The Beatles had a prolific career spanning only eight years and an astounding 13 official records. Among fans, identifying their best album is a hard task. However, there is one album that makes everyone’s list: the 1966 release, Revolver.
Revolver came during a hectic time in their active years. In 1966 the Beatles made the news for the infamous John Lennon quote about fame and Jesus. Later that year they once again made the news by taking to the stage for the last time to focus solely on recording. A year later, in 1967, they released Sgt. Pepper, the album that most critics have pointed to as their greatest. Two years later, in January of 1969, they recorded their last song together and in 1970 they officially disbanded.
Amongst the milestones and important dates, the making and release of Revolver marks a decisive moment in the band’s history. If the 1965 release of Rubber Soul had raised a few eyebrows (and a few critics), then Revolver made heads spin. So, what was it about Revolver that still has people talking about it 55 years later?
The Beatles approached Revolver in an entirely new manner. They did not worry about being able to reproduce their songs on stage. Instead they focused on unleashing creativity in-studio, and while doing so they pioneered recording techniques (like artificial double tracking) that would later inspire giants like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Queen. They started viewing the recording studio as an instrument itself, focusing on their raw output and not on tours and concerts.
This resulted in a daring, boundary-pushing sonic landscape that both challenged listeners and cemented their act as more than just pop music. They dabbled in psychedelic rock and brought the genre to the general public’s consciousness for the first time. They incorporated Eastern instruments such as the Indian tambura into songs like “Love You Too” while incorporating Eastern philosophy and religion into their lyrics as well. The drums were put on center stage for the first time in songs like “Doctor Robert” and “Taxman,” something not very common for pop music at that time. In songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” the only instrumentals are a string octet – something almost unheard of from the most popular band in the world at that time.
At this time George Harrison was blossoming as a songwriter and was given more space to show his prowess. Paul McCartney had become more interested in the London Avant-Garde movement, incorporating elements of the art form into their music. John Lennon started getting interested in psychedelic drugs such as LSD and worked them into songs like “I’m Only Sleeping.” With many creative directions, the environment was that of creativity and friendly competition as they would push each other to their musical best. This is something that would later deteriorate completely before the band would hate recording with each other.
Lyrically, Revolver is another departure from their previous six records. Songs were no longer about relationships and love, they were about the meaning of life and death, drugs and even transcendentalism. Though they showed a glimpse of this in their previous record, Rubber Soul, they made a full dive into these topics in Revolver. They stopped writing poppy love songs meant to be played on staged and began writing more musically and lyrically complex songs that would largely define the sound of the rest of their musical output.
Revolver was an important step for the Beatles. They pushed their own sound past its boundaries, largely redefining what pop music was “supposed” to sound like. They challenged listeners with more complex harmonics and instrumentation unlike ever before. The ambient sounds in songs like “Yellow Submarine” proved to be not a wall but an open door for listeners. Lyrically they began singing about what they really wanted to say – not what they thought listeners wanted to hear. The studio-as-instrument approach also proved to be a significant innovation on their own sound and the sound that would later be an inspiration to many other bands. Revolver is a timeless classic that changed music forever and is a highpoint of their career.