leaves something to be desired, sonically the track is captivating.
In particular, Harrison and Lennon’s guitars (or maybe McCartney’s) guitars on the track are a mirror of the group’s earlier harmonies but put through a new rock filter. Ironically, it’s hard not to whistle this one after a listen.
The album opener for any record needs to be a big announcement and The Beatles nailed the opener on Revolver. ‘Taxman’ not only highlighted once again Harrison’s growing songwriting talent, nor his unique guitar style but also his personal struggles.
As Harrison’s songwriting credits rolled in so do the extra cash. It was money Harrison had clearly banked on but hadn’t accounted for HMRC’s cut being taken away. As the guitarist remembers in 1980, “even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical”.
The song is also noted as being one of the first Harrison wrote and even asked for help with, turning to John Lennon who told David Sheff: “I remember the day he (George) called to ask for help on ‘Taxman,’ one of his first songs. I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along because that’s what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn’t go to Paul. Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period. I didn’t want to do it. I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK.”
7. ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’
If there was one song that pointed directly to The Beatles increasing drug use then the image of Paul McCartney, the straight man of the group, writing an ode to marijuana is about as definitive as you get.
Speaking in 1994, Macca said of the track: “I’d been a rather straight working class lad, but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn’t seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana and to me it seemed it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding.
“So ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ is really a song about that. It’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying, ‘I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea.’ So it’s actually an ode to pot.”
6. ‘For No One’
As Paul McCartney would attest to, John Lennon rarely complimented his work within The Beatles but on the classic track ‘For No One’, Lennon said: “One of my favourites of his—a nice piece of work.” A mind-blowing compliment in regards to the bespectacled Beatle.
A baroque pop number, it shows off McCartney’s growing ability to nail a bittersweet love song. Written in the bathroom of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps about Paul’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher, “about another argument.” The song is imbued with a dsinticnt melancholy and the track’s final lyrics say it all, “…a love that should have lasted years …”
5. ‘Eleanor Rigby’
“It just came. When I started doing the melody I developed the lyric. It all came from the first line. I wonder if there are girls called Eleanor Rigby?” We imagine there certainly are now! The luscious track is beautifully mirrored in the lyrics which depict the fictional story of a lonely old woman.
In the end, McCartney would admit that he was, on some level, subliminally influenced by his adolescence. This revelation happened after a number of eagle-eyed fans noticed something intriguing near his childhood home in Woolton, Liverpool, in the graveyard of St. Peter’s Church which is a location McCartney would frequent with John Lennon in his youth.
At the graveyard, there was a headstone that read ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and nearby to Rigby’s grave there is another headstone which reads ‘McKenzie’, which may have subliminally both been soaked up into McCartney’s sub-conscience.
One of many great McCartney tracks from Revolver—arguably one of his best showings on record for the band—the song is a continuation with Macca’s fascination with the unloved and forgotten. As well as shining a light on those lost stories, McCartney always puts a mirror to our actions and asks if we’ve done enough.
4. ‘She Said, She Said’
If a song is inspired by the psychedelic ramblings of Peter Fonda then chances are it is going to be one of the best songs on the record. “I finally made my way past the kids and the guards. Paul and George were on the back patio, and the helicopters were patrolling overhead,” Fonda wrote for Rolling Stone magazine about the event.
“They were sitting at a table under an umbrella in a rather comical attempt at privacy. Soon afterwards we dropped acid and began tripping for what would prove to be all night and most of the next day.” Fonda began to parade his self-inflicted gunshot wound from childhood and the band were supremely turned off by the events.
Lennon used the acid trip as an inspiration for the 1966 song ‘She Said She Said’ telling David Sheff of the track that Peter Fonda, “kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! And I used it for the song, but I changed it to ‘she’ instead of ‘he.’ It was scary… I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead!”
3. ‘I’m Only Sleeping’
Arguably one of the most irreverent songs on the record ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is beautifully constructed and gilded with the gorgeous use of backwards guitars. Lennon said the sound of the song was a representation of “me dreaming my life away”.
The song was inspired by Paul McCartney continuously having to wake John Lennon up for scheduled afternoon songwriting sessions at Lennon’s house. Journalist Maureen Cleave once said of Lennon in 1966: “He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more’.”
The track is perfectly lethargic and wonderfully gifted in putting any rowdy thoughts to one side if only for a little nap.
2. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
The track that Lennon called “my first psychedelic song” is always destined to be near the top of this experimental record. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ may have been lacking the thousands of chanting monks, Lennon had originally intended for the recording but it certainly has a habit of tripping out.
The song was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as McCartney recalls in 1984: “John wrote the lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ It was a kind of Bible for all the psychedelic freaks. that was an LSD song. Probably the only one. People always thought ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was but it actually wasn’t.”
There’s no denying though that this song was the start of the band’s love affair with LSD but it is still a stellar track in its own right. It remains one of the shining moments of free-thought and creative experimentation on the album.
1. ‘Here, There and Everywhere’
As we’ve mentioned before, to get a compliment from John Lennon was rare. To receive one to your face was unheard of. In fact, McCartney has often cited ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ as the only song John Lennon ever complimented to his face.
“This was a great one of his,” Lennon recalled before adding: “That’s Paul’s song completely, I believe. And one of my favourite songs of the Beatles.” High praise indeed from a man with incredibly high standards.
The song is unquestionably one of McCartney’s finest and sees him draw inspiration from the burning sixties scene. Not only were the harmonies on the song inspired by The Beach Boys track ‘God Only Knows’ but Macca was also attempting to channel the vocal power of Marianne Faithfull.
“When I sang it in the studio I remember thinking, ‘I’ll sing it like Marianne Faithfull,’” Paul said in Many Years From Now. “[It’s] something no one would ever know. You get these little things in your mind. You think, ‘I’ll sing it like James Brown,’ but of course, it’s always you that sings it.”
The track is a soaring reminder of everything that is good about Paul McCartney. Able to convey the most delicate of emotions with touching veracity, Macca does some of his best work on ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, the finest song on Revolver.