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Today both the Revolver LP and the “Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine” single were released in the UK. I wonder how many people bought both, just to have them, even though both sides of the single are also on the album?

Some people think that Revolver is The Beatles’ best album, that it was all downhill from here. I tend to favor Abbey Road and the White Album, but de gustibus non est disputandum; I wouldn’t care to argue the point. Revolver is a great album and today is a good day to give it a listen, whether you prefer vinyl, CD, or one of the streaming services. (If you happen to still own a copy on reel-to-reel tape, more power to you.)

What strikes me listening just now is that none of Paul’s songs have much guitar on them. “Eleanor Rigby” is built on strings, “Here, There and Everywhere” on vocal harmonies. “Good Day Sunshine’ prominently features piano, “For No One” harpsichord and French horn. “Got to Get You into My Life” is all bass and horns. Was this an attempt by Paul, either consciously or unconsciously, to minimize the role his guitarist bandmates had in the recording of his compositions? Maybe. It definitely shows that, for better or worse, Paul was striving to stretch beyond the boundaries of rock’n’roll.

John was too, of course; “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is a bold leap into uncharted territory. But aside from the acoustic-oriented “I’m Only Sleeping,” most of his songs on Revolver are electric-guitar-based rock songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’d rather listen to John’s songs than Paul’s, for the most part. But it does demonstrate the back-and-forth tension that existed, with John pulling towards rock and Paul towards pop, the band ending up somewhere in the middle.

The X factor is George, who has a more prominent voice here than on any other Beatles album. After placing an unprecedented three songs on Revolver, he would get only one on Sgt. Pepper. It’s well-documented that Paul and John, a bit wary of George’s increasing songwriting prowess, did not go out of their way to encourage him; this was one of the tensions that led to The Beatles’ eventual dissolution. And it’s too bad, because I think Sgt. Pepper would have benefited from more balanced songwriting. George’s contributions to the White Album and, especially, Abbey Road greatly improved those albums.

By the time The Beatles broke up, George had accumulated a huge stockpile of high-quality unrecorded songs, whereas John and Paul were creatively depleted. In one parallel universe, The Beatles put their egos aside and recorded an album in 1970 made up mostly of George songs. Alas, ’twas not to be in our reality; but we still have Revolver, and that ain’t bad.

 

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