Part 3 — Revolver: There’s everything that came before Rubber Soul, albums with one dazzling hit song after another, from Please Please Me to When I Get Home, I Feel Fine, Eight Days a Week and Ticket to Ride, to name a few of my faves. But I’m not sure how their first three years might get treated for rerelease; I think that there are definitive versions out now, and enough of the sense of the rehearsals and sessions is shared on the Anthology series from 1995-1996.
But then there’s Rubber Soul, which has a distinctive unity to it, and to me it’s their most romantic record, showing that they were maturing as men and as artists. They’re more direct and honest, yet still convey a passionate a sense of romance. The album was a big hit in 1966, their biggest seller until Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s came along, and still their third-bestselling album of all time. I’d anticipate a particularly special rerelease of Rubber Soul.
The album was so successful that The Beatles, still in the vanguard of fashion, music, and popularity, could do no wrong. On the heels of Rubber Soul, they could walk into the studio and let their creativity fly, really let it all hang out. On Revolver, they did, and it worked like crazy.
Revolver showed a new focus on George Harrison. He penned three out of fourteen songs on the British version, and three out of eleven on the US release. He introduced sitar on Rubber Soul (on Norwegian Wood), but on Revolver the sitar is even more prominent, carries the melody and is integral to the lacing of the song…on Love to You and Tomorrow Never Knows. But just as radical was the explicit politics of the album’s opener, Harrison’s Taxman…several successful British rock stars have complained about England’s tax system. Harrison speaks out about it in what is The Beatle’s first overtly political tune.
Reams have been written about every little thing they do, but even with their revolutionary habits, The Beatles had never taken so many risks, whether breaching the psychedelic in Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows with its unprecedented use of tape loops and overdubs; taking the studio to its pop limits with McCartney’s Good Day Sunshine and I Want to Tell You; string quartets on Eleanor Rigby; the regretful yet not maudlin For No One. Where Rubber Soul was melancholy and romantic, here the emotional vulnerability and honesty have a real bite…Revolver tested the market and its success led to Sgt. Peppers. These songs represent a unique peak. Note the absence of any McCartney silly ditties that were to become a regular indulgence. Lennon’s genius is present but not overbearing; in fact, only two of his compositions make it onto the US release.
Here are the titles (add the italicized ones for UK version): Taxman, Eleanor Rigby; I’m Only Sleeping; Love To You; Here, There and Everywhere; Yellow Submarine; She Said She Said; Good Day Sunshine; And Your Bird Can Sing; For No One; Doctor Robert; I Want to Tell You; and Got to Get You into My Life.
Bottom line, I’m in a state of mild but perpetual drool in anticipation of the deluxe rerelease of Revolver, The Beatles’ second-bestselling album. I think that Revolver will be at least a semifinal event in this 21st century wave of Beatles celebration and continuity.
The remaining album, Magical Mystery Tour, proves to be a bit of an odd duck. Half the album is from the relatively unsuccessful short film of the same name. I happen to love it; you can think of it as the darker version of Sgt. Peppers. The second half collects their hit singles of 1967.
As if to direct focus to the whole album as the work, and not as a vehicle, there were no singles issued from Rubber Soul or Sgt. Peppers. The Beatles’ last singles had been the non-album cuts Day Tripper, Rain, Paperback Writer and We Can Work It Out, and Revolver’s Yellow Submarine b/w Eleanor Rigby. But with their 1967 singles, they made a triumphant return to the Top 40, radically changed but connected to their huge fanbase as much and more than ever. I remember vividly the transformed sounds of Baby You’re a Rich Man; All You Need Is Love; and Penny Lane testing AM radio for all it was worth (technically and artistically) and cheering along the haunting I Am the Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever, arguably two of their very greatest cuts. The oddest thing of all is that one could make the case that Magical Mystery Tour is The Beatles’ very best album. In fact, I have. Here. But it’s harder to predict whether that deluxe treatment will come Magical Mystery Tour’s way. There’s a great blu-ray of the film, and the album has been remastered quite effectively.