When I first met Jack he asked what my favourite Beatles track was. Well that changes between about 6 tracks but currently it is Revolution. So I said “Revolution!” As there are 6 versions in the public domain (see below) he asked me “which version?” To which I replied, “the live version.”
Not everyone knows about the “live” version especially in the UK as it was recorded for the Smothers Brothers show in the USA and, unlike Hey Jude on the David Frost show, it was never shown on TV here in the UK at the time. Vevo finally made it available online in 2015. But why Revolution and not Please Please Me, Hard Days Night, I Feel Fine, Drive My Car, Taxman, Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life, I Am the Walrus or I’ve Got A Feeling? Is it because it is the greatest B-side of all time?
Or is it because it is a part of John’s amazing run of B-sides? Or is it because the Beatles made me a revolutionary by enabling me to “act on my own recognisance” (not believing in outside authorities). Or is it because 50 years later it still sounds like a great slapdash piece of art work in progress? Or is it because it hints at its own back story comprising elements of rock, melody, country, harmony and musique concrete?
Revolution Live has 3 unique qualities; it has Lennon’s first explicitly political lyrics and he is definitely “out” and “in” on this version; it is a ferocious rock performance which was massively appreciated by the waifs and strays rounded up to be its studio audience and it is also a terrific live Beatles performance (my friend Deni says they were the best live band she ever saw, and she saw them a lot in 1963) containing all the Merseybeat and experimental elements that informed the recording of the White Album. No wonder Marmalade Skies say that they were “the greatest group in the world at the height of their powers” at this time…
Lennon has one of the great rock voices, aggressive, arrogant, tender and confused. Just perfect for a song that is aggressive, arrogant and confused with a tender “shoo be-doo-wop” chorus; which is what elevates the live version above the official B-side. Almost uniquely, and despite himself, Lennon’s id (his deepest feelings) keeps outing itself through the immediacy of his “newspaper” lyrics. In Liverpool he was neither at one end of the golf course or the other and this liminal confusion about identity keeps surfacing. I want a better world (for meeee!) but I’m not gonna kill anyone (I’ve suffered from loss too much). And Yoko was in his head for the first time on a recording with Revolution. Take 20 of Revolution was both the B-side and an Outro which became the first draft of his Revolution #9 dream. Lennon was King of the B’s for the Beatles because his id keep revealing his deeper, darker feelings, whilst his superego kept reeling in the fears. On Revolution Live his dark and light side were forced to fight it out in public as he delivered the lyrics with both a snarl and his neutral, but don’t mess with me I’m in charge, face. The lying bastard was forcing himself to be honest. It was the sound of John Lennon singing himself into being and not hiding behind group artifice… Awesome.
This “live” rock performance was pre-recorded in line with Musicians Union policies and the customary way of bypassing them. So the backing track is a live recording to which they mimed for the video (listen to the last few seconds of the video to catch the actual live guitars kicking back in). The greatest rock guitarist of all time Jimi Hendrix loved Lennon’s guitar playing, preferring him to Clapton, and you can hear why here. As a guitarist he served the song, just as Ringo, as a drummer, served the song. But the intense overdriven guitar sound was produced by “golden ears” wunderkid engineer Geoff Emerick who said he “would have sacked himself if he had been the studio manager” for putting the sound so into the red. Their live performances on Revolution and Hey Jude were so good and the audience reaction in the studio so positive that it persuaded them that they should play live again, birthing the Get Back (Let It Be) project. Foolishly they had read and believed the critical reviews of Magical Mystery Tour and, fools on the hill that they were, also believed that the British public no longer loved them. Well Hey Jude and Revolution (the second best single of all time) are enough to persuade anyone that “love makes sweet music” (as we say in Canterbury) or in this case bitter-sweet music makes love.
At the height of their powers, as The Beatles are here, they have become crafty artists who have evolved into working in an atelier called The Beatles, where the studio is just a rooftop over their diverse talents. They have become the Rembrandts of popular music. They have evolved from the early poppermost “where is Beatles Band?” so beloved of the NME and also from the experimental psychedelicists who are within us but are without us. They were always at their best on albums where they had time to prep. For the White album they had both been up in Rishikesh writing and also all round to Georges at Kinfauns on 28/29 May demoing the Unplugged version of the album. Now they were in the “studio” of their artistic ambitions playing around with different “takes” on how the music might finally “look.” Revolution Live is one take and, in this case, the best as all four are contributing something slightly different to last time; and the next time.
For me, with the Beatles, you can always hear the music for its visceral immediacy, but there is always a fascinating back story to unravel and be inspired by. And 50 years later there is also the history you, they and the music have been through…
The Six Revolutions (plus #20)
Revolution #1 BLOCKED! (Download the Onion Browser)
Revolution #B (also blocked – view over TOR)
Revolution #Unplugged (at Kinfauns)
And the legendary Revolution Take 20
And the latest version Advertising Revolution by Alan Bradshaw
We’d all like to see the plan for the White Album. What that was going to be we will reveal on this blog starting with Back In The USSR