The Beatles – Revolver

Beatle-mania is a term used to describe “the intense fan frenzy directed toward The Beatles during the early years of their success” (“Wikipedia” 2012). America was in love with the image of 4 shaggy haired boys from England. To some, the Beatles are one of the most prolific bands of the 20th century. Their claims are backed up by the musical ingenuity found in the Beatles “Revolver” Album.

Prior to the recording of the Revolver album, the Beatles mostly made pop love songs that had a strong R&B foundation. All of their songs where recorded using the standard Rock and Roll Jump Band instrumentation of 1 electric lead guitar, 1 electric rhythm guitar, 1 electric bass guitar, and a trap drum set. Every recording could be performed and duplicated live.

The Revolver Album changed all of that. For the first time in their career, they used exotic, and sometimes made up instrumentation. In fact, they turned the studio into a musical production instrument. They also reached beyond the boundaries of traditional Rhythm Blues, and blended in Folk music, Classical music, Psychedelic Music, and Spontaneous music of their own design.

The song “Tomorrow Never Knows” features a series of weird sea gull sounding cries. These are homemade loops; created by each of the band members (Howard, 2004). Fascinated by the art of manipulating recorded sounds on tape, Paul McCartney urged of each of his band-mates to go home and experiment with this technology. They did. Each returned to the studio with about 30 tape loops. 16 were selected for use on the song. These loops consisted of things like:

  • Double Speed Laughter
  • Reversed Guitars
  • And sped up orchestra hits.

They did not have samplers. This was ground breaking for that time. The process was labor intensive, and required many people to apply these loops to a studio recording.

The lyrics for the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” was inspired by John Lennon experimentation with LSD. LSD (also know as Acid) was thought to lead the way to a higher conscious. Lennon wanted his vocals to reflect this. He told the engineers that he wanted to sound like 100 Tibetan chanting monks. 19-year-old engineer Geoff Emerick came up with the innovative ideal of passing the vocals through a “Leslie Rotating Speaker Cabinet.” With his attempt to achieve the sound that Lennon wanted, he invented a new way to process vocals.

Other notable innovations on this album include (Howard, 2004):

  • Automatic Double Tracking: They invented a technique of creating vocal by doubles by delaying a split signal through a 2nd tape machine.
  • Acoustic Drum Processing: They stuffed the inside of the kick drum with a sweater to muffle the sound, and used “close proximity micing.” Finally, they applied compression and limiting to the track. This was the first time a drum had ever been recorded, and heard as a processed instrument.
  • The use of another speaker to mic the bass cabinet, to take advantage of the larger diaphragm, and the unique sound it captured.

As a listener, I thought “Revolver” was a better album than “Pet Sounds” (by the Beach Boys.) Both albums where well produced. The mixes where clean, and the sound quality was superb. However, the “Revolver” maintained a raw and gritty quality about it. The transition from the psychedelic sounding “Tomorrow will never know” to the string-based orchestration of “Eleanor Rigby” took me on a journey that defied expectations. They used non-conventional sounds in a way that was both innovative and delightfully musical. I enjoyed many of these songs, without having to appreciate how they were made. In contrast, the Pet Album was strictly clinical, maybe a little over produced. I had to study the production, before I could fully appreciate some of the work. In my previous blog, I stated that my first impression of the Pet Album was boredom due to the monotony. As a listener, I enjoyed “Revolver” more. As an industry professional, I think both albums are worthy of praise and study. The Pet Album is a good lesson on production quality. The “Revolver” is a good lesson on how to reach outside the box, and create good cohesive music.

 

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