(My 100 favorite albums in chronological order: #1 – released August 5, 1966. Originally posted on Kriofske Mix, 5/19/2014)
Track listing: Taxman / Eleanor Rigby / I’m Only Sleeping / Love You To / 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 / Got To Get You Into My Life / Tomorrow Never Knows
At its 20th anniversary in 1987, Rolling Stone magazine listed their top 100 albums of the past 20 years, and The Beatles’ 1967 opus SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND was at number one. How could it have been anything else? “It was twenty years ago today” was the first line of the first song, after all, and it made for impeccable marketing synergy (it had also recently come out on CD for the first time); it also didn’t hurt that SGT. PEPPER’S was the band’s best selling album and inarguably their most important from a cultural standpoint. If any single effort by a rock band turned the album into an art form, this was it.
As for REVOLVER, the band’s previous album, it didn’t even make the list. However, when the magazine compiled its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, REVOLVER came in at number three (SGT. PEPPER’S was still at the top). Just last year, Entertainment Weekly deemed it the number one album of all time. This apparently sudden surge in critical acclaim might’ve been a result of the album as we now know it not appearing in the US until its CD debut in 1987. Prior to SGT. PEPPER’S, Capitol Records released its own versions of The Beatles’ British albums with alternate track listings and, occasionally, different album titles (much to the band’s chagrin). This was presumably done to create more product for the American market. For instance, the original Capitol version of REVOLVER cut out three tracks (“I’m Only Sleeping”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “Doctor Robert”) because they had already appeared two months earlier on YESTERDAY AND TODAY, a particularly egregious hodgepodge also containing recent non-album singles and a smattering of tracks from the original British editions of HELP! and RUBBER SOUL.
Still, those three songs are not among the album’s most essential (though one who only knows the British track listing can’t imagine it without them). Perhaps REVOLVER (and, to a lesser extent, RUBBER SOUL) just paled in the shadow of SGT. PEPPER’S for twenty-odd years. I doubt many listeners ever dismissed its merit; I even remember first hearing it when I was 18 (possibly my fourth or fifth Beatles album) and instantly being impressed by its consistency—sure, not everything was as attention-grabbing as “Eleanor Rigby” or “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but it had no filler, either. I admit a few years passed before I warmed up to “Love You To”, George’s first full-on attempt at incorporating Indian instruments and rhythms into pop music (following the sitar in “Norwegian Wood” the previous year), while “Doctor Robert” struck me as a little nondescript until those blissed-out harmonies in the “well, well, well” section eventually got to me. Otherwise, at 18, I knew REVOLVER was a gem, but it wasn’t as outwardly flashy or seemingly ambitious or what the critical establishment deemed to be as “great” or “important” an album as SGT. PEPPER’S.
Funny, then, how some albums and their reputations age over time. SGT. PEPPER’S is still a genuinely great collection of songs—only a contrarian like Jim DeRogatis could deny the likes of “She’s Leaving Home”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day In The Life”. Increasingly, though, it sounds very much of its time, epitomizing the Summer of Love and serving as an etching of a historical moment. REVOLVER, on the other hand, now seems more prescient and further reaching. Granted, some tracks betray their age explicitly: “Taxman” builds on the mod-ish momentum of The Who’s early singles and “Got To Get You Into My Life” is a letter-perfect mid-60’s Motown facsimile, right down to its propulsive beat and horn blasts. But most of REVOLVER is timeless due to two factors: it showcases one of the most beloved bands of all time at their musical peak and in retrospect, it has proved massively influential (hard to imagine The Jam existing without “Taxman” or power pop in general before “And Your Bird Can Sing”).
It’s also the Beatles’ most sonically diverse album (until perhaps THE BEATLES (aka The White Album)). Take the range expressed within the first four tracks: the relatively straightforward groove of “Taxman”, the dramatic, anything-but-genteel string quartet lament of “Eleanor Rigby”, the melancholy, hesitantly psychedelic (dig the backwards guitar solo) stoned shuffle of “I’m Only Sleeping”, and the uncompromising Eastern drone of “Love You To”. Similarly, look at the last three songs: Harrison’s contemporary, jaunty, piano-driven “I Want To Tell You” followed by “Got To Get You Into My Life” (a throwback in comparison) and then “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the band’s most radical, experimental composition to date. In theory, none of these songs belong on the same album, but such is the band’s proficiency, chemistry and willingness to be open to the unknown that REVOLVER as a whole is both diverse and unified. In lesser hands, its bold stylistic transitions would simply jar, like placing Paul’s impassioned, firing-on-all-cylinders vocal at the end of “Got To Get You Into My Life” next to the mélange of tape loops setting up the moment Ringo’s seminal drum pattern kicks in on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. But the band displays such a level of confidence and skill here that the shift feels almost inexplicably effortless.
The album’s mid-section is where you’ll find its biggest hit (Ringo-sung kiddie standard “Yellow Submarine”), a pair of lovely Paul ballads (the hushed, modern-yet-classical “Here There and Everywhere” and chamber-pop primer “For No One”) and two perennially overlooked highlights. Side One closer “She Said She Said” is the accessible, melodic flipside to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, placing its psychedelia and dream logic within a more rigid song structure than nonetheless has elasticity (and one of John’s best vocals ever). Side Two opener “Good Day Sunshine” is both deliriously ecstatic and carefully meticulous, deconstructing how one writes a pop song along the way (hey, let’s cut out the expected vocals in this section of the second verse for an impromptu barrelhouse piano solo!) while continually sounding at ease and without any strain.
Perhaps that’s REVOLVER’S brilliance distilled to a singular essence—pop music simultaneously at its most innovative and approachable. However, this is not The Beatles’ only appearance on this list; they will return a few entries in with another record that accomplishes this same feat, only with time and a change in perspective among the band’s four magnetic personalities altering its sound and scope considerably.
Video for “She Said She Said”:
What Don Draper thinks of “Tomorrow Never Knows”: