“One… two… three… four…” And we’re off – The Beatles’ seventh studio album begins with George Harrison’s tight, 12-bar riposte to the government’s punitive tax regime. Thirteen tracks later, it will end in another dimension…
JOHNNY MARR: “I’ve been thinking about George Harrison a lot recently. He’s a good advert for how incredibly famous people might want to conduct themselves. He seemed to be above needy celebrity. He was, I like to think, a very singular personality in rock music. When I was a little kid in the early ’70s, his support for the Krishna movement was a big deal – he had the eyes of the world on him, but he single-mindedly followed his own path. If that’s not integrity, I don’t know what is!
“Similarly, with Taxman, I hear a young man at the peak of his powers, unafraid to stick his neck out and have a good old gripe – and on side one, track one! Considering how scrutinised The Beatles were, that took a lot of balance, perspective and self-assurance.
“Overall, the scope of ambition on Revolver for all of them is immense. The high moments on Revolver for each individual Beatle were the highest moments that they’d reached thus far. In a whole career of many, many innovations, Paul McCartney’s guitar solo on Taxman is exceptional – his bass riff on Taxman invented a genre in itself!
“Revolver was a benchmark. A lot of that was to do with not just the songs but the sonics. Taxman captures the energy of an R&B track. When Revolver came out, I imagine Taxman sounded very hip. It’s lean, punchy and very well edited. But then, Revolver is all about attack and compression. The vocals are very present and vital, the guitar sounds are all super in your face. It’s a wide-awake album.
“By the time they made Revolver, they had been through A Hard Day’s Night, Please Please Me, Help! and everything – and they’re still their own entity. Of course Revolver is influenced by all the things you hear on those records – particularly the soul records that are hip in the UK and London at the time – but it’s The Beatles. They didn’t need to look outwardly at other scenes to find a concept. In a way Revolver is the culmination of an extremely mod phenomena.
“I got influenced by The Beatles in a big way – way, way after the event – through the advent of the VCR. You could walk into HMV and buy things like The Complete Beatles, Ready Steady Go! and all these retrospective documentaries on VHS. Being able to watch those was one of the reasons why I dressed like George Harrison for a bit in The Smiths! For many years, I believed Revolver was everybody’s favourite Beatles record. I mean – it is, isn’t it?”
2. Eleanor Rigby
Revolver’s only single – a double A-side with Yellow Submarine – and McCartney’s finest story song: a tragic Play For Today sketched in three scenes…
NORMAN BLAKE, TEENAGE FANCLUB: “Revolver has a real edge – it’s The Beatles’ punk-rock album. Taxman is very punk, the way it comes in with that little open-mic ‘One, two…’, and sets you up for the album.
“Then Taxman finishes and it’s amazing the way Eleanor Rigby comes in – there’s no preamble, just that ‘Aah!’ then into George Martin’s string arrangement. It’s really aggressive. George Martin’s strings remind me of Vivaldi. He’s really edgy and makes you sit up and listen, and the arrangement is very much in that spirit. It’s a marriage of Vivaldi and Psycho!
“John Lennon later said he wrote 80 per cent of it, but there’s absolutely no way. It’s so McCartney in where it goes melodically. It’s got the McCartney scan – the way the lyric scans across is 4/4, but the melody scans across five bars, so it’s slightly 5/4 in the verse. McCartney’s melody gift was innate; John had to work at it more. It’s quite a complex melody. He was 23 when he was doing this stuff, really sophisticated. He had just moved in with Jane Asher’s folks. He was being educated culturally and he was eager to advance his skill set. It’s like he’s moving on from Hamburg quicker than the other guys, in arrangements and themes.
“Are the ballads on this album the climax of a particular sort of McCartney writing? Well, ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ is one of the most beautiful romantic songs ever. In fact, when I got married, my wife Krista and me walked down the aisle to it.
“Eleanor Rigby is a really sad song. Even the way it tails off at the end, with that last little bar with the strings: da-da-da-da-der. It’s brutal. Like the last bit of dirt on the grave? That’s it, you can almost see him wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks away. It’s a really strong image. This song about loneliness and death is the most played Revolver song on Spotify. It’s up to 144,903,115 at the moment! So it still resonates with people.”