What a great fall so far for rock n roll. I’ve been celebrating new releases from the Cult, Bush (which really surprised me) and a second album from the Chili Peppers and then the Beatles dropped the superb new box set focused on one of the greatest albums of all time, Revolver. This is the fifth Super Deluxe box set focused on a specific album that they’ve released (so far) and we always ask the question, is this thing worth buying? The first set released was focused on Sgt Peppers and it was a skip for me as was the set for Abbey Road. I’ve never purchased Abbey Road, that side 2 medley puts me off. The box sets for The Beatles aka The White Album and Let It Be were absolute must have’s for me but I’ve always been more of a fan of their later work. Like all previous sets, this one is produced by Giles Martin, famous Beatles’ producer George Martin‘s son.
Growing up in my parent’s house I merely had to walk down the hall to the next bed room to find a font of Beatles music and wisdom. My brother was a huge Beatles fan even before I started listening to rock n roll. I was always a late bloomer. When you walked by his room you could almost always hear tunes slipping out from under the door or through the wall adjacent to my bedroom. I remember, once I started listening to music and got my turntable/receiver/tape player combo stereo, boldly entering my brother’s room with a blank cassette tape and announcing my intention to tape his Beatles collection – but only their “good songs.” I’m sure my brother was sitting there thinking, “All Beatles songs are good, you knob.” Needless to say, I didn’t bring as many cassettes as I needed…it turns out you can’t condense the Beatles’ career into one cassette… Youth is sometimes wasted on the young.
Despite living next to the Yoda of Beatles fans, when I finally did get into music I turned out to be more of a Stones’ guy. My brother and I tend to head in opposite directions. Although I was never religious about it, Stones vs Beatles. I liked the Beatles too but the Stones were my alpha and omega probably because they were more blues centered. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started buying Beatles records. Believe it or not, my first Beatles’ LP was Let It Be purchased at a Used Record store. From there I went on to buy Rubber Soul, Revolver, and several of the early LPs. Despite having grown up next to the foremost Beatles expert in my house, I had no idea that many of the Beatles LPs were different in the US than in the UK. Those rapacious bastards at Capitol Records who distributed Beatles albums in the States for their parent company EMI would change the running order of albums and often pull tunes off the UK versions and put out Frankenstein-style, cobbled together albums like Yesterday And Today, which I also purchased, not knowing any of this.
Because of Capitol Records slicing up these albums like they were playlists, I always sort of liked Rubber Soul better than Revolver. In my defense, Capitol had stripped out three songs from the UK version of the album that I consider some of my favorite tracks – “I’m Only Sleeping” (which inspired our Sleep Playlist), “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Dr Robert.” No wonder I was confused. Of course Rubber Soul was equally chopped up. The US version starts with “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” which is one of my favorite Beatles’ acoustic tracks but it’s not even on the UK version. Now that I’ve heard and own both of the UK versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver, I’d have to say, while I still love the former, the latter is now my favorite of the two. While this may seem strange to the Beatles’ faithful out there, I’ve always had those two albums linked in my mind – I sort of consider it the most critical period of the Beatles career.
If the Beatles had called it quits after releasing their great early LPs, when they were still the lovable “Mop Tops,” and their two soundtrack LPs (Hard Days Night and Help!) they’d still be considered the greatest band ever. I mean, there’s no getting around how fantastic they were. They exploded onto the music scene like a super nova. I remember my uncle telling me that he and his buddies couldn’t get over their “long” hair. In 1965 when they put out Rubber Soul they completely changed the way artists and fans approached the entire concept of the album. An album previously had been a collection of singles and well, filler. People bought singles not albums. The Beatles went at Rubber Soul in an attempt to create an entire album that hung together as an artistic statement. Well, it worked. It inspired countless other artists. I’ve always considered Rubber Soul to be the Beatles pot album. I mean, not that it’s about pot… but they’d started smoking pot, turned on by Bob Dylan, and it expanded their artistic consciousness. Drugs aren’t always bad, people… I never use it as I’m naturally ebullient, but I’m off topic. Rubber Soul revolutionized the whole idea of an album and it’s a landmark LP. What do you do for an encore?
Well, first, you move from pot to LSD, yes, acid. Unwittingly turned onto LSD by a rogue dentist – I once knew an evil chiropractor – John (especially) and George really opened up their minds to creative possibilities. The Beatles were scheduled to film their third movie at the start of 1966 and luckily for the world, it was cancelled. With all this free time, besides taking acid, the Beatles were able to take some vacation time and recharge the batteries. They also had a lot more time to focus on the studio and producing another mind blowing album. At the time when record companies were expecting two albums a year even from the Beatles, they pumped the brakes and started to exert more control over their artistic lives.
Revolver may just be my favorite Beatles album. They say that listening to The White Album is like listening to a band growing apart and listening to Let It Be is the sound of a band breaking up – I sort of agree about The White Album, but I’m not so sure about Let It Be – the sound of Revolver is the sound of a band coming together with a singular focus to create the greatest variety of sounds they may have ever produced. The band comes together like a team. And, my god, they were so far ahead of their time. Everybody shows up strong. I’m going to start with George, because nobody ever starts with George. He gets the opening track, the iconic “Taxman” and it’s truly one of his best. He really shows his development as a songwriter here. I’m not a huge fan of his Indian stuff, but “Love You To” may be my favorite of that variety. I think it’s his first full blown Indian style track, although I know he’d flavored a few earlier songs with sitar. “I Want To Tell You” is one of his most underrated songs.
Listening to this album again I’m amazed at what a great drummer Ringo is/was. I always dismissed him when compared to guys like John Bonham or Keith Moon when I first got into rock n roll, but the guy is money. He drumming is always in service to the songs. He is also the perfect person to sing “Yellow Submarine,” a “groovy uncle.” McCartney’s song craft is perhaps at a pinnacle on Revolver. “For No One” is perhaps his saddest song ever and the sound of the clavichord points the way towards Sgt Pepper. “Eleanor Rigby” is simply iconic. “Got To Get You Into My Life” is psychedelic soul at it’s finest. While all of that is great, my highest praise is for Lennon. “Tomorrow Never Knows” – with its way ahead of it’s time tape-loops – where he quotes the Tibetan Book of the Dead may be the greatest Beatles’ song ever. What a trippy tune. “She Said, She Said,” inspired by a conversation he’d had with Peter Fonda who kept saying, “I know what it’s like to be dead” is another stellar track. The aforementioned tracks that were left off the US version are absolute knockouts, “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Dr Robert” about the rogue dentist who gave them LSD. There is no Sgt. Pepper without Revolver. All these years later it’s still a breathtaking listen.
On this Super Deluxe Edition, I must say, this is a must have, not just for Beatles fans. As mentioned, the remix is produced by Giles Martin. His new stereo mix sounds fantastic. I’m not one of those Beatles audiophiles that can tell you if he dropped a backing vocal here or a drum beat there – I can only share my feelings about the listening experience. The Beatles, as was the custom of the time, were more focused on the mono mixes back in the 60s. Predominantly all music was released in mono. People were listening on transistor radios or stereos with one speaker, it was the dominant style. It wasn’t until the late 60s and really into the 70s that stereo came to the fore. Frankly I don’t know if there has been a really good stereo mix of the old Beatles records, until now. It sounds fabulous, especially turned up loud. There is also a mono version of the album for those of you who want to compare. And there are some subtle differences between the mono mix and the stereo mix if you listen carefully…
Like previous Beatles box sets, the two discs beyond the stereo and mono remixes of the album are all outtakes of earlier versions of the released tracks. This isn’t like say, Prince’s 1999 where there are a bunch of unreleased never-heard-before tracks. And while I know it’s cliche, I have to say this is a fabulous glimpse into the Beatles’ creative process, which I for one find fascinating. There’s so much cool stuff here. “Tomorrow Never Knows – Take 1” sounds like a baby singing from the womb over his mother’s heartbeat, like a singing sonogram… it’s amazing for a first take. There are several versions of “Got To Get You Into My Life” – “Take 5” is driven by Paul driving the tune on an organ with Ringo’s loping drums. The second version of the song is fuzzy guitar driven and I might like it better than the released version… George’s “Love You To” strummed on an acoustic guitar is a great demo. “Rain – Take 5” sounds like it was recorded on speed, way too fast, but the next version “Rain – Take 5 (Slowed Down),” brings out all the trippiness of the song.
The different versions of “And Your Bird Can Sing” bring out the rock n roll in the song. Once again Ringo’s drumming is perfect for the track. Not everything they do works. “Taxman – Take 11” has some additional backing vocals that were best left in the can. The versions of “I’m Only Sleeping” take us on a journey from acoustic, folky strummer to the full blown rock tune. “Eleanor Rigby – Take 2” is just the strings… and I kind of dug that but I’ve been listening to more classical stuff of late. The versions of “Yellow Submarine” are nothing short of a revelation. It starts with John singing with an acoustic guitar on “Yellow Submarine – Songwriting Work Tape Part 1” and “Part 2” and it changes the song to me. Paul wrote it, John demo’d it, and Ringo sang it. The demos almost sound kind of sad. I also really found “She Said, She Said – John’s Demo” fascinating listening… it’s just John again with only an acoustic guitar. To think where that song went from such humble beginnings.
The last disc in the box is a mocked up single with just “Rain” and “Paperback Writer” – in both a new stereo mix and the mono mix. I love both of those song – which weren’t on the actual album, they were released as a single – but even I’ll admit it feels like they’re padding the package to charge a bit more. I don’t usually comment on packaging but the book in this box is something else!
This is a set of songs and demos that I know I’m going to be returning to and listening to over and over much like I did with Let It Be Super Deluxe. I advise everybody to listen to this and remember Xmas is coming…this would look good under any tree. This box is certainly worth it.