When Revolver was named as VH1's top album of all time, most conceded that it was the album that transformed the music of its day. It certainly heralded a new direction for The Beatles.
But what direction?
The album is more than a move into the studio and the age of musical wizardry for The Beatles. It also marks the loss of their innocence and ends the era of love forlorn songs that explored the whimsy of relationships experienced by early 60's Romeo's and Juliet's.
Revolver brings us a new way of looking at life. It brings us a consciousness of violence and death. In many ways, it is the album that anticipates the change from Paul's melodic romanticism to John's gripping realism, and it's no coincidence that the Paul Is Dead Myth began shortly after the release of Revolver and which looks to Revolver as a primary source of clues to substantiate the hoax. Revolver is clearly an album that marks the Beatles' growing disillusionment with their own fame and their increasing awareness of the uglier side of life. It explores the realities of the violence that were gripping the world. Every album that follows Revolver returns to some form of violence, self inflicted or otherwise. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band includes the man "who blew his mind out in a car" in "A Day In A Life." The Beatles has it's "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," Abbey Road has that damn Maxwell, and Let It Be is titled after the greatest anthem to death of all the Beatles' work.
If one puts aside Paul's "Here, There and Everywhere," "Good Day Sunshine," and that brassy "Got To Get You Into My Life," then Revolver leaves us with songs that do not ring the bell of eternal optimism anymore. Rather we hear sinister and even frightening songs about death, drugs and dissolution.
They say that the only things we can be sure of in life are death and taxes. George covers the latter reality with his first contribution, "Taxman," that unscrupulous civil servant who "takes it all." But this taxman is much more than that. He is the personfication of death, that inevitable reality that taxes us more than any financial accounting ever could. Death does not audit our the value of our incomes; it audits the value of our lives.
Immediately thereafter, we confront the tragic tale of "Eleanor Rigby," the destitute Catholic who "died in a church and was buried along with her name." Well, so much for religion and its role of providing solace against the vagaries of life. Sometimes, death raises the stakes. Eleanor Rigby is a kind of symbol of those the world has pitched to the gutter. She has no life and therefore no reason to live. For some people, for "all the lonely people," the game of Russian roulette is played with a fully loaded gun.
"I'm Only Sleeping" then takes us into the world of sleep, our time away from the world. Here, the theme of death becomes more passive, perhaps more personal. We are asked, "Please don't wake me, no don't shake me, leave me where I am." The "world going by my window" is apparently no great shakes, and it is preferrable to stay in bed, foreshadowing, perhaps, the inevitable Bed-In. In all, the song is a rejection of life. It stops short of the placing the revolver to one's temple, but the sense of lifting oneself out of life to "float upstream" is there.
Geroge's second contribution to the album is "Love To You." There is an urgency in this song, and urgency to live life, to "make love all day long." This is not sensitive, sensual love making however. This is not tender "touchy-feely" stuff. This is a kind of raw sexuality that removes one from the world of people who would "screw you in the ground." It's hedonistic escapism. It's love and death mixed together.
"Yellow Submarine" is an obvious journey into a world that is somewhere outside this world. There is something drug-related to the notion that "we all live in a yellow submarine." In a way it reminds one of Jagger's "Mother's Little Helpers" and a suburban housewife's "little yellow pills." The fanciful elements of the song are contrasted by the same notion that Jagger confronts us with in the opening line of his song: "What a drag it is getting old." So, "Yellow Submarine" offers yet another alternative to life — an escape either into a journey backwards into a world of childlike innocence or into a drug sedated existence. Take your pick. Either one presumes a rejection of life.
"She Said She Said" is about miscommunication. But it is also about coming to grips with despair. At a time in one's life when the world seems a little off-center, the one you turn to is the one with whom you're closest, a lover, a friend. But here, this significant other isn't quite getting it. And by not getting it, she is "making me feel like I never belonged." Again, there is a defiant assertion that times have been better, that "when I was a boy, everything was right," and despite her contention that "I know what it's like to be sad," the sadness here is far worse than anything she could understand. Perhaps, it's that final sadness when one finds oneself alone in the world, and worse still, realizes that he or she is alone.
"And Your Bird Can Sing" is an attack on those that would fill their lives up with materialistic possessions. The song pits the pleas of a forsaken lover against the attitude of someone who seems content to have "everything you want." These pleas fall on deaf ears apparently. What she sees is what she owns, a green bird that sings, as in "money talks." What she fails to see is love. In effect, she is missing life. She has slipped into the world of CNN Financial News, how deader can you get, and clearly out of this world. The inevitable outcome, of course, is that her "prized possessions" will "start to weigh you down." Well, stocks crash, I suppose, and people jump off buildings.
The emptiness of life is probably never better captured than it is in "For No One." This song chronicles the emotional life of a love that has ended. Despite the belief that this was a "love that should have lasted years," it simply didn't. And so we are left with a condition that too many couples know only too well — that state of living death when being together merely heightens the awareness of being apart. No line in music sums up this feeling better than when Paul sings: "And in her eyes you see nothing." This is the prelude to divorce, the ugly face of reality that overrides that idealistic notion, "'til death do us part," and that too often is itself a prelude to the violence of murder, suicide, or both.
"Dr. Robert" is typically seen as a song that tells of The Beatles' New York dentist, whose main claim to fame is not so much for the root canals he did as it is for the drugs he supplied to The Beatles, specifically LSD. That a dentist should appear on the album is not surprising. After all, it is the occupation with the highest suicide rate, and let's be honest, that freezing they give you only numbs the pain for a little while.
George's final contribution to the album is "I Want To Tell You." Again, this is a song that describes how confusing it is when you "feel hung up and I don't know why." The angst that is described is pretty severe. There is even a suggestion of some kind of finality about to take place when George sings "I'll make you maybe next time around." Death and reincarnation?
The final song on the album acts as a kind of response to the recurring themes of Revolver. "Tomorrow Never Knows" begins with the line "Turn off your mind and let it float downstream." The rest of the song pretty much sounds like a Hitchhikers's Guide to an acid trip, and likely many a young man and woman living in the late 60's used it as just that. But there is more to the song. It returns us from the dark streets of Revolver to some sense of hope. We are at the bottom of Pandora's Box, after all. When we hear that "ignorance and hate mourn the dead," we should realize that we have come through a story of sorts. The story is based on the plot that life is hardship. It couldn't have been easy being a Beatle, and it's no easier being a Frank, Mary, Alex, or Marie. This is tough work, this being alive. But the alternative is the revolver and the sudden blast that takes you away forever. Better you should find some faith to bring you through it all. As the song says, "It is believing." Even the song's title, which isn't drawn from the song itself, suggests that you never know what tomorrow may bring. Perhaps that is the greatest hope of all.
Revolver marks the death of The Beatles as we knew them in their innocent years. Those Beatles were suddenly gone, dead and buried on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, their very next album. The years following Revolver would see a new band forming songs that had a more gripping personal and social consciousness of tragedy, of what Pink Flloyd called "The Dark Side of the Moon."
At any rate, it all led to Sgt. Pepper's. Ah, but that's another story!
© The Beatles On Abbey Road
[That means you can't use this for your next English essay!]