My second post on the Greatest Albums Ever list is Revolver by The Beatles. Now, I realize Americans who were born before 1960 will have a hard time with this conceit since they had to deal with an entirely different Revolver. They had to deal with a Revolver in which three entire John Lennon cuts were excised. That is most lamentable since without those three cuts you get an incomplete picture at best. At worst you have the very lowest and most despicable example of The Beatles cashing in on their American bastardization albums through reducing and moving tracks. The American version of Revolver makes it seem as though both Paul McCartney and George Harrison were writing more songs than John Lennon. And George Harrison never out-wrote either John Lennon or Paul McCartney except on the equally illegitimate Beatles release, Yellow Submarine, named for the movie (of which they had almost no involvement) which was named for the track on this very album. The bastardizations were left on the cutting room floor when it came time to reissue the albums in 1987 (“It was 20 years ago, today!”) from that point on setting the record straight and giving those who came of age to appreciate music at the right time the truth. They even collected all of the leftovers not included on albums on the brilliant Past Masters series. America exacted the ultimate price out of John Lennon for the American editions and for his avowedly shitty behavior when he encountered a heretofore nameless-but-fatal assailant in the year of 1980.
Nevertheless, Revolver in its British incarnation, is one of the greatest albums of all time. Paul McCartney had finally caught up to John Lennon in terms of song composition since the slight disparity of Rubber Soul. In fact, John Lennon, in one of his moments of decency graciously conceded that “Here, There and Everywhere” was the best song on the album. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was that watershed moment when The Beatles had truly stepped over the edge. It was their first complete step into experimentation as they had always dipped and waded before. This was within the context of pop music, too, which is perhaps the least amenable form of music toward experimentation. And it gave George Harrison Cart-Blanche to chase his own Indian dreams in “Love You To.” The excellence of this particular album is uniform, though, so much to the point that singling out tracks is almost unfair.
How could I refrain from name checking “Got To Get You Into My Life” which sounds like Paul McCartney’s “Ha! You name it, I can do it!” response to motown, “Taxman”, one of George Harrison’s greatest rants, or “She Said She Said”, perhaps the greatest story of acid trippers having a bull session of all time. Revolver is a line in the sand for The Beatles. Before, The Beatles were trying their hardest to make the perfect incarnations of past successes. After this album they were trying to shed their image entirely as The Beatles. This album, therefore stands at the perfect funnel of the ultimate vortex of their career. They were still the four recognizable mop-tops of British revolution in America (The British Invasion) and they were the creative auteurs who could make not only Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but The “White” Album and Abbey Road.
There was rough competition for best album ever in 1966. It gets even rougher when you consider that The Velvet Underground & Nico perhaps should’ve been released in that year. The Beach Boys could have out-foxed them at this point with Pet Sounds. Bob Dylan had released rock and roll’s first and finest double album (and sprawling magnum opus) Blonde On Blonde only a gunshot away from Frank Zappa’s own fine debut, Freak Out! Indeed, in a way 1966 was even more of a zeitgeist year than 1967 even though it saw the release of more important albums than you could shake a stick at. Revolver is ultimately more than its peers because it is the first psychedelic album. It sounds ironic with Frank Zappa around but not when you consider that Frank Zappa never took drugs. This album saw the Beatles using Stockhausen-style tape loops, backwards guitar solos, artificial double-tracking, exotic instruments, flights of fancy lyrics (with perhaps barely a song in there about a woman) and irony that the album cover itself isn’t as bright and colorful as the music within, being in pure black and white. And what’s more, Revolver didn’t have to fall back on the use of middling instrumentals (“Pet Sounds”) to make it through to the end.
It’s true that Revolver is a high-water point in terms of songwriting. Not only have John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s compositions been top notch (“She Said She Said” and “For No One” respectively, to name songs that haven’t been mentioned) but George Harrison has made some excellent strides in his own already crystallized format (“Taxman” and “I Want To Tell You” – also to name songs that haven’t been mentioned). Ringo Starr’s showcase, “Yellow Submarine” is also, of course an indispensable cut.
Revolver is as much a nod and a wink as Sgt. Pepper at times. They echoed their roots in the false-start count-up at the very beginning (a reference to past success Please Please Me). They managed not only their R&B early times but also their future as hard rockers who would compete with The Stones (and not the other way around). Every aspect one could possibly like about The Beatles is captured in at least the most minuscule part on this amazingly daring record. They had done their first fully-self-written album statement in 1964 with A Hard Day’s Night. That alone was an incredible moment in their career. They wouldn’t attempt such a feat again until Rubber Soul. And how right they were to wait two full albums before they made such a step. But Revolver is where it all came together. More so than any album before it and even every album after it every song on Revolver is important. And that is why this particular album above all other Beatles albums makes the highest spot on this list.