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In Part One of my exploration of The Beatles fabulous new five CD boxed set celebrating their landmark sea-change album Revolver, we explored the wonderful new Stereo remix included in the set. Today in Part 2 we’ll explore the two discs worth of outtakes from the recording sessions. If you missed that first listening report, please click here to jump to it to catch up.
While on one hand it may seem a little skimpy to the “average” hardcore Beatle fanatic that we “only” get two CDs of fine sounding studio rarities, the reality is we fans should be grateful we get anything at all because much of this material has never been released anywhere, save for a handful of tracks which appeared on The Beatles’ Anthology series years ago. These types of recordings didn’t even seem to sneak out into the collector’s underground… at least I’ve never seen or heard of their existence out in the wilds of record collecting. The two CDs feature previously unseen conceptual art by photographer Robert Friedman which was being considered for the album cover prior to the arrival of Klaus Voorman’s incredible artwork.
One of the things I am taking away from listening to these two discs is the important role of drummer Ringo Starr in elevating Revolver to the groundbreaking record that it is.
When you hear some of these earliest incarnations of the songs which emerged on Revolver, at times they sound like extensions of 1965’s Rubber Soul album. But, then when you hear Ringo laying down new ideas and innovative rhythms as the songs mature in the studio, the music ascends to new vistas.
Of course, most every casual Beatle fan knows that the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” features Ringo’s drumbeat as a central “hook” (if you will), a Tom Tom-centric style that no one else was doing at that time in rock or pop. When you hear the earliest version of the song, however, you realize it could have gone down a less exciting path if Ringo had been a more pedestrian player.
The same goes for tracks like “She Said, She Said” with Lennon’s time-tripped out floating song structure. Listening to the outtakes it’s absolutely jaw-dropping to hear how Ringo pulls — and holds — that song together. His incredible time keeping sensibilities and innovative change ups are simply stunning. For any of you who ever questioned whether Ringo was the most important drummer in rock ‘n’ roll, I think this makes a huge case for that honor, him arguably setting the stage for all the wild ’n woolly hard rocking drummers to come in the late 60s and beyond.
Play “And Your Bird Can Sing” in the new Stereo mix and you’ll notice there’s a little bit of a sort of inverted proto-disco Hi Hat cymbal rhythm he plays there on the transitional bridge (where the band is all doing a descending scale). It is these little details which transform that song from a simple pop rocker into a stratosphere-seeking masterwork. No disrespect to the power of that incredible electric guitar solo riff, but listening to the early takes of the song — before the guitar hook was in place — this sounded like just a plain old rock tune. Add the killer riff and some super sympathetic sophisticated drumming and you’ve given birth to a two minute pop epic for the ages.
It’s amazing hearing John Lennon’s demo sketch for a song idea which was repurposed into the verse melody for “Yellow Submarine.” Later, in an early group take the song actually takes on a folksy campfire flavor which — once they found the shuffling guitar strum and added Ringo’s kind of oom-pah flavored drum accompaniment (and iconic vocal delivery) — allowed the song to take on the infectious flavor that we all know and love. “Yellow Submarine” was a #1 hit around the world and reached the #2 spot in the United States. Not bad for a children’s song!
One of the other important contributors to Revolver is producer George Martin who arranged the orchestral strings for one of The Beatles most groundbreaking songs, “Eleanor Rigby.” Here in this outtake you can hear the first sessions with the double string quartet, conducting the music he wrote which elevated McCartney’s poignant song again to another level.
And so it goes on Revolver which paints a portrait of The Beatles as arguable mothers of invention when it came to recording techniques and songwriting process.
Of course, if I have any nits to pick again it’s simply the notion that as a Beatle fan most of us would like even more of this Revolver goodness! Personally I could listen to every one of the outtakes that they have in the archives in chronological order, but that’s me talking as an obsessive hardcore Beatle fanatic. For the average person perhaps two CDs of demos and outtakes is more than enough as it does present kind of a mini audio documentary of what went down in that fertile time period. Maybe there will be a sequel set someday in the future. We can only wait and see…
The more I think about it, Revolver was more than just the beginning of The Beatles’ most creative and productive musical era. It could be argued that it was exactly the sort of record the burgeoning psychedelic movement needed to lift it off the ground and into the popular mainstream. Yes, there were other psychedelic records happening in 1966 such as The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators and Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. But Revolver arguably legitimized the psychedelic underground and helped to put it onto the airwaves and into mainstream media for the world to see and hear. There was no going back.
Everything The Beatles did on Revolver set the stage for Sergeant Pepper a year later. After all these years of being a fan, it is still quite astounding to me — when you stop to think about it — how far they came in such a short time. They went from the simplistic pop confections like “Love Me Do” to crafting proto-prog-funk-metal epics like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and the acoustic powerhouse “Here Comes The Sun” in less than 10 years time.
Fifty years after they split up The Beatles’ music is still revered as among the most important — if not the most important — in pop music of the last 100 years. It is an influence that still resonates today with new listeners in the 21st century.
Deep dive studies like this super deluxe edition boxed set and the new Stereo mix will ensure that music fans for generations to come will be able to explore and fall in love with The Beatles’ art for generations to come. Accordingly, the 100-page hardcover book included in the set goes a long way to put this album into historical perspective, with letters from Sir Paul McCartney himself as well as producer Giles Martin and a great perspective message by present day music icon Questlove (of The Roots). The track-by-track liner notes are excellent written by historian, author and radio producer Kevin Howlett. Complete with loads of unpublished photos, lyrics, original tape storage boxes and even period promotional materials, the book also includes a bit of Klaus Voormann’s graphic novel, birth of an icon: REVOLVER.
The Revolver super deluxe edition CD boxed set comes out next week on October 28th and is available for pre-order if you like listening on that format. It will also be streaming on most popular platforms. You can click on the album title anywhere in the review to jump to Amazon but no doubt this set will be available wherever great music is sold these days.