What is the best Beatles’ album? That’s the question so many have asked. Three candidates always make their way to the top – Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The White Album, and Revolver. All three albums feature some spectacular songs. Yet, everyone from the BBC to USA Today, from Rolling Stone to Ultimate Classic Rock arrive at the same conclusion. The best Beatles album is, without a doubt, Revolver.
While I have owned several Beatles albums over the years, the only Beatles album I bought brand new was Revolver. I wanted the album so bad, that I would not just settle for a used copy. Besides, my top two favorite Beatles songs (Eleanor Rigby and Tomorrow Never Knows) make an appearance on Revolver. If my personal numbers serve a good metric, they state Revolver is the Best Beatles album.
Personal feelings, metrics, and opinions of trusted publications aside, we must ask the question: Is the Beatles Revolver the best Beatles album? Perhaps the Magnum Opus of The Beatles is nothing but trash, and we’re all afraid to admit it. Perhaps the Beatles themselves are trash (I once called The Beatles one of the most overhyped artists of all time). This is what I will be looking at today. This is Retro Album Review – The Beatle’s Revolver.
Revolver starts with a jangle-pop song that follows the Beatles pre-Revolver methodology. Taxman is a danceable, yet simple song with a crowd-pleasing message, ie, taxes suck! The rhythm and bass guitar only play a few notes, while Ringo’s drums keep a steady beat. There is a groovy little guitar interlude at about a minute into the song. Still, even that seems toned down. Taxman does not try to be anything more than it is. Taxman knows its not a great song, just an intro song to lure the fans into the album.
A string section provides the only instruments we hear on Eleanor Rigby. We hear no drums, we hear no bass, rhythm, or lead guitars. We don’t even hear a piano or an organ. Eleanor Rigby throws the listener a curveball, as we do not expect such instrumentation. We expect the same loud guitars we heard on Taxman and She Loves You (yeah yeah yeah). Instead, the Beatles take the second track on Revolver to announce their intent to improvise and experiment with the “old Beatles” sound.
Eleanor Rigby is much more a departure from the “old Beatles” sound, though. The song tells the chilling tales of two forgotten souls. Eleanor Rigby, a kind soul who sweeps up the rice in a church even though no one will ever thank her. Father McKenzie, who writes sermons for no one. Perhaps these two souls are delusional, but we’re constantly reminded of the crippling loneliness of the two souls. Regardless, Eleanor Rigby breaks my heart every time I listen.
I’m Only Sleeping
The instruments on I’m Only Sleeping follow a standard Beatles song structure. We hear a bass, we hear guitars and we hear drums. There is a small part at the end, but that’s just an outro. Despite the “old Beatles sound”, I’m Only Sleeping is anything but a typical Beatles song.
I’m Only Sleeping documents the lazy lifestyle John Lennon loved to live. The confessional nature of the song gives us a close, personal look into Lennon. We do not hear a sappy love song. We do not hear cries of social justice, we just hear that John Lennon really, REALLY likes to sleep.
John Lennon did not usually write songs about his life. I’m Only Sleeping is one of those rare songs where the listener gets to spend time in Lennon’s mind.
Love You To
Much like Eleanor Rigby, Love You To favors non-traditional rock instruments, specifically a sitar and a tabla. George Harrison sings vocals, and the rest of the Beatles only play a minimal part. Ringo plays no instruments.
The lyrics, sang in a drone-like trance, serve as a lovesong to Harrison’s (first) wife. But really, the lyrics are secondary. Love You To is a song meant to introduce classical Indian music to rock and roll.
Here, There and Everywhere
A first listen to Here, There and Everywhere, I get the feeling the song was written before the rest of the Revolver songs. Here, There and Everywhere brings a slow love ballad that makes us sway to the music. We hear a song perfect for slow dancing in the gym.
The truth: Here, There, and Everywhere was written at the end of the Revolver recording sessions. McCartney was inspired by “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. With that being said, “God Only Knows” was inspired by some of the tracks from Rubber Soul – so Here, There and Everywhere had a kind of meta inspiration.
Regardless, the soulful harmonies and slow tempo of Here, There and Everywhere show a beauty not found on other Revolver songs.
Ringo Starr sings lead vocals on Yellow Submarine – one of the many quirks of the song. Other quirks? For one thing, it’s about a Yellow Submarine. Other quirks include a brass band during an interlude. We also hear an echo through a megaphone – both hallmarks of songs on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Quirks aside, Yellow Submarine is just kooky and fun.
She Said, She Said
She Said, She Said is the first traditional rock song on Revolver since Taxman. The music follows the old Beatles sound with basic instruments. The vocals sound like a precursor to later songs, such as the Lennon sung songs on The White Album. The lyrics themselves seem dull and almost gobbledygook in nature. Then again, the lyrics are inspired by Peter Fonda tripping acid with the Beatles, and all the gibberish and insane things they talked about. So, perhaps they got the lyrics exactly right.
Fun fact, McCartney contributed little to She Said, She Said. He and John got into an argument, and Paul stormed out of the studio. Who knows what the song might have sounded like if Paul had stayed. She Said, She Said does sound like it’s missing a piece – maybe Paul was that piece.
Good Day, Sunshine
Good Day, Sunshine sounds like an antithesis to I’m Only Sleeping. We hear a song about being alive, about being out in the sun! The song’s protagonist is walking around the city and living life. Good Day, Lonon contributed very little to Good Day, Sunshine. The song was written and sung by McCartney – so there’s another reason Good Day, Sunshine is the opposite of I’m Only Sleeping.
Good Day, Sunshine might sound annoying, if it weren’t so damned catchy. The Piano (which serves as the song’s primary instrument) really get’s your feet walking and your body moving.
And Your Bird Can Sing
Structurally, And Your Bird Can Sing sounds like another traditional rock song. We hear bleeding guitars, we hear energetic singing, and we hear a groovin’ bass. Oh yeah, this is rock and roll you can dance to.
But wait, before you dirty dance to And Your Bird Can Sing, listen to the lyrics. Specifically, the line “When your prized possessions / Start to weigh you down / Look in my direction / I’ll be ’round, I’ll be ’round.” This is no sock hop song – there’s something deeper happening in And Your Bird Can Sing. What exactly, we’re not sure – but the whole song might be a jab at Frank Sinatra or Mick Jagger.
For No One
While George Harrison experimented with classical Indian instruments, Paul McCartney experimented with baroque pop. While we see this experimentation come to fruition in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, we hear an early example in For No One.
McCartney plays the clavichord as For No One’s primary instrument. We also hear a French horn interlude several times throughout the song. The lyrics For No One are about a break-up, perhaps even a divorce. For No One also has a very simple arrangement. Sure, there’s a French horn and A clavichord, but this is no fanfare inspired piece. In fact, Lennon and Harrison didn’t even contribute to the song. Ringo does play the drums, however.
Of all the songs on Revolver, Doctor Robert is the one that is probably the most blatant about drug use. Doctor Robert is about a drug dealer – The Beatles own Dr. Feelgood. There is no denying this fact, just look at the chorus.
Doctor Robert© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
He’s a man you must believe
Helping anyone in need
No one can succeed like
Doctor RobertWell, well, well, you’re feeling fine
Well, well, well, he’ll make you
Musically, Doctor Robert sounds like a typical Jango pop song Fast temp, electric guitar-driven, and easy to dance to. There lies some of the amusement of the song. We get a song that good kids danced to, and had no idea they were dancing to a song about a drug dealer. John Lennon himself was said to be“…beside himself with glee over the prospect of millions of record buyers innocently singing along.” Lennon had his moments of trolling, that’s for certain.
I Want to Tell You
The most subtle, and yet most obvious thing about I Want to Tell You has to be that piano. We hear said piano plunking in the background for the duration of the song. This piano sounds powerful and has something to say (or even scream). The piano hits the bottoms of our very soul, in a way only a good piano part can. At times the chord progression seems rather odd, but we quickly adjust. Our brains welcome the unconventional progression, even if we consciously don’t understand why said progression works.
The lyrics present a stream of consciousness. We hear all the things the song’s protagonist wants to say, but cannot. All the thoughts in their head they just can’t express. The lyrics are vague on these thoughts, but that just adds to the perfection of I Want to Tell You.
Got to Get You Into My Life
Got To Get You Into My Life features a five-piece brass band. Oh, but this is not another one of Paul’s experiments in baroque pop – though Paul did write the song. Got To Get You Into My Life is a love song to the sounds of Motown.
Got to Get You Into My Life is a standard love song. We see the protagonist meeting the love of their life, and wanting to spend every day with that person. Nice, huh? Well – it’s not about a person. Got to Get You Into My Life is a love song, yes, but it’s a love song about marijuana, at least that’s what Paul says.
Tomorrow Never Knows
My general thoughts about Tomorrow Never Knows: Thank you, John Lennon, for doing LSD so I don’t have to! Tomorrow Never Knows paints a vivid picture of what sounds like an enlightening acid trip, through both lyrics and sound. The lyrics, mostly based off of Timothy Leery’s book, The Psychedelic Experience, draw the listener into a world that just does not make any sense, yet makes all the sense at the same time.
Oh, but the real treats of Tomorrow Knows come from the sounds! The Beatles experiment with tape loops, sitars, vocals through a Leslie cabinet, and so much studio engineering! The results are mind-blowing and mind-expanding.
Tomorrow Never Knows is truly the best song ever recorded by The Beatles.
Is Revolver truly the best Beatles Album?
YES! A thousand freaking times yes. Revolver is the best Beatles album. Revolver boasts so many strong songs and very little fat or filler. Sure, there are a few songs I don’t like on Revolver, such as She Said, She Said. Still, the strength of the other songs severely outweighs the weaknesses. The experimentation in songs such as Tomorrow Never Knows and Love You To makes me look at music in a brand new way. Then there are the emotions of Eleanor Rigby.
Revolver also shows a transition from “Old Beatles” to “New Beatles.” The Beatles had graduated from pop-rock and flexed their musical genius with Revolver. This is why Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or The White Album aren’t the best Beatles album. The balance between old and new Beatles in Revolver made a primordial ooze that was thick with innovations. We hear songs we want to dismiss as “typical old Beatles.” Then when we dive further into the songs, we find these are freaking genius songs. This newly discovered genius makes us want to examine the first half of The Beatles catalog with fresh ears. Sure, we hear a lot of experimentation in later Beatles albums. Yet this experimentation all points to what we’ve already heard on Revolver.
With Revolver, The Beatles give us a map of where they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. This is why Revolver is the Beatles Best Album. Besides, did they ever pull off something like Tomorrow Never Knows on any other album?