Revolver and the Summer of 1966

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, “The Beatles did.”

Revolver

It’s the late Summer of 1966, there is a newly re-elected Labour Government, swinging London is at its peak and, as if to complete the national mood of confidence and new beginnings, England has just won the football World Cup.

On August 5th – a few days after Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy – The Beatles released Revolver, an eclectic 14 song collection featuring some of their best known works Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine and Here Comes the Sun.

Half a century later and people still maintain that Revolver is The Beatles first masterpiece – better and more complex even than Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

This is a blog about politics, and it’s important to say Revolver is not a political album, certainly not in the conventional sense.

True, it is probably the only Beatles’ album to name-check domestic politicians. On track one, Tax Man, ‘Mr Wilson’ and ‘Mr Heath’ get a mention as The Beatles rail against the unfairness of a 95p in the pound tax rate. (Yes, Neo Liberals, that’s 95p in the pound).

But to say that Taxman is about the pitfalls of re-distributive taxation is like saying Eleanor Rigby is simply about loneliness.

Listening to Revolver 50 years on, I’m struck not only by the fact that it still ‘holds up’ as a piece of great art – it is their best and most complete piece of work, narrowly beating Abbey Road.

But I’m also struck by the essential weirdness of this mix of songs. There is no story to Revolver, no narrative to be savoured, but the quality of the material means it still soars.

We veer from the bonhomie of Good Day Sunshine to a portrait of a doomed relationship in For No One, from the happy children’s story book quality of Yellow Submarine to the early feedback weirdness of Tomorrow Never Knows.

There’s no pattern to Revolver, its genius is its unpredictability. In She Said She Said – my favourite track and based on an experience dropping LSD with Peter Fonda – Lennon writes:

‘I know what it’s like to be dead

‘I know what it’s like to be sad

‘And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born’

Revolver came half way through The Beatles frighteningly short seven year spell as the most famous pop group on Earth. Already things are changing, a few weeks after Revolver’s release they would play their final concert for a paying audience.

As their hair grew and their clothes changed, The Beatles would become virtually unrecognisable from the suited, clean cut band that had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and become a worldwide sensation just two years earlier.

Revolver is a snapshot of a high Sixties summer, a burst of creative expression at a moment of artistic and personal transition. Fifty years on, it remains as fresh and relevant as ever.

 

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