Review Summary: "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
The 1960's was surely an interesting time for rock music. Bands from all over the world were beginning to look at their instruments, and themselves, under a new light. But of course, we can't even begin to mention the music of the 1960's without talking about the one aspect that forever changed the sound of traditional Rock & Roll, and that's Psychedelic drugs. Aldous Huxley wrote about these particular drugs in; "The Doors Of Perception"
and "Heaven and Hell"
, were he discusses the transcendental experiences one encounters when under the trance of Psychoactive drugs. He describes that in this state, we open a special part within our brain that let's us see the world like we've never seen it before. Laying down our conscious minds to the altar and in return, welcoming a numinous phantasm of color and ecstasy, a separation of body and mind.
Psychedelic advocates, like Ken Kesey, began promoting the usage of Psychedelic drugs. He embarked on a journey throughout the United States with his Merry Pranksters as they went across the country to host their infamous "Acid Tests". This new trend of free spirited drug-usage reached across the sea to the hedonistic lifestyle of Swinging London. This would grow to have a major influence in music. Musicians from all over began trying to recreate the experiences of psychoactive drugs within their songs. Music became much more abstract, much more experimental, and even stranger. There was a stronger emphasis on atmosphere, and artist began pushing themselves as far as they could go musically and getting lost within their own creations.
Psychedelic music began to be defined by numerous artists from around the world. Artists, like Pink Floyd, are perhaps the perfect paradigm as their music was a union of numerous ambient sounds that created a hypnotic trance. And of course there are earlier artists like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience who promoted the usage of Wah-pedals and other disorienting guitar effects. But back in 1966, there was no archetype of what Psychedelic music was suppose to sound like, so of course, someone had to step up to define the genre. The mid-1960's was the height of Beatlemania, everyone, and I mean everyone, in the entire planet knew who The Beatles were. The Beatles built their fame by composing romantic Pop songs, which evidently brought them to the attention of Ed Sullivan who flew them in from England to the United States to perform on his show, and that was it- The Beatles became the biggest act in popular music. So of course a band who has had such an influence in this time would be the perfect candidate to take popular music to the next level.
can be seen as a transitional period for the band. The Beatles haven't necessarily left their Pop-rock sound, and they're just beginning to explore the limits of their musical potential. But we do see the band performing numerous experiments with their sound in this album, and beginning to tap into their illustrious creativity. Revolver begins with "Taxman"
, which has a very typical guitar-driven sound, but its most intriguing aspect is the lyrics which center a around political theme rather than the usual tales of romantic escapades. After hearing the Folk music of their previous album, Rubber Soul
, it deludes the listener into thinking that The Beatles have regressed into their familiar Pop-rock sound. But all of these conceptions will soon come to a halt as Revolver descends into "Eleanor Rigby"
. This track is perhaps the first indication of The Beatles' new experimental side. "Eleanor Rigby"
is a rather anomalous song for a typical Pop band of the time, as it is not only composed entirely by classical orchestrations, but its lyrics express a more melancholic tone that deals with darker subjects such as death and loneliness.
As I have mentioned before, Revolver contains a symmetrical balance of pervious musical ventures and new aspirations. "And Your Bird Can Sing"
, is perhaps the most reminiscent of their older nature but it contains a slightly more aggressive guitar-style than their past rock compositions. "Got To Get You Into My Life"
displays a perfect amalgamation of old and new tendencies. The song features a prominent Brass section, but it contains bass and drum arrangements that make the track feel more like a Pop song. Another interesting aspect of the song is that it displays some early examples of Psychedelic guitar-effects in the end. But I suppose the most surprising aspect of "Got To Get You Into My Life"
lies within its lyrics. To the ignorant ear, it may sound like the narrator is dedicating this ode to a lover, but the narrator is in fact referring to Marijuana. In an biographical novel, Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
, Paul McCartney discusses that the song actually does refer to the drug, which is a reflection of the immense influence drugs would have during this stage in The Beatles' music.
But now let us refer to the more experimental aspects of Revolver. "I'm Only Sleeping"
projects many early Psychedelic characteristics, for example, it exudes a very dreary expression and a unique sound of reversed guitar arrangements that gives it a very hypnotic vibe. And of course there is, "Love You To"
. This song is regarded as the first introduction of Indian music to the western world. This is also the second song by The Beatles to feature the sitar, the first being "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"
from Rubber Soul. But only this time, it plays a more prominent role than just decoration. "Love You To"
is the first of George Harrison's Raga compositions, while also containing a droning guitar combination with a fuzz-effect to induce a distorting vibe. The archetype of "Love You To
was very important in the development of Psychedelic music as many future acts would emulated its usage of Eastern influences. But perhaps the most important track of Revolver lies within its finale, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
"Tomorrow Never Knows"
is the most important Psychedelic composition in the history of the genre. It's so abnormal for its time, so unique, yet unforgettable. The level of artistry within this piece is just uncanny. This is not a song, but an experience. "Tomorrow Never Knows"
is the epitome of everything that psychedelia stands for. The song was written primarily by John Lennon, needless to say being inspired by a vivid LSD trip. The psuedo-philosophical ambiguity of the lyrics are an adaption of The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead
, one of the authors being Timothy Leary, an important advocate of Psychedelic drugs. The book contains a set of instructions for one under the influence of Psychoactive drugs to follow, ensuring a metaphysical and transcendental psychological journey to spiritual enlightenment. There is an ethereal presence that possesses "Tomorrow Never Knows"
. The lyrics reflect a meditative and cathartic spirituality. The music alters the mind to induce a hypnotic experience, using a series of innovative musical manipulation techniques of amplification and electronics that were unheard of at the time. All of them helping to create a trancing listen that has to be heard to even begin to fathom.
Though of course today most Beatle fans are familiar with the band's discography and evolution, but I can't even begin to imagine how the average listener must have felt after listening to Revolver for the first time in its initial release. What thoughts and opinions its music must have conjured up, and of course the immense curiosity of what was to come. This was the album that separated The Beatles from all of their contemporaries, and a defining statement that this band was miles ahead of everyone else and destined to be remembered as much more than just 4 guys in a band. Revolver is forever to be remembered as one of the first Psychedelic albums that truly defined the genre. This is an album that must be heard, and in its versatility, there is something for every Beatle fan, regardless of what era in their music you're most fond of.