In this exchange, we reconvene the team of lay critics who gathered in this space last year to consider
Get Back, Peter Jackson’s re-edited documentary about the making of The Beatles album,
Let It Be, and the famous rooftop performance of songs that celebrated it
. Our subject, this year, is the super-deluxe version of
Revolver, the album by The Beatles from 1966 considered by many to be their very finest recording. The re-release consists of a remix by Giles Martin of the original album, using separation tools and techniques perfected during the making of
Get Back, and a great wealth of alternate takes and early versions of tracks on the ultimately released version of
Revolver. The team of critics herewith consists of myself, Rick Moody, Adam Braver (author of, most recently,
Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney, a novel, professor of writing at Roger Williams University and Associate Director of the New York State Summer Writers Institute), and Marc Woodworth (poet, musician, music critic, editor at
Salmagundi magazine, and lecturer at Skidmore College). The emails from which this piece was crafted were exchanged from October to December 2022, beginning just days after the first single from the album, the remixed “Taxman,” was released, and throughout the season of remixed
Revolver singles. So: the dialogue is as-it-happened, with respect to the unfolding of the super-deluxe
Revolver. We declared ourselves finished right near the new year.Rick Moody
: So has everyone listened to “Tomorrow Never Knows (take 1)?” This draft version has been kicking around the canon since the Anthology
releases, but I think I heard it before that, even, because it was so heavily bootlegged. I remember hearing it in a condition in which it was pretty sludgy, because it had been passed around and rerecorded by amateurs. I think Giles Martin has significantly increased the crispness of it, and the drums especially are right out front now. This is an improvement, but I have to say I resist this take now, having heard it a lot, or, at least, more importantly, it proves to me how great is the finished version.
This is basically a tape loop piece, I think, and maybe one of the first great tape loop pieces (if, for example, one notes that the really infamous Terry Riley loop pieces, like Rainbow in Curved Air
, mostly date from slightly later in time. Rainbow
is from 1969. (This Riley piece is the basis for the Townshend organ part in “Baba O'Riley,” I think.) The Beatles were ahead of the curve on this use of tape loops, or, at the very least, in the first wave. The problem is that the loop they’re using is a little boring. There’s a bit of George’s guitar looped, unless I miss my guess, and some other studio sludge. Interesting, but not melodically fabulous. And then basically they throw Ringo at the loops and ask him to try to stay in time with them, more or less, which would perhaps have been really difficult.
Some of this got solved with the use of the tamboura on the finished track. It does what the sludgy loop sound was supposed to do (which is: sound ominous and strange). But the finished version has something else, in reserve, something even better: the backwards stuff. The backwards stuff, flutes and electric guitars and strings, and some organ, is so powerful, and so well organized around John that it amplifies the melody, which after all is pretty simple. The backwards stuff gives the melody greater impact. (There’s the slap-back echo on his voice, too, most welcome, which they might have added to take 1, had they thought it was a finished take.) The backwards stuff is exactly like a classic George solo: that is, fitted in and thoroughly composed at the same time. Sort of like his solos on Abbey Road.
Also, Ringo’s drums are far, far more interesting, on the finished take, with that flam on the tom that isn’t in take 1 in the same way.
Maybe they would have orchestrated all these tape effects on take 1 if they had intended to finish it, and because they didn’t intend to finish it it didn’t get the same treatment. As a result, it’s interesting, because so different, but not interesting otherwise. Not a song I would revere in the way I revere the released version from 1966. Or so it seems to me today. Your thoughts?Adam Braver
: Rick, in many respects, I was relieved to find your take on the nascent “Tomorrow Never Knows” track—relieved, because I also was not enamored with this early iteration. I was not ready to defend it. Of course, I understand that it was just that, an early iteration, but any expectation that I’d had of finally hearing the missing gem or held-back masterpiece version didn’t come through with this listening. Purely from a historical perspective, it is interesting as a sketch. Particularly, Rick, as you note when thinking about what would
come and eventually turn this sketch into the song that we so admire for all its sonic playfulness and innovation. But yes, on its own, in this raw form, I also found it to be a little dull and repetitive, feeling more as though I was listening to a tracked jam than a song. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how I might have heard it if I didn’t know what was missing. I suspect it would not have changed my experience or delivered a new appreciation for the track.
All that aside, what is interesting to me is that this was the first recording for the Revolver
sessions. And just thinking of it that way fascinates me, perhaps as though it was the band’s announcement to themselves, the record label, George Martin, etc. that they were boarding up old rooms for good and settling into new digs, both in terms of composition and arrangement, but also in the notion of the studio-as-bandmember. Certainly, Rubber Soul
had broken the link to the “Fab Four,” but thinking of this version of “Tomorrow Never Knows” as the entry point into the new album suggests that they were fiercely deliberate about not just breaking the link, but severing and destroying it.
My mom had seen The Beatles in Dodger Stadium just weeks after Revolver
had been released. (That she didn’t take me was always a source of resentment, although the truth is that I was not old enough to have been able to have a memory, not to mention how even in 1966 Southern California that would have been more than inappropriate by all societal standards.) She always recounted it as being a huge disappointment. She and her friends completely had fallen in for Rubber Soul
and now Revolver
. And yet, while the setlist did dispense with songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,” it still focused heavily on songs two LPs back and more, with “If I Needed Someone” being the only one representing Rubber Soul
, and nothing from Revolver
. She remembered it much the same way that The Beatles later talked about those final touring shows—the disconnection between the sophisticated and innovative music they were putting out for themselves and their next level of listeners, and the remnants of the teenyboppers who were there to scream at top-tier for their beloved and fading mop-tops.
So while it took stopping touring and the release of Sgt Peppers
to cement the next phase of The Beatles truly as artists, hearing this version of “Tomorrow Never Knows” did at least make me appreciate the conscious effort (and maybe even struggle) that they were setting out to achieve. And while I’m sure we will get into this later, my love of Revolver
is that they actually achieved it in so many different forms—not just in terms of arrangements and recording techniques, but also in perhaps what might be their most exquisite songwriting.Marc Woodworth
: I have to confess that I hadn’t heard take one of “Tomorrow Never Knows” until a couple of weeks ago. My first response was a geeky thrill at hearing anything non-canonical that sustained the bootleg industry for so long, no matter how bad the sound quality or how inferior the first take to the final version. Even at this late date, I was buzzing because I could experience this ur-text of what would become one of the most ambitious and imaginative works in the canon. The aura of archaeological discovery, the uncovering of the artifact, attended my first listen – maybe you both felt a little of that the first time you heard it way back when.
I listened again after reading your responses and can’t argue with any of them: the loop isn’t much in the first place and Ringo’s drum pattern doesn’t have a trace of the sharpness, even menace, of the album version, missing as it does that essential flam at the end of each phrase, as you note, Rick. That one element alone plays a big part in making this, for me, Ringo’s most perfectly integrated and thrilling performance. I’ve thought of that drumbeat more than any other throughout a big chunk of my life. It sounded fresh still in the 80’s in the midst of post-punk art-rock and doesn’t sound at all like a superannuated period piece even now. But it’s not on this first take, so …
I agree with you, Adam, that the thought of starting the Revolver
session with this process of experimental art-making is a marker of The Beatles’ resolve to break from their past and also to reinvent themselves as very different kinds of artists. Having taken in so many disparate elements of the avant-garde in London even since the very recent recording of Rubber Soul
(everything was moving so fast), this new period was deeply altering and incredibly rich; there was so much fresh input and experience to process. It’s tempting to think of this take not so much as a song but as evidence
, a kind of aural document, of how The Beatles had begun to translate into sound a countercultural concept like (to name only one source) Indica Books. Turning atmosphere and a hardly defined culture into sound seems more like alchemy than the job of making records.
Paul supported the opening of the esoteric shop and brought John there. He found the line “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream” in The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead
by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. John also infamously and endearingly asked that day for a book by “Nitz Ga” which co-owner Barry Miles eventually figured out meant Nietzsche. It’s not ultimately important how much John or the other Beatles mastered what they were at least glancingly interested in, philosophy, psychology, avant-garde music. Even if they only scavenged through the elements of the counterculture to find fodder to nourish their new music, that was enough. If John never read beyond that one line which he remade for “Tomorrow Never Knows,” he nevertheless took in enough to translate it into a song with a brilliant and novel energy. We can still hear in his musical experiment the cultural moment in which that text resonated. I like conjuring with the fact that John and Paul, with friends present, experimented in the flat above the bookshop with what they called “Mark I,” the working title of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It’s as if they were literally and figuratively carrying the moment—what was going on—to another level and making it into art that was new and real. And if anything is still thrilling about take one, it’s the way the take is a translation of non-musical culture and ideas into sound. To want to do that – to translate into a new expressive form an energy that comes from another entirely different, even incompatible reality—was an ambitious and unlikely undertaking. So even here, on take one, they’re making something new that is almost unthinkable. Perhaps the real shock is that this strange and bold experiment could so quickly become a piece of music as fully realized and effective as “Tomorrow Never Knows” as it appeared on Revolver
Marc, I’m really interested in this allusion to the bookshop, of which I had only glancing knowledge, probably from back a ways, and you have really filled out an image of the intellectual engagements that were in play at the beginning of the album. Somehow, in musing about “TNK” I was thinking in the last day or so that George’s tamboura is a key decision in the development of the song, and that of course led me back to George’s encounter with Indian music as a major turning point both in Revolver
and in Harrison’s life as a musician. (It happened, according to the story, on the set of Help!
But the bookshop most likely would have been a thing in the backdrop too.) Anyway, there’s so much to say, today, because today (being 10/21) the Lennon fragment of “Yellow Submarine” was released, as well as a very, very strong earlier take of “Got to Get You into My Life,” and we have got to talk about these! But first I want to double back and just talk about the “Taxman” remix, too, which was the first single released from the expanded album. As with the other Beatles remixes of recent vintage it’s not that much of a revolution,
in the sense that I think mainly what was happening in the remix phase is teasing apart instruments that got bounced down together, the rhythm section, primarily, which is de-sludgified. Ringo’s drums sound so great here, on this version, and you can hear all the extra percussion, like the cowbell, which somehow I had never paid attention to before. Of course, a major reason to love “Taxman” is McCartney’s guitar solo, which is so original it exceeds one’s ability to talk about it. The little Indian scale thing in the second half is like a meteor bouncing off of a sutra and sending out a cloud of subatomics! And this solo of course sounds so great on the new mix. But the odd experience I had with the new remix of “Taxman” had nothing to do with the sound. I have thought so much about “Taxman” over the years and spent so much time with it that I sort of thought I would never again interact with it in a way that surprised me. But somehow listening to the remix caused me to think this: “Taxman” is in the first person.
The thing is: I too have struggled with thinking that “Taxman” is just a complainy screed by a rich guy who was paying a lot in taxes (and the tax rate in Britain at the time was, you know, much higher than in the U.S., etc., etc.), and even though the lyrics are really funny, it was often that I thought it was, however excellent, a slightly bratty tune. But then I started thinking about George adopting the person of the tax official himself, and the whole thing took on a much deeper cast. First, that character-oriented technique (see also “Paperback Writer”), character-building in the first person, was not yet that frequent a Beatles tactic. Their first person was mostly confessional or giving the appearance thereof. This is the Randy Newman tactic, here, or, perhaps, the Ray Davies tactic (and if you want to hear another great Indian-inflected tune from the same time as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” relisten to the Kinks tune: “See My Friends,”
. So that first-person-in-character technique is innovative here, in a Beatles context, but I’m thinking also about the larger implications of taking on the voice of the hated tax official, being
the tax official, and it reminded me of the acceptance of the hated
tax collectors in the early Christian canon. Jesus of Nazareth welcomed the tax collectors. When everyone else hated them. And given that George’s conversion experience with respect to Hinduism and Eastern religion was right around the time of “Taxman,” it’s possible to see that the first person of “Taxman” is not only social criticism, and cantankerous brattiness, but also a thinking through of subjectivity of the enemy, a loving-the-enemy, such as one can only accomplish in a state of increased enlightenment. He played it for laughs, yes, and perhaps played it for laughs because that would have been popular among the other Beatles, but maybe there’s something deeper to that first person than meets the eye. All of this while writing the first truly great song that he’d written for The Beatles (I like some of the earlier ones, but here he has made something of justified renown, a great rock song, beautifully arranged, well played, and really inventive). So, along with “TNK” we have, already, in the releases from the expanded Revolver
package, recordings that really make a case for what an extraordinary album it is, and, in truth, we have barely scratched the surface!
So, any thoughts about “Taxman?” And, of course, if someone wants to dig in and start talking about John’s rehearsal frag of “Yellow Submarine,” go for it. It’s really striking!AB:
The discussion of “Taxman,” in terms of its lyrics is really interesting. Especially, Rick, when you make comparisons to persona writers such as Randy Newman and Ray Davies. And indeed, in general, quite a rarity for a Beatles song. I will say that I never heard the song as bratty or whining, although there is no reason to counter that observation, unless, of course, we do see it purely as a persona of someone intending to be as such. I guess I always erred toward hearing it solely as cheeky, and, in my once youthful idealism, honestly never thought about it in terms of rich-guy-complains-about-the-system; those concerns being so far removed from anything I would have understood at that point in my life. But given what we know about George, your idea, Rick, of the song as a kind of striving toward enlightenment is very intriguing. All this said, it does seem that George could be prickly, something that could come out in interviews and articles, and occasionally in his songwriting, where you could hear him venting with a sometimes direct, and sometime a subtle, sneer. I’m thinking of “Blood From a Clone” on his 1981 album Somewhere in England
, in which he calls out the record industry that had turned down the initial iteration of the album for not being commercial enough, publicly declaring that the industry only wants the blood from a clone
. “When We Was Fab” has a bit of that, and even thinking back to The Beatles, a similar tendency rears its head in songs such as “Only a Northern Song” and “Piggies.” There is a little consanguinity with Dylan in this approach—the public mocking/shaming of something or someone who has done you wrong, all veneered with a clever and cutting edge, and yet, still, underpinned by the vulnerability of the wounded. I don’t know if George’s friendship with Dylan had developed in 1966, but, at the very least, one might imagine that this common approach to grievance might have been one of the many recognizable traits that drew them to each other.
Our discussion has taken me back to a college class, in which my professor had made the case that Revolver
was the moment when The Beatles ascended above “the people.” When they soared into a realm of the modern god, and when they, themselves, lost connection to being among the everyday world. His primary article of evidence, introduced and submitted to the class, was “Eleanor Rigby,” arguing that it was written from above, from the perspective of one observing a world below him, as opposed to walking among it and wanting to hold your hand. (And so I am clear, this professor was not focusing on McCartney, but always talking about “them,” The Beatles.) The sincere wonder about “all the lonely people” and where they come from, according to this theory, proved the suggestion that this moment of time, as shown on Revolver
, was a kind of ascension for the group, not one that they necessarily chose, but it being the space they, only in their mid-twenties, found themselves occupying. “Taxman,” it seems, could fit into this concept, another form of commentary that is not coming from within but rather from the perch. (Although, as I write this, I readily concede the difference between the two songs, with the latter having its basis in self-interest, as opposed to the former’s concern tending a little more toward the epistemological.) I’m not sure I fully buy this theory, but I do think there is something to parts of it, especially when one considers the metaphysical searches that would be just around the corner for The Beatles, when the gods looked for their own gods; and even the songs of the next album, Sgt Pepper’s
, especially its title track that wraps them into an alternate persona in part to reconstitute the band and people they once were, something that would trend all the way into the “Let It Be” sessions, where, holed up in those different studios, they struggled to find a way to be part of the world vis-a-vis the connection of making live music again. But that we covered already in a previous column.
This leads me to the first fragment of “Yellow Submarine.” (At the time of this writing, we’ve only been privy to one of several that will be on the release.) I find this to be so incredibly moving, in part for the snippet of lyrics, in part for the intimacy, and in part for knowing how these remarkably sad lines would be transformed into a playful song that would become the introductory favorite of The Beatles to so many five-year-olds. In many ways, it makes me think of “My Mummy’s Dead,” which also has a rawness and whisper that suggests we’re not actually meant to hear it; it is that private. In beginning to write these sentences, I’d intended to counter the above theory about The Beatles’ transcendence above the rest of the world by citing this fragment of “Yellow Submarine” and its lyrics, making the case that it is indeed very personal and very much suggests a song from ground level. And yet, as I play it in the background, I hear someone who is lost, someone who doesn’t know where he belongs, and, if I can stretch this thought back “Taxman” —which I know is a stretch— someone who is a bit of a victim of a bureaucracy, but perhaps a social bureaucracy as opposed to an institutional bureaucracy, where, as John sings In the town where I was born/no one cared, no one cared
, there is a sense that the individual doesn’t matter, it is just their necessary station for maintaining the larger system. And from that, I’m drawn to considering that “Eleanor Rigby,” “Taxman,” and this sketch of “Yellow Submarine” reflect the three different ways that these remarkable songwriters dealt with where they found themselves in and above the world: Paul’s sincerity at wondering about human nature; George’s sneer at the hold of bureaucracy; and John’s inward look at a new form of loneliness.MW:
The sense of the private, as you put it, Adam, that attends the “Yellow Submarine” fragment is, I agree, as moving as it is surprising. Fascinating to think of that sadness overwritten by the cartoony children’s fare of the ubiquitous “Yellow Submarine” we all know. The feel of the sketch immediately made me think of George’s “Long, Long, Long,” another intensely private song that sounds as if, in your words, “we’re not actually meant to hear it.” I’ve been trying to decipher the lyrics of John’s sketch. He’s working out possibilities as he records himself here. In the second verse – if a variation of a simple phrase can be called a verse – John seems to sing ‘neighborhood’ instead of ‘place’ or ‘town’ but the three syllables don’t fit so he swallows the word and cuts it off at ‘neighbor.’ Simple enough: an attempt to vary the word indicating where he was from. More interesting is the next verse where the line may be “If you [unidentifiable verb] and you went wrong, no one cared, no one cared.” Something of freedom in that realignment of the phrase so that ‘no one cared’ becomes a consoling reminder of a time when John was an anonymous child, invisible in a marginal place. Lennon once said “I came out of the fuckin’ sticks to take over the fucking world, it seems to me” and a memory like the one he calls up here reminds us that to come out of those sticks is to lose something essential even if it gains you the world.
Though the “Yellow Submarine” sketch doesn’t rose-tint the past, it does share that backward look at a childhood, however lonely, that was also simpler. About another song, likely “Help!,” Lennon said, “I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.” The Beatles began recording Revolver
a month or so after the “Bigger than Jesus” controversy blew up and caused an extra-musical maelstrom that showed John just how intensely people cared about what he did and said, how little room there was for anonymity of any kind. The account of this controversy and the roots of Lennon’s comment are fully and brilliantly described by Devin McKinney in Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History.
Lennon was absorbed by The Passover Plot
, a popular and controversial account of the rise of Jesus, a figure who also came from the fucking sticks
to take over the world, an identification not lost on Lennon. So, in the isolation of coming from a place where no one cared, there is also the freedom of anonymity that comes through in the song, if just barely. You could fuck up there, do something wrong, and no one noticed.
But that loneliness along with the childhood freedom that came along with no one much caring prove catalysts for Lennon’s eccentric and powerful imagination. You had the freedom to try anything, the genesis of making yourself up. So both the sources – sadness and freedom – appear in this little sketch, perhaps one of the first times we glimpse a kind of psychological introspection that’s fully personal in Lennon’s writing. What’s beautiful to me is that this fragment begins a trajectory that describes his creative life. The cartoons, sight-gags, wordplay, fantastical creatures and cracked narratives of John’s juvenilia are identifiable in the song this sketch becomes, even if Paul is the one who overwrites it, as it were. Isolation begets a dream of community: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine.’ Unmet needs (‘No one cared’) are reimagined as abundance: ‘Every one of us has all we need.’ So I hear in this fragment something fundamental to Lennon’s life as an artist, as a maker — the boy who remakes the loneliness and sadness of his life through the work of an imagination to redeem it. The ability to listen this demo and think afresh about a moment in The Beatles artistic and personal development is a good argument for reissues like this one.
When I went back to listen to the sketch again, I found that all the remixed tracks for the 2022 Revolver
along with all the out-takes and demos had just gone live. Overwhelming! So I listened again to “Taxman” and, like you, Rick, was excited to hear so much I hadn’t fully taken in before. And then, of course, I had to go further. Fresh revelations: John’s yawn-while-stretching vocal in “I’m Only Sleeping,” the clarity of the second guitars on “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said, She Said,” the long-held harmonies at the end of “Good Day Sunshine,” the layered keyboards of “For No One.” And the brightness of the horn section as part of a renewed “Got to Get You into My Life” which may be the only indication here of what the album might have sounded like had it been made at Stax to achieve an “American” R&B/Soul sound as The Beatles had at first intended.RM:
Marc, I really love these lines about “Yellow Submarine.” You really burrowed in.
And I’ve been waiting for the moment when I might do the same with “Here, There and Everywhere,” too. It’s one of those songs that exceeds any discussion, that indicates the place where language faces limitations in doing the ekphrastic work. The song hovers with layers—beneath where the language can easily reach them. Its place on Revolver
is immense, but also, in a way, it is self-effacing. If we think of the album, we think of “Taxman,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “TNK,” maybe, and it’s only later that we get around to this one. Only later do we remember it’s there too. And yet.
I was really excited to hear what the new mix would tell us.
As well as the outtakes.
The news with the remix of “Here, There and Everywhere” is not only the drumming, which has some really nice accents in the toms (are they tuned? they sound tuned), and not only the crispness on the guitar, especially in that amazing bridge figure, it’s the backing vocals! The backing vocals are out of this world. And the clarity of them now makes them seem even more incredibly human and sublime at the same time. I guess it’s probably John, Paul, George twice over each, and bounced down, on the earlier versions. Now you can really feel the virtuosity of those harmonies.
Everybody knows that “Here, There and Everywhere” is a reply to “God Only Knows,” from Pet Sounds,
or so the story goes. I’ve now listened to them back to back, and you can both hear what the story is telling us, and not.
The arrangements aren’t really alike in any way at all. No trumpets, no bass harmonica, or anything on The Beatles track, and The Beach Boys have no weird, singular opening section borrowed from, allegedly Cole Porter. Paul describes the opening in a most writerly way in his annotated lyrics—it’s like setting out on a walk, thinking you were heading away from home, only to find that you’ve walked in a circle. True, both songs—Beach Boys and Beatles—have exquisite harmony. But that’s not really the lasting impact. Both songs also have arresting key changes. For Brian Wilson it was sort of the beginning of his cellular-composition method that figured so strongly in Smile.
Sections erupt in “God Only Knows,” and the same is true in “Here, There, and Everywhere.” The bridge in The Beatles song is so wacky that the Wikipedia entry describes the home key there as: everywhere.
But the other thing both songs have is a frankly spiritual intent that is nonetheless hard to put your finger on. It’s the disclosure that loves to hide. The Beach Boys song opens with that weird couplet “I may not always love you,/But as long as there are stars above you …” It’s always struck me as deeply unsettling, this couplet, because it starts with a negation, and then just as you take that in, digest it, the song completely changes its mind. There are similar twists and turns in “Here, There and Everywhere: "Each one believing that love never dies/Watching her eyes, and hoping I’m always there.” Both an affirmation, and a vivid description of doubt, or so it seems to me.
Jane Asher was a lucky person to have so many incredible songs written about her, excepting that supposedly “For No One” on Revolver
is about her, too, and it’s a song that I have always found both powerful and deeply despairing. Check out that chorus! But in “Here, There and Everywhere,” the whole composition is writing toward a ubiquity of love, an overflowing. What does it mean for love to be “everywhere” in the song? It’s a genius bit of writing, really, that phrase, and, as Paul himself points out there’s also that line in the first verse: “Changing my life with a wave of her hand.” To imagine love could be “everywhere” is both naïve and philosophically radical, and it’s the very kind of radicalism, or so I might argue, that animates the phrase “God only knows what I’d be without her,” as if love is of such a substance
that it is not only in
places, changes how one is to be
by its particular flavor or presence.
The harmonies, for me, summon up this sense of the what is
about this idea of love, love as a kind of philosopher’s stone or elixir of life that causes one to be
in a particular way. Music is a way that we experience these kinds of impossible-to-describe feelings, in which the lyrics are an effect of the music, and if these two songs are the legendary examples thereof, the sign above all is: vocal harmony. The being together that is vocal harmony.
And: Paul does say “Here, There and Everywhere” may be his very favorite of his own compositions. What an incredible thing to say.
And: take 6 of “Here, There and Everywhere” has no vocal choir, and it’s really interesting to hear it so naked! George hasn’t worked out the entirety of that lead figure in the bridge yet.
And: note the suppression of Oxford comma in the title.
This was the first song I had to hear when the “super deluxe” version of the remix of Revolver
came out, and we had the whole album. What songs are speaking to you?MW:
I felt it my duty in the midst of this conversation to do as much research as possible so last night I attended a concert by the Fab Faux, a group of accomplished studio and live musicians who play the Beatles’ canon (not
in costume) with a lot of virtuosity and obvious pleasure. They were performing songs from 1965, including the entirety of Rubber Soul
’s predecessor and on some days my favorite Beatles’ album. All members of the Fab Faux can sing and they nailed the harmonies from that most harmony-rich of Beatles’ records with great power and effect, all five of them often chiming in together to create a solid wall of vocal sound. Given our current obsession with the Beatles of 1966, that singing sounded like the precursor to the inevitable harmonies—so inventive and ambitious—of “Paperback Writer.” Although the Beatles didn’t play much of Rubber Soul
live, as they didn’t play Revolver
live, the Fab Faux concert made me understand—for all we focus on The Beatles becoming a studio band—what powerful rock songs some of the compositions from that period might have been in concert. If there had been better sound technology and The Beatles had decided to tour the music they made from 1965 to 1966, the rockers could have made a big, beautiful noise. That’s not, alas, the kind of power they realized during the Budokan shows of June 1966. The versions of “Paperback Writer” they performed in Japan sound pretty enervated, compromised by the group’s uncertainty about recreating the complex harmonies of the acapella choruses that are so strong on the single. George even steps away from the mic and waves at the crowd before one chorus in order to bring on the predictable screams to drown out the not-quite-harmonies.
But you can
hear that power on the 2022 mix of “Paperback Writer” and the early versions of the backing tracks for the song included on the Super Deluxe Revolver
2022 release. John once noted that this riff-heavy Paul rocker is in the same family as “Day Tripper.” True enough, as far as that goes, but I’d argue the guitar sound on “Paperback Writer” is a good illustration of how, like so many of the Revolver
-era sounds, this recording moves way past 1965. There’s something raw and fresh about Paul’s guitar here. It’s more like the 60s rock that was to come than the 60s pop-rock of the recent past. And the sound is a perfect match for the seamy, commercial desperation of a writer pitching to an editor his novel, “a dirty story of a dirty man.” Dirty guitar, too, if you compare it to the chime-y, mid-60s Rickenbacker tone of “Day Tripper,” however transporting and immediately melancholy that iconic sound remains. The “Day Tripper” riff, in contrast, seems almost sentimental compared to Paul’s “Paperback Writer” guitar sound. Reality enters the fantasy of The Beatles’ music and overtakes the sheer conventionality of the pop that went before. You can hear this new realism in the lyrics of this and other songs on the record (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Taxman,” and “For No One,” among them). I’d even venture to say that this riff ushers in the latter half of 60s rock, a new world of far more dangerous and unexpected sounds and attitudes. “Paperback Writer” shakes up the conventions of familiar, commercial pop-rock and its safely scripted subjects.
Rick’s discussion of George’s fresh use of a persona on “Taxman” suggests one such new direction (and the guitar there is equally edgy to go along with the new subject matter). If you’re right, Rick, that George enters the consciousness of an alien—even an enemy—sensibility in order to approach a kind of human wholeness, Paul’s first-person speaker in “Paperback Writer” may be instead a projected and distorted version of the songwriter himself. Gone, the ‘relatable’ sad-but-wiser lover of 1965’s “Yesterday.” Gone, too, the cute Paul, sexy but somehow domesticated. If the distance between Paul and his speaker is a bit hard to gauge (even if he once said “I was a young paperback writer, sort of”), we know he’s entered a real and gritty world replete with dirty men and clinging wives (that stereotype clearly not as forward-looking as so much of the song). We’re well past familiar saccharine professions of love here. Instead, we enter a world where crass material concerns are paramount. Here’s a writer willing to change anything you like as long as he can sell his book. Refreshing and challenging that the Beatle we often think of wrongly as the one whose values and songwriting are most conventional immerses us in a world of cheap fiction, tabloids and a bit of smut. He’s made visible a compromised and crass world where art has devolved to commerce.
Because the song’s subject appears so vividly in “Paperback Writer,” you think about how false it would have been to have remained a songwriter of pop sentiment that ignored a world The Beatles had been steeped in for years. And you also think about how easy it would have been not to write about that world at all. The compromises started with trading in leather jackets for matching suits courtesy of Brian Epstein. Of hiding marriages and relationships to win female fans. Of putting on pantomimes during Christmas stage shows. All under the banner of promoting safe pop from which everyone could profit. The Beatles had already done what the failed writer of the song is desperate for the editor to do with his book – make a million overnight. But not, of course, quite overnight. Perhaps all the work that brought The Beatles to where they were in 1966—including that perspective-lending, several-month hiatus from years of non-stop touring, recording and promotion—lends irony to the paperback writer’s idea that you CAN make a million overnight. Paul is wiser here than his speaker and perhaps, as Adam’s teacher thought, looking at him from a certain distance even as he sees himself in his character as well.
It’s telling that “Paperback Writer” offers a more realistic representation of the bass than in any previous Beatles song. We can hear even more of that full and inventive instrument as played by Paul in this new mix. The young engineer Geoff Emerick captured that sound by rewiring a speaker so that it could itself became a large-diaphragm microphone. The result was that he was able, finally, to record Paul’s bass so that it sounded big and true, closer to the bass sound on the American R&B records he loved. I also heard for the first time in this mix the clean, bright G chord, with a touch of vibrato, that John plays on the weaker second beat of the 4/4 signature throughout the verses. John’s unexpected placement of this modest sound is brilliant. The way John’s guitar contrasts so simply and effectively with Paul’s elevates the main riff’s gritty density. There’s no competition between the guitars—in its spare regularity John’s part only serves and highlights what he knows is the sonic and emotional center of the song, a new noise that begins to define the future.AB:
This era of the conversation has led me to what may be an unpopular part of the discussion for those with various loyalties: how Revolver
shows the extent to which Paul really starts to shape The Beatles, both in his songwriting and his arrangements. This is not to imply that John and George were not writing songs that would not only change the direction of popular music, but also that of our cultural consciousness. That goes without saying. But there is a level of dominance from McCartney that we see emerging on this album, one that would carry into Sgt Peppers
and all the way through Abbey Road
—developing a creative tension that arguably pushed the group into even higher places, and, in turn, accelerated give-and take collaborations that brought out the creative best in all four of them. But, as we covered in our previous published dialogue, a tension that also clearly and regularly crossed into the interpersonal, as embodied in the scene in “Get Back” when George exceeds pique patience after Paul tells him how long to sustain the decrescendo in “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
I recall an interview conducted on the occasion of a forgettable mid-career solo Paul album, in which he said he was keenly aware that he’d written his best songs for Revolver
. That that was when he’d been in top artistic form, and that he’d since accepted he would never write songs of that caliber again. It is almost unfathomable to think about songs such as “For No One,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Got to Get You into My Life,” etc. all being composed, arranged, and recorded in a period of just several months. One can fully understand and appreciate how Paul could look back with awe and amazement. Just listen to those songs. It must be breathtaking and perhaps even daunting. That used to make me sad, Paul’s full awareness; a certain concession to the creative brilliance of youth that he saw as behind him.
The sonic quality of the 2022 Revolver
is stunning, perhaps the best and revealing of all the Giles Martin reissues. Martin manages to bring a subtle stereo separation that highlights the sophistication of the recordings, while retaining the power and vision of the original mono mixes. Not only do the songs burst with life and presence, but the mix also reveals the album to be even more sophisticated, complex, and energetic than I think we might have appreciated. My biggest takeaway, and one that ties into my opening thoughts, is Paul’s bass. We not only hear its presence (and as Marc so generously explains, the engineering that helped to give it its sound), but also the ways in which it turns from being a rhythmic instrument to one that becomes, for lack of a better term, orchestral. From the driving melodic backdrop of “Rain” (and imagine playing it so steadily at the originally recorded pace shown in the outtakes) to the baroque contrapuntal walks in “For No One” and “Here, There, and Everywhere.” It called out the best in Ringo, whose drumming is fabulous throughout these sessions, and, as with the songwriting, must have been part of the challenge to all of them to take their songs, their playing, and their imaginations into higher places that only a couple of years back would have seemed well beyond what they imagined pop music could do.
Lastly, I am in complete agreement with both of you about the power of the songs you’ve pointed out, and even yesterday, on a train cutting across the Italian countryside at the end of an endless day of travel, admittedly vulnerable from exhaustion, I was in tears listening to “Here, There, and Everywhere” (those backing vocals Rick notes, the sound of the guitar, the double track of Paul’s voice when it falls into the lower harmony at the end, and so on), so much so that the 21-year-old woman from Munich, seated opposite me, who had just spent a weekend in Venice with her new boyfriend from Barcelona, looked over with compassion and empathy, as though she too were hearing and understanding the song.
One question I will pose: After hearing these outtakes, those on Get Back
, and even the trove on Abbey Road
and the various Anthology releases: Do you think The Beatles ever chose wrong in their eventual studio releases?RM:
Adam, excellent question. The way one invested in The Beatles as a kid, in the sixties and seventies, seems now to require seeing them as mostly if not unfailingly right
about these things, their studio releases, because that’s how we measure everything else. By thinking about how these people did it. Back when the three of us were occasionally sending one another notes about the deluxe White Album,
I found it pretty easy to carp about certain features of that album, “Ob-La-Di,” and “Honey Pie,” and “Glass Onion,” and so on. (Though I do
love “Revolution 9.”) I hew toward those voices who readily can chop that album down to a single disc, and so on, but when I saw Paul (in the Anthology
interview) say, in the nineties, it was ridiculous to complain about the bloat on the White Album,
I totally agreed. It’s a parlor game, not a reasonable critical evaluation. Do I wish I had never heard “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” No, I don’t wish it. I am glad for the bloat. The Beatles are a certain yardstick. A way to think about the popular song.
My experience of deluxe Revolver
has involved seeing the original British sequence, which I sort of did not think about long ago. But lately I have realized that when I listened to Revolver
in the seventies I think I was listening to the original American sequence, which leaves out “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Doctor Robert.” It is a much less interesting album without these songs! “I’m Only Sleeping,” which somehow expertly manages to follow “Eleanor Rigby,” a very difficult job, and which is effortlessly psychedelic, while possessing a truly lovely melody, that’s a weird one, in a great way. “And Your Bird …” has really incredible dual
electric guitar playing on it, Paul and
The only song on Revolver
that I still resist, even though seeing it as a necessary palate cleanser after “She Said, She Said” is “Good Day Sunshine.” Everything about it is twee, the way I see it. And while I’m really glad they had a nice bright summer in 1966, it doesn’t mean this song is good. Except for the chromatic upward motion in the fade-out. That I really like! I bet it was hard to pull off that harmony. And, yet, for all my resistance to the song, it’s so funny in the mix after “She Said,” and it changes the whole vibe. I think Adam is right, that McCartney is miraculously strong on this album. And Lennon sort of off on his own somewhere. (With the recognition, of course, that the “Yellow Submarine” fragment we have just learned about is amazing, powerful, and with the weirdest time signatures …)
The British version of Revolver,
then, does seem faultless to me. Idiosyncratic, profound, all over the place, but without bloat. Just exactly as various as the world might have been various at the time of the recording. One of these
followed by one of those.
Really, the period in which I decided The Beatles were imperfect was during the solo period. Like with Walls and Bridges
and London Town
and Dark Horse,
almost everything by Ringo after Ringo,
and then the various desperations that followed for a long, long while. Did I think London Town
was bad because it came out the same years as This Year’s Model
and Give ‘Em Enough Rope,
when I was turning 17?MW:
As much as I like conjuring with your question, Adam, I find it more or less impossible to answer given how the versions of the songs on the albums and singles we’ve listened to for decades are so inscribed in us. Like verses from the King James Bible, these songs are by now the only expressions that feel right, the ones long carved in stone. Even if there are “better” versions in the vault, I’m certain I couldn’t hear them as preferable to what we know. And we’ve agreed, anyway, that the outtakes in the few cases we’ve discussed them are not superior to the album versions of those songs. The “Tomorrow Never Knows” outtake, however interesting, isn’t what the final version is: less interesting loop and less hypnotic drumbeat. Out of the new versions the 2022 release gives us, I’m most partial to the Second Version / Unnumbered Mix of “Got to Get You into My Life” with its fresh guitar intro (instead of the horns) and the aggressively mid-60s distorted keyboard figure to distinguish it from the album version. But even if I were willing to go so far as to argue for this take over the canonical one, it’s clear that placing this version after “I Want To Tell You"—with its
terrific introductory guitar riff—would give the record less variety and interest, so in terms of sequencing alone, they made the right choice here as well.
To mention sequencing makes me think about your insights about the British versus American versions of the album, Rick, and whether the songs are always in "the right order” or whether a given album should include all the songs it does. I have a friend who insists that “Eleanor Rigby” shouldn’t be on the record at all let alone as the second song. He habitually skips it and then, according to his lights, it’s a perfect album. On the other hand, I would take so much less pleasure in the record if it wasn’t there right after “Taxman” or if it were left off the track-list completely. And the loss of the socio-emotional sadness when I tried playing “Taxman” right into “I’m Only Sleeping” felt like a big absence. Having listened to Revolver
as a whole so many times (here, it would depend on which LP you grew up on), the movement from song to song, those changes in mood or pace or instrumentation coming just where they do, is so essential to the experience that changing anything would change everything.
Part of that response is more about some inner wiring rather than critical appreciation. I first heard Abbey Road
on a dubbed cassette a friend made for me which was too short and therefore cut out just after the lyric “and in the end …” Given how many times I listened to that truncated version, the record still surprises me when it continues past that point and I hear what follows, however essential and glorious that final, ascending coda is. Which is another way of saying the versions that define one’s experience as a listener are themselves definitive in a deeply embedded, somatic way. Sometimes, though, there are elements in an outtake that I could imagine having made their way into the released version of a given song. I can imagine the vibes from the rehearsal fragment of “I’m Only Sleeping” in the mix of the song that appears on the album and “working” perfectly well. If I’d heard such a version the first time I listened to the record and every time since, it would
be the right version.
Before I forget, I wanted to ask whether I detected a note of skepticism from both of you just after we heard the remix of “Taxman,” the first track released before the project as a whole came out. This was before we started to write about the new Revolver
for this exchange but texted about it immediately once we’d heard that first song. My response after one listen was mixed – there was a welcome clarity but the tone sounded a bit metallic, colder, maybe, and I wondered if it wasn’t a case of changing the sound too much. I don’t hear it that way anymore, but I thought we all resisted something about that first sample of the remix which we’ve clearly come to embrace. Or did I misunderstand your initial responses?RM:
Marc, a bit of time has passed since your question, time which, for me, was largely given over to being ill with the dreaded SARS-COV-2. And in that time I sort of thought of this thread in a mildly hallucinatory way: What were we really talking about here? What is it we really mean? There’s a new video out, an animated video, for “Here, There and Everywhere,”
came out yesterday, I think, and it speaks in the idiom of my COVID-inflected hallucinatory mind. It’s a nice video because, well, it’s pretty psychedelic, but in a deadly earnest way. Not in the way that Yellow Submarine,
the movie, is psychedelic, but in a style that would have felt very contemporary, perhaps, so this group of people who’d just recently stopped playing live, and were now understanding themselves as studio musicians, snaking through the interior states of the recording studio.
Really, though, the thing I kept coming back to, while ill, as regards the question of what we are talking about,
was my comment last time through, when we were talking about Get Back,
when I asked if it was possible there was anything left to do with The Beatles archive. I think now how naïve that question was, because here we are only a year or so later, and there’s an enormous wealth of material to consider about Revolver.
So, apparently, the conversation, our conversation, is something that can go on more or less indefinitely (while we have the energy!). Maybe when we, the people who grew up on this music, are gone it will change, the discussion. But clearly an album like Rubber Soul Super Deluxe
could come along next year with no difficulty. And so on, backwardly. And as long as the digital software modules continue to improve there will always be another remix to be had. I really love
the clarity of the rhythm section in this new Revolver
(and I felt that way about “Taxman,” in a way I didn’t
feel about about the 2019 Abbey Road
remix, that the clarity is very surprising, and additive), and so I will, I suspect, always go along with the discussion, thinking aloud.
That said, at least for me, some of what we have now experienced, in revisiting, say, 1966-1970, is the period of greatest change. The Beatles, in their studio period, are a demonstration of the willingness-to-change in the arts, the need for growth, the responsiveness to the movement of history and its iterations, the restlessness and the spiritual aspiration. The Beatles symbolized all that change. My feeling is that in music this period from 1965-1975, let’s say, is the period of greatest growth and change in popular music ever, probably because it was all happening in history, all around the makers of this music. I don’t feel the same way about the oughts or the 2010s. I don’t feel the same way about the last decade, that there is much evidence of change. Music feels comparatively static, by comparison. Since Kurt Cobain, lamentably, picked up his shotgun and did the thing he did, music has mainly had one area of growth, hip hop, and hip hop has done what it has done mostly according to what computers are able to do, as generators and editors of music in the contemporary moment. And the software modules through which music editing and music synthesis take place haven’t changed that substantially in the last ten years. (If you want to go down the rabbit hole, here’s a piece about pitch correction in popular music,
which has been pretty static since 1997.
The Beatles, on the other hand, stand for change and growth, and I can’t imagine, from where I’m sitting this year, not
feeling that way, feeling like the big surfeiting hope of The Beatles wouldn’t be a thing, wouldn’t be a fit conversation, a discussion we could still have, even if we go backwardly from Rubber Soul,
all the way to Please Please Me,
I can’t imagine not finding it just as illuminating as it seemed this year, and I say this while having said last year that there was nothing left to do with this archive. I fall on my sword!AB:
I’m thinking about Marc’s response of how The Beatles recordings on the albums are not just the “right” ones because we know them so intimately, but in fact because they are a major part of the structural DNA of a collective cultural identity. And I’m thinking about Rick’s ideas of 1965-1975 being the era in which pop music changed and expanded and grew at an unprecedented pace, and how while the subsequent decades and generations without question saw their share of exciting and enervating shifts and movements, at its core each still seemed to be a variation on an otherwise bedrocked form and theme.
And then there is the larger question of the longevity of importance or meaning of The Beatles. Is this level of inquiry the purview of three men, unwittingly cast into middle age, working through the question of whether something so central to the world in which they were shaped can still continue to shape the world? I am reminded a friend who in his early years was an incredible and committed activist, someone whose work really did affect change. But in the tradition of Bush-era neocons, by all accounts he’d become resistant to any new or progressive ideas, eschewing any suggestions of change on the level he’d once worked so hard to achieve. Instead, he assumed an armored protectionism, a newfound commitment to ensuring the version of the world he’d once helped to shape now would be persevered in perpetuity. I don’t want to be like that.
I do think there is something to the technology of these recent remixes (especially this one) that encourages the timelessness of the music. It offers the chance to better hear the nuance of the songwriting and the details of the performances and arrangements—and yet, not in a way that sanitizes it, or puts the dreaded digital chill across it. In part, I presume this is due to the diligence and loyalty of Giles Martin’s sense of legacy to his father’s production vision, as well as to his respect for the individual Beatles. Thankfully, I never hear Martin trying to reimagine the production, or fix what he thought were deficits, or modernize the sonic values for a new generation. For me, each of these recent remasters (and especially Revolver
more than the others) has found a way to highlight the beauty and artistry that we’ve always known (and clearly never under-appreciated) in a way that brings all its intentions even more to life. Sometimes, listening to it, I imagine what it might have been like to look at a freshly painted masterpiece, while the colors were still at their brightest, the brushstrokes still clean and defined.
Listening to this Revolver (Super Deluxe Edition),
trying to hear it without my own memories and associations (which include the US sequencing, the precise skips and pops in my copies), I still hear not just great songs, songs that today’s songwriters still are building from, but I also experience the joy of being in a creative moment. I don’t think one needs backstory to understand or appreciate it. There is a pronounced and energizing thrill of innovation that is announced throughout the record. A sense of freshness and enthusiasm. And even 50+ years later, you know you are in the hands of visionaries who are creating and leading the conversation. Like any great masterwork, it does not come across as nostalgia or a period piece, but it sounds as though it was made for now, a prescience that is eternal and timeless. You can just feel it.