Forty-five Years Ago Today…

Recording began on Revolver, which in recent years has become my favorite Beatles album. I tend to agree with Steve Earle, who says that despite all the advances in technology and studio craft, there has never been another album that sounds as good, as real, as rock and roll, as Revolver. But the songs and performances are the crux of the biscuit (as FZ would say), and they’re pretty blinding as well.

I’ve discussed the idea of the White Album as being the Chaucerian “God’s Plenty” before, but I’d like to turn to another metaphor in the case of Revolver. Science fiction author Spider Robinson has said that for present-day musicians, the Beatles are like Latin in the Middle Ages — no matter where you go, someone will know some of it and you’ll have a shared space in which to communicate. Part of this, I think, lies in the range of both Latin and the Beatles, and Revolver is as good a place to see that as any.

The album brings us everything from blue-eyed soul (“Got to Get You Into My Life”) to Macca’s effortlessly yearning “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and it even offers us the libertarian anthem “Taxman.” However, my three favorite tracks on the album give us a real picture of the band’s flexibility.

“She Said She Said” features some of Ringo’s best work, a gorgeous shift from 4/4 to 3/4 in the middle 8, and Lennon’s wobbly wordplay throughout. Even if you discount all of Peter Fonda’s life and work (and while I liked Easy Rider and Ulee’s Gold, it wouldn’t be hard for me to do), we probably owe him our thanks for being stoned enough to say “I know what it’s like to be dead” and inspire John’s muse.

At the other extreme is Paul’s “For No One.” As usual, the melody feels organic and perfectly suited to the subject of a love gone bewilderingly cold. Alan Civil’s French Horn solo may be as close as one can come in popular music to Eliot’s notion of the objective correlative. If you hear those notes, you feel the feeling. This song made me ache before I had lived enough to understand it; now that I’m old enough to understand the ache, it drowns the pain in beauty. In that respect, the song is a musical equivalent to Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall.”

The final track on the album, however (which is the one they began recording 45 years ago), “Tomorrow Never Knows”, is a bright-line moment. I don’t do drugs — never have, and never really felt a need or even a desire to do so. Fortunately, John and the lads took enough for me, and the swirl of droning instruments, hypnotic drumming (and yeah, it’s easy to play — but I guarantee it wasn’t easy to invent.), and lyrics from the library of Altered State University give me a sense of realities beyond my current senses. And it’s done that for me now for 35 or 36 years, since I first heard it in 1975 or so.

It’s a blindingly brilliant album; we’re lucky to have it.

(Cross-posted at The American Culture)

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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