‘A Band Unwrapping Their Presents’: Giles Martin On The Wonders Of The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’
The son of the original Beatles producer discusses his work on the new editions of ‘an album of inspiration and discovery.’
As he discusses the new deluxe editions of an unforgettable staging post in the peerless recording history of The Beatles, Giles Martin has a straightforward reply ready when people ask “Why Revolver, why now?”
“That’s always been the question that I’ve been asked. ‘When are you going do Revolver?’” says the producer of the landmark 1966 album’s new stereo mix. “The simple answer is, it was impossible to do, because the technology wasn’t in place, or, if you like, the technology they had at the time meant there was very little to mix in any way.
“It wasn’t until working on the Peter Jackson film [the five-time Emmy-winning The Beatles: Get Back], which went on for way longer than we thought it would do because of the pandemic. That was a bit like a war. Everyone hunkered down and worked in their boxes. This turned into a development where we could actually open up the mixers, we could take guitar, bass and drums and separate them. And so the decision was made. I did a couple of tests and [we said] we can now do Revolver.”
So it was that Martin and engineer Sam Okell jumped out of the chronological sequence that had seen them oversee the expanded editions of all The Beatles’ studio albums from 1967 onwards, and most recently the Super Deluxe configuration of Let It Be, released in October 2021.
Martin started listening to the sonic potential to bring the original Revolver to a new audience, with the addition of extensive previously unreleased material. That augments a listening experience as arresting in 2022 as it was 56 years ago. “I found the outtakes really entertaining, especially as I’d been working on Get Back,” he notes. “The analogy is, I’m listening to a band unwrapping their presents, as opposed to a band that have all their presents around the floor, and they’re just basically ignoring them.
“Revolver is an album of inspiration and discovery, [whereas] Let It Be was a period of time where they were being retrospective and wanted to back to how they were before they had all these gifts they got given.”
Even committed Beatles devotees have been surprised at the depth of unissued recordings served up in the new editions, which run to 28 early takes from the sessions and three home demos. But Martin says he only ever finds out what is available to each project from the expert archivists on the reissue team. “I didn’t know anything honestly, not until I start[ed] doing it,” he confides.
“People ask me about outtakes on Rubber Soul. I don’t really know until we start looking into it. I’m not the curator of The Beatles. I’m the person that, I suppose, makes decisions and does these things. But there’s really clever people that know everything, and I have to tap into them, Mike Heatley and Kevin Howlett, and there’s Matthew Cocker at Abbey Road, who’s the archivist. They’re brilliant.
“A package like this has to work on many different levels,” he goes on. “You have the fans that obviously want everything. There’s the people that love Revolver, they want a deeper dig, and then there’s people who’ve never heard Revolver before, like my kids, for instance, that will listen to on a streaming service. It’s multi-layered.
“As far as outtakes go, and that world, it’s a bit like going to a gallery and looking at paintings and discovering the pencil drawings and sketches they did in the early versions of the works they did, before the masterpiece comes. That sounds pretentious, but that’s the ethos of it. So I try and tell a story with the outtakes that shows the roots behind the album, and more so, the humanity behind the record.
“People look for the secret of The Beatles, how did they do this? Was it my Dad? Was there a magic button that was pressed at Abbey Road? It was the combination of humans together, and that’s what you begin to hear. You can’t replicate it, because it’s like replicating a relationship. It’s different between the different people involved. Everything is unique, and the relationship of the four of them, and the relationship they had with my Dad, was completely unique.”
Often, the fascination in the new extras comes in the ingredients yet to be added: the early takes of “Got To Get You Into My Life” before the augmentation of the magnificent horns that transformed the track, for instance, and, in one version, with guitars where those horns would be. There’s George Harrison’s “Love You To” pre-sitar, and the elegantly forlorn “For No One” without French horn.
“It shows you how they made the right decisions,” agrees Martin. “You hear these developments of songs, and you go, ‘OK, I can see where you’re going with this.’ We kind of know that there’s going to be horns ending up on it, but it’s interesting hearing the pathway to that decision.”
As always, Martin was acutely aware of the younger audiences who will consume the new Revolver from a very contemporary perspective. “For me, it’s like time travel. The band are 25, and they will always be 25 on this. It shouldn’t be an album from 1966, because kids don’t listen to music like that any more. We did, because we were sifting through records in our parents’ or our friends’ record collection or our own record collection, which had time and date and images attached. Kids don’t. They just listen to songs now.
“Like my kids will say, ‘Listen to this, it’s great. This should be used for a TV theme.’ And it’s ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac. [I’ll say] ‘Well, it was used for the Grand Prix.’ ‘Oh, right, OK, that’s a good idea.’ It’s that sort of conversation. I remember I was with one of my 15-year-old’s friends in the car and I said ‘What are your favorite bands?’ and she goes ‘Fleetwood Mac and Bob Marley and the Wailers.’ Fair enough. If I asked her when did they happen, she would have no idea. It would be like a ridiculous question. It’s just a song. So to turn Revolver into ‘Songs that I like for kids,’ great.”
Working versions of later household sounds from Revolver reveal new layers, as on an initial take of “Tomorrow Never Knows” which comes across like prototype grunge, decades ahead of its time; or the version of “Rain” with John Lennon’s vocal at the correct speed – not slowed down as it was on the B-side of “Paperback Writer” – that has shades of the Byrds. “Yeah, obviously, the Byrds had suddenly become an influence like lots of other things,” says Giles. “George was really into other guitar players, as you know, as all of them were.”
An often under-discussed element of The Beatles’ genius, which is very much to the fore on Revolver, was their harmonies. “When they could do, they were singing together. On “Taxman,” for instance, that is George lead vocal, and Paul and John singing at the same time as George. One take.”
Of his own favorite moments and discoveries from the album, Martin particularly enjoys “some of the quieter songs, like ‘For No One’ and ‘Here, There And Everywhere.’ I didn’t realise Ringo was playing drums on ‘For No One,’ but you can suddenly hear a kick and snare drum, to tie it down, if you like. It’s mainly being able to move the drums into the center, that made a big difference to the whole mix. What’s enjoyable is the ability to do things that they couldn’t do, and hopefully doing things that they would have done if they’d had the technology.”
Martin also eulogizes about the extraordinary track that closed the album while opening doors of musical experimentation previously unknown. “‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was the first track recorded for Revolver,” he says. “They’d all been on holiday, they’d also discovered pot, they came back in and John had this song which was just a single chord of C. He played it to my Dad and was like, ‘I want to sound like I’m singing from a Himalayan mountaintop.’ This is someone from Liverpool.
“To the band and my Dad’s credit, they were like, ‘OK.’ And the early versions you hear on the outtakes are very loopy, trancy. The whole idea was very progressive. There’s very few songs on albums like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ still. Someone said to me ‘It must be fun to mix, there’s so much going on.’ There isn’t. There’s bass and drums, there’s a bit of tambora which is an Indian drone instrument, and there’s tape loops. But it creates this world, and they did create this spiritual mantra from a mountaintop. At Abbey Road.”
Among the greatest revelations in the package, especially as few fans even knew of their existence, are the “songwriting work tapes” of “Yellow Submarine,” in which the sing-song jollity of Ringo’s familiar lead is replaced by John’s maudlin, acoustic introspection.
“I always thought it was a Paul song,” says Martin, “and we found this demo. I think Sean Lennon sent us this demo of John singing it at home. It’s ‘In the town where I was born, no one cared, no one cared…’ John’s version is like a Woody Guthrie version of the song. It’s that classic Lennon and McCartney thing where they they come from two different worlds, and those two worlds are colliding to almost to produce the perfect planet.”
That push and pull of two songwriting geniuses is in full evidence on Revolver.“That’s what they did, and it’s the same later on with Sgt. Pepper, you know,” muses Martin. “Paul sings ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ and John comes in saying ‘It can’t get much worse.’ That’s the way they were. But they loved each other, and they loved the fact that they could collaborate.”