THE SUMMER OF LOVE (PART II) PRELUDE (REVOLVER)
This should be about the extraordinary impact of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the iconic Beatles album that changed our musical world in the summer of 1967 and the Number 1 album of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine. But in retrospect, we probably should have seen the Beatles' breakthrough coming a year earlier with the
release of two other albums, one a huge hit and the other not so much. Those other albums are now ranked # 2 and #3 all time on the same list, and rightly so. And while they might not deserve to be # 1, you can make a pretty compelling argument that both are better recordings than Sgt. Pepper.
Nobody knew it in 1966 that music was going to change profoundly. The Beatles had released Rubber Soul in late 1965, and songs such as "Norwegian Wood" and "You Won't See Me" revealed a maturity of thought in song structures as well as a complexity in lyrics that had only been hinted at in earlier compositions. Still, Rubber Soul fell well within the group's established norms; its tunes remained infectious pop music, even if a strain of sitar or a nasal intake of breath as a musical effect might raise a curious eyebrow in its listeners. Check out the link below for an article on the approaching transformation.
It was the release of two albums the following year, in 1966, that revealed the full metamorphosis that music was undergoing. Those albums were Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and Revolver by The Beatles, and without them, Sgt. Pepper doesn't become "the most important album of all time" in the world of rock and popular music.
The Beatles' album was widely acknowledged as the proverbial "quantum leap" by critics and fans alike. Many authorities and music aficionados believe this album reflects the group at their peak. I think the band actually reached their zenith in their final work, Abbey Road, but why quibble? Revolver is clearly a titanic achievement.
Back in the day, Capitol Records used to alter the Beatles' releases for their own purposes, so some of the tracks on Revolver were released in the US on the Yesterday and Today album that hit record stores a couple of months before
Revolver's debut in August of 1966. For our purpose, we are talking about the UK album, which became the standard once CD technology allowed for remastering.
If we make a list of just some of the reasons the album had such an impact, we'd have to start with the difference between a live recording and a studio creation. Revolver would have been almost impossible to play live, unlike any prior Beatles
album. The songs were interwoven with layers of musical effects and multiple tracks. Quite simply, the Beatles had begun a sonic experiment that would culminate ten months later in Sgt. Pepper.
The opening intro from George Harrison's "Taxman", as well as its political stance, reflected a maturity from the group, a group now quite happily ensconced in the recording studios at Abbey Road, never to return to the likes of Shea Stadium.
"Eleanor Rigby" (which became the subject of study in my English class as well as my CCD meetings) is another tune dealing with the anxiety of modern life. Both songs are catchy melodies, but they are enhanced by meaningful, biting lyrics. No more "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah." for the Beatles except ironically.
John acknowledged his use of LSD, and his songs introduce psychedelic elements to the Beatles' catalogue. "I'm Only Sleeping" and the watershed track "Tomorrow Never Knows" reflect the influence of Dr. Timothy Leary, the guru of LSD use for mind expansion. The songs are highly textured with musical effects involving overlays and speed changes and Indian instruments like the sitar and tambura. The latter song is the apotheosis of psychedelia as it encourages the listener to eschew all the bad vibes in their lives that come from materialism and ego and just let go, drifting into a higher form of consciousness. You can see the impact this would have in San Francisco just a few months later.
Paul McCartney furthered his musical journey with a number of remarkable songs. He was so moved by a tune on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds that he came up with "Here, There, and Everywhere", one of his most glorious ballads. "Good Day
Sunshine" is another deliriously happy McCartney composition. He was at the height of his vocal powers on these recordings and took pleasure in learning and playing as many instruments as he could--entranced by the recording studio's possibilities.
Even Ringo had, arguably, his greatest track--McCartney's "Yellow Submarine". The success of the song led to an animated Beatles movie about the fab four's explorations in Pepper Land.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the contributions of George Martin, the producer. His encyclopedic musical knowledge and his invaluable insights enhanced many of the tracks. It was Sir George, for instance, who composed the string octet's backing track in "Eleanor Rigby". The song wouldn't have been the same without it. I could say much the
same about many of the other tunes.
Recently PBS broadcast a spectacular eight-part series entitled Soundbreaking. It covers music from the early rock days up to the present days of hip-hop and rap. If you haven't seen it, drop whatever you are doing and check it out. Below is a short excerpt from the series about "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver and its importance.
If you are unfamiliar with Revolver, give it a listen. If you have it memorized, listen to it again! Part II of this entry focuses on an equally great experiment--Pet Sounds.
PS: Back in the summer of 1966 I was visiting a grade school friend who lived in Maryland. We both loved music and we visited a record store in a nearby mall. The approaching school year was nigh, and it was customary for stores to hand out large sheets with advertising on them that were meant to be covers for school books if you didn't want to use brown supermarket bags, which was customary. The store had two stacks of these book covers promoting records by artists working for Capitol Records. One of the stacks of covers was for the recently released Beatles' album Revolver, depicting the exotic album cover designed by musician Klaus Voorman (it won a Grammy). The other promoted another Capitol release from earlier in the year--Pet Sounds! I took a few of each and covered my school books with them that fall. During the school year, a kid I didn't know, named Lenie Colacino, inquired about them, as he was a huge Beatles
fan (he went on to play the role of Paul McCartney in Beatlemania on Broadway!) We became fast friends and have been so ever since. Kismet! Wish I still had those book jackets!
Below: A Capitol book cover promotion from the year 1965 and one from 1967 from Sears.