You’ve got to get this into your life…
For a long time, it had been a given that the consensus favorite Beatles album was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by fans and critics alike, lauding its existence as the crown jewel of 1967, “The Year of The Album,” with its ground-breaking sounds and iconic cover.
And this sentiment seemed to grow almost linearly every year. If anyone dared to ask, “What about Revolver?”, the answer might be “Well yeah, it’s really good, but it was recorded in 1966, before albums really counted”. Sounds stupid, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was, but that was a prevailing sentiment. The other problem was that the U.S. version was, as was Capitol Records wont to do, bastardized, but this time without any upside. Capitol, in their avarice, wanted another Beatles release only a few months after Rubber Soul; they had enough “leftover tracks”, but needed a few more. So they asked Parlophone to give them something new, and the UK label handed them three Lennon-fronted tracks (said album was the hodgepodge, Yesterday and Today) which were ultimately left off of the U.S. version of Revolver, with nothing to replace them, rendering the album both unbalanced and with less oomph, and as the U.S. release became the most prevalent, it didn’t stand a chance against Pepper.
Over the past generation or so, there’s been a sea change, made possible by the U.S. version of Revolver being reissued completely out of existence; now that the whole world was able to appreciate the album restored to its full glory, not only has Revolver been voted the all-time favorite Beatles album, it’s the favorite album, period, of many music fans.
With last year’s release of the Let It Be box set, Beatles fans started salivating over the possibility that Universal would travel backwards from their first Beatles box set (Pepper, of course). And in their infinite wisdom, along with some new fangled technology, they’ve done this stunning Revolver box, replete with a new Giles Martin/Sam Okell stereo mix of the album, the much lauded, long out of print mono mix finally released on CD in 2009, as well as two discs of demos, outtakes, backing/vocal tracks and new stereo mixes/original mono mixes of the consensus “greatest two-sided single ever,” “Paperback Writer/Rain”!
Disc one contains the new stereo mix, and while there’s nothing particularly revelatory here, there are definitely some goodies: you can hear John’s yawn on “I’m Only Sleeping” very clearly, “She Said, She Said” really boosts the guitar riffs, “Good Day Sunshine’s” keyboard fills are much more evident, “Dr. Robert” has a longer fade including another mention of the title, among others. Overall, the mix is definitely cleaner and punchier than the one we’ve long known, not unlike what Giles’ dad and a 20-year-old Geoff Emerick had done with the original mono mix.
Speaking of that mono mix, it’s here again on Disc four of this box, and if you don’t have it in your collection (well, even if you do), you need it as, talking about revelatory, when you compare it to the stereo mix you’ve been used to all your life, you honestly won’t believe what you’re hearing, as it’s so “in your face”, especially emphasizing the psychedelic milieu of “She Said, She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”. A rock ‘n roll mix, in every sense of the word!
Now we get to the cream of the box, the “sessions” tracks on Disc two and three. This is where one really gets into the heads of the songwriters, hearing songs as they develop and/or altered right before your very ears, not unlike the experience received by watching the Get Back documentary! Beatles geeks may scoff at the fact that most of these tracks have previously appeared on the Anthology series, sniffing “I already have them”, but even those have been augmented, such as take one of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which adds some Lennon giddiness at the end, and take five of “Got To Get You Into My Life”, which is now in stereo instead of the Anthology 2 mono (as an aside, the second, unnumbered take of that song herein really kicks ass!).
We find out on the first take of “Love You To”, that it was going to be called “Granny Smith”; perhaps that was kept in the recesses of the boys’ minds when they would later call their label, Apple? The instrumental takes of “Paperback Writer” are freakin’ trippy, and the instrumental take of “Rain” is much faster than the released versions! There’s also the iconic “laughing” take of “And Your Bird Can Sing”; the nudge nudge, wink wink subject matter of the song is still so fresh in Lennon and McCartney’s mind that they just couldn’t help themselves! Another wonder is the early, “working takes” of “Yellow Submarine”, essentially just John with an acoustic and just a bit of backing, with some different lyrics; one would never know that it would become the “children’s classic” it has evolved into.
The crown jewel of the bunch for Beatles collectors is the withdrawn mono “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which appeared on first copies of the UK mono album, but was quickly withdrawn when Lennon found out that the “wrong” version was there, and made George Martin contact Parlophone to take the LP off the shelves and replace it with one containing the desired version. Up until now people have been paying high three figures for copies of that “Matrix 1” LP; one wonders what will happen to the price now that the long sought after mix has appeared on this box, in stellar sound quality (as the final track on the original version, even mint minus copies may sound distorted).
There are so many more cool bits like this on discs two and three, and they alone are worth the price of admission…and no, you can’t “cheap out” by getting the two-disc version, because it only contains 15 of the 31 session tracks!
Another treasure is the hardcover book, which contains many previously unseen photos (I particularly love the one of Paul looking at the Aftermath album cover), handwritten lyric sheets, a very thoughtful love letter to The Beatles by Questlove, and perhaps the most thorough song annotations you’ll ever see!
If you’re still not convinced to pick up this amazing box set, just remember, to quote another writer, “It’s bloody Revolver!” You’ve got to get this into your life.
VIDEO: Revolver Special Editions trailer