I can remember precisely where I was the first time I heard the opening bars of ‘Taxman’, I was playing table tennis at my friend’s house and his older brother had bought the album home from the local record store in South London and this was the first time he played it.
Revolver came out on 5 August 1966. I’m not sure how long it was before I heard ‘Taxman’, but I suspect not long. It was the during summer holidays in 1966, I was 15 years old and very impressionable. A few months earlier, The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ had been No.1 for a couple of weeks, and it was one of my favourite singles.
What is it that makes Revolver such an important and brilliant album? Well, for starters it was the record that introduced us all to psychedelic music: the backwards guitar in ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, along with the completely different and utterly brilliant ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. John’s vocals are perfect and the unusualness of it still sound as fresh today as in the summer of 1966.
Like many people, I suspect, I had no idea that George had written ‘Taxman’, and indeed he contributes three of the album’s 14 songs. This is George’s second non-love song and this time tackles the subject of the high levels of income tax levied by the British Labour government under the leadership of Harold Wilson; the same Mr Wilson that’s referenced in the song’s lyrics. As The Beatles’ earnings put them in the top tax bracket in the UK it meant that they were liable for 95 per cent tax on every pound they earned – “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.”
There’s ‘Love You To’, which is a return to more traditional subject matter, but it is unusual in that it uses Indian instruments. In October 1965, George had played a sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, for Rubber Soul, and on ‘Love You To’ there’s Indian classical instrumentation – a tabla, a pair of hand-drums, sitar and a tambura that provided the drone, making this the first Beatles song to fully reflect the influence of Indian classical music.
George’s third song is ‘I Want To Tell You’, and it is another song with a less than traditional structure, showing George’s considerable creativity, both lyrically and musically.
‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a masterpiece, Paul’s song just oozes sophistication and was like nothing else on record at the time. Released as the album came out, it became No.1 in the UK, as a double A-side with another of Revolver’s tracks, ‘Yellow Submarine’. This too was “Paul’s baby”, according to John, and just about as different as could be from the other side of the single. Of course most of us in 1966 just assumed John and Paul wrote everything together… after all, it did say “Lennon & McCartney” on the credits.
As Paul later recalled: “I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. The first few bars just came to me, and I got this name in my head… ‘Daisy Hawkins picks up the rice in the church.’ I don’t know why. I couldn’t think of much more so I put it away for a day.” The song later featured in the movie Yellow Submarine. Released in July 1968, its surreal, groundbreaking, visuals were the work of art director Heinz Edelmann.
Another immediate Revolver standout was the delicate beauty of ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, a song that John and Paul wrote the intro to after being played The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album by Bruce Johnston in May of ’66, just as the Brain Wilson-crafted masterpiece was released in America, and before its UK release.
Side two opens with ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and it’s followed by ‘And Your Bird Can Song’. Both are brilliant pop songs and run for two minutes and 2.08, respectively… Why go on when you’ve created perfection?
John and Paul’s ‘Doctor Robert’ is another song that most of didn’t fully get to the bottom of at the time, we just thought it was just a wonderfully crafted song. ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was just the same, and like most of the other songs on the record it was under three minutes long; ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is the only track that makes it to three minutes, and not a second over.
With Revolver topping the UK and US album charts in the summer of 1966 everyone instinctively knew that things were changing. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was released in the UK shortly before Revolver and it too was life-changing. Together they proved conclusively that pop was becoming something else entirely.
I feel so privileged to have grown up with records like these as the soundtrack to my life, they were then, and they are now. Put on Revolver right now and you will know you are in the presence of greatness. And like all the best pop music your spirits will be lifted and anything will seem possible.
The Beatles’ Revolver can be bought here.