The critical thinking regarding the Beatles‘ recording career has shifted in the decades since they broke up. Where once Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was identified as their showstopper masterpiece, current evaluation places its predecessor Revolver in that esteemed position.
And it’s not too hard to hear why. The album was a groundbreaking piece of work when it was released in August 1966, its impact immediately felt throughout popular music while its influence only grew in the decades to come. Sgt. Pepper’s was a pop culture milestone; Revolver pulled the trigger to make it all happen. More than half a century later it still sounds like a record made by people staging a revolution while everyone else was still catching up with the old regime.
Yet much of the album started in traditional ways. The Super Deluxe box set of Revolver‘s remixed and expanded Special Edition – once again overseen by Giles Martin, son of original producer George Martin, and Sam Okell, who worked on similarly upgraded editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles, Abbey Road and Let It Be – details over five discs the evolution of one of pop music’s most acclaimed and important works.
While the result isn’t as painstakingly detailed or as revelatory as Martin and Okell’s Sgt. Pepper’s and White Album sets, the transition from Revolver‘s first-thoughts stage to the finished product is more revealing than it was on 2021’s Let It Be update. That’s a product of the albums’ respective environments: Let It Be found the Beatles getting back to their roots as a live band, where Revolver marked their first real step into total studio construction.
Look no further than the first take of the first song recorded for the album: “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the future-seizing closing track of the LP that changed the way an entire generation of artists made records going forward. In this skeletal version – the first of 31 session songs here that include rehearsals, backing tracks, work tapes and sped-up and slowed-down takes of the album cuts – John Lennon circles his way around the basic structure of the song while searching for the right lyrical and melodic tone.
He finds it by the time the mono mix, complete with loops and other forms of tape manipulation, appears as the next track in the collection. And that’s pretty much how the Revolver Special Edition unspools: a spare, initial take proceeded by a version similar to the one you know that’s been filled in with some help from the elder Martin. The differences along the way vary from eye-opening to minuscule: George Harrison‘s acoustic version of “Love You To” without the Indian music accessories, an energetic “And Your Bird Can Sing” that breaks down in a fit of giggles, “Eleanor Rigby” with strings but without Paul McCartney‘s vocal, early acoustic sketches for “Yellow Submarine” with different lyrics and Lennon singing lead.
The session discs are just two – but likely for fans the most important – parts of the Super Deluxe edition. The new, remixed Revolver (Disc One) isn’t as extreme as Martin and Okell’s previous tinkering; the original mono master (Disc Four) offers a slightly different take on the classic album. And the four-track Disc Five EP features new stereo and original mono mixes of the two other songs recorded during the album sessions, the single “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” They all come together for an invigorating listen to one of the most significant chapters of rock history, pieced together as new light began to reveal itself through the haze of the ’60s. From here on out, nothing was the same.
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