Don’t know if you’ve caught the Revolver Special Edition , recently released by The Beatles? It’s well worth it if you haven’t. I’m not big on the endless trend of bands constantly remastering and editing old records. After all, the value is in the novelty of the original work, right?
In truth, I’ve always had a mixed relationship with Revolver anyway. Hailed by many as the greatest Beatles’ album, I disagree with that assessment myself. For me, The White Album and Abbey Road are vastly superior pieces of work. That said, it’s important not to underestimate the significance of Revolver. Above anything else, the Beatles’ heralded 1966 release represents the peak of the band’s transition from jovial mop tops who mastered the art of radio friendly pop into an experimental, creative group that was determined to cement its place in history.
So, Revolver is undoubtedly important, but I’m not its biggest fan. To me, the record always had an Indy vibe and that was never my bag, to be honest. I approached the new release, therefore, from a rather underwhelmed viewpoint. In preparation for the release, I listened to Revolver on repeat to try and approach it from a new angle. To my delight, it worked! After bombarding my ears with repeat marathons, I finally get why Revolver is so good.
The Special Edition of Revolver involved remixing the record through the wonders of modern technology and also incorporates previously unheard demos and samples from the period. The mastermind behind it all is Giles Martin, son of George. Well, is it any good? And given the fact that all Beatles albums were remastered as recently as 2009, is there any point?
Well, the results are incredible. Martin has done a wonderful job with the mixes. The songs sound beautifully fresh and modern, yet retain the creative genius of the original compositions. The tunes are polished and packaged superbly, but the technological sheen doesn’t diminish the essence of the album’s spirit. The Beatles still sound like the Beatles and that’s essential.
In listening to the album again, it strikes me that Revolver is the perfect gateway for Beatles newbies to learn about the unrivalled skill and creativity of the band. Because this album has everything. Ballads, social commentary, poetry and even Indian music (courtesy of George Harrison’s mid-60s obsession with the sitar). You name it, Revolver’s got it.
The most essential track to understand how creative and experimental the Beatles were is Tomorrow Never Knows. When I first heard the Lennon composition, I was mesmerised. This was written in 1966? It can’t be, it sounds like a 90s’ dance track! Talk about being ahead of their time! If you listen to nothing else, check out this tune. It is very special and still sounds modern all these years later.
But there’s much more. And all so varied. Eleanor Rigby is a masterpiece of melancholy and also like nothing heard before. Along more conventional lines, Here There and Everywhere is a classic; one of the most beautiful songs ever composed. It’s said that Jane Asher never speaks about her relationship with Paul McCartney. Then again, she doesn’t have to as it’s charted in some of the greatest love songs ever written.
In a similar vein, For No-One is a beautifully crafted number, with its plaintive lament for a relationship that seems to have run its course. John’s I’m Only Sleeping, meanwhile, is humorous and whimsical, an ode to lazy days, if you like. There’s also a delightfully pissed off George sticking it to the man in Taxman; all these years later you still hear the anger of a working class man who’s finally made money only to find that the bloody government is taking most of it!
Then there’s the extras and demos on the new release. The full speed version of Rain blew my mind-the song sounds fantastic that way. The guitars are great. But the real revelation was Lennon’s Yellow Submarine demo. I’d always seen this (ostensibly a children’s song) as slightly out of place on this album. All these serious and experimental pieces joined by this tongue-in-cheek McCartney joke song, given to Ringo almost as a throwaway.
The demo casts doubt on all of that. The original idea for the song actually seems to have come from John and his demo is a world away from the finished version. Check it out. It has what can only be described as a haunting quality. And the lyrics? ‘In the town where I was born, no-one cared, no-one cared…’ There’s genuine sadness there. Paul took the song in a very different direction, of course, but, man, what if Lennon had developed that demo?! Certainly, I’ll never look at Yellow Submarine the same way again.
My verdict is a positive one. The Revolver Special Edition is class. It’s a lovely polished, updated version of the classic album and the extras are delightful glimpses into geniuses at work, building towards their creative peak. Martin has done a terrific job. And, yes, it still sounds rather like a ’90s Indy record, albeit one by the greatest, most experimental band ever seen.