Monday, September 29, 2014

Turn Left at Greenland, Part 10: ‘Revolver’

In this monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.

Capitol’s absurd impatience finally bit them on the ass with Yesterday and Today. Because The Beatles hadn’t released an album in—gasp!—over six months, their American label insisted on rush-releasing one even though the band was currently recording a new record that would be ready to hit stores in a mere month and a half. The rush caused Capitol to put out Yesterday and Today with a grotesque cover it was already wary about releasing, and one that would have to be hidden at great expense when the inevitable outcry followed. On a more artistically crucial level, Capitol’s insistence that The Beatles sacrifice three of their new recordings for Yesterday and Today did a great disservice to the album they were actually choosing to make. When Revolver was released in England on August 5, 1966, it was not just the best collection of Beatlesongs yet (and by overwhelming contemporary assessment, their best ever); it was also their most balanced. John and Paul each sang lead on five of their own songs. Paul wrote one extra for Ringo to lead. His songwriting skills blossoming stunningly, George Harrison submitted three. Even “The White Album” wouldn’t have such an equal ratio of contributions from each Beatle, and it is only more eclectic than Revolver because it has twice as many songs. George makes raga rock on “Love You To”, pushes pop off-kilter with “I Want to Tell You”, and freaks up funk with “Taxman”. Paul crafts classical for psychos with “Eleanor Rigby”, casts a spell over the love struck with “Here, There, and Everywhere”, summons the daylight with the good-timing “Good Day Sunshine”, brings a touch of baroque elegance to the drawing room with “For No One”, gives Motown a soulful run for their money with “Go to Get You Into My Life”, and presents an early Christmas gift to the kiddies (and Ringo) with his toy “Yellow Submarine”. That leaves John to bring the weirdness, and he more than delivers with the morbid acid rock of “She Said She Said” and the terrifying, cacophonous black mass “Tomorrow Never Knows”. He also sings a love song to his drug dealer “Doctor Robert”, avows his love for lying in with “I’m Only Sleeping”, and recaptures some of the old Beatlemanical joy—with enough sour smugness, sweet harmonizing, and stinging riffing to keep things interesting—with the euphoric “And Your Bird Can Sing”.

We already know the fate of those last three songs in the States. They’d been in the Yanks’ record collections for a month and half. While some of The Beatles’ major peers, such as The Rolling Stones and The Who, suffered the humiliation of having songs repeated senselessly on their American releases, Capitol drew the line at this odious practice. “Doctor Robert”, “I’m Only Sleeping”, and “And Your Bird Can Sing” would not be returning for Capitol’s Revolver. After all, their absence still left eleven tracks, which was the norm for Capitol’s Beatles LPs. As far as the label was concerned, the public was still getting their money’s worth.

In 1967, London Records released Flowers, which repeated three tracks already included on recent Rolling Stones albums. The following year, American Decca put out Magic Bus: The Who on Tour, which committed the same crime.

They were also getting a very strange listening experience indeed. All three of the songs sacrificed for Yesterday and Today were John Lennon’s. Consequently, the most balanced of The Beatles’ British albums became one of the most off-balance of their American ones. Capitol’s Revolver is the only Beatles album on which George Harrison contributes more songs than Lennon. John only sings twice as many as Ringo. The grandest collaboration of the Fabs’ career ends up sounding like the Paul and George show. Paul’s romanticism envelops the record. George suddenly seems like he’s become the cynical one. John’s two songs are left to close each side, at least giving them pride of place, but they really seem to come out of left field. Had John lost his mind, only able to come up with two new songs during a period that was so clearly creatively fertile for his band mates? And these are the songs he came up with? He hadn’t even bothered to come up with more than one chord for “Tomorrow Never Knows”!

As it had with Rubber Soul, Capitol at least recognized the artistic value of the cover of Revolver. The only difference it made to Klaus Voormann’s creepy illustration/collage is the use of its own logo instead of Parlophone’s pound sign.

Capitol’s Revolver is an intrinsically great record because, well, its eleven songs are all great. Dave Dexter, Jr., finally conceded that George Martin knew what he was doing and refrained from laying on the echo he thought made Beatles recordings exciting enough for an over-excited public. Comparatively speaking, however, Capitol’s Revolver is sorely inadequate once we know what we’ve lost. John’s three missing songs don’t just make the Parlophone record more balanced; they make it rock harder. Without the soaring guitar duel of “And Your Bird Can Sing”, the grungy licks of “Dr. Robert”, and the mind-melting backwards leads of “I’m Only Sleeping”, the lasting sonic impressions of Revolver are its strings, sitars, tape loops, French horns, clavichords, and brass bands. John’s songs bring extra color to a dark record, even though his sly nastiness still encrusts the edges of each song. Their loss makes The Beatles’ most perfect album less perfect. Had Americans known Revolver as The Beatles intended it to be known from the very start, it may have not taken it until the Parlophone record’s global release in 1987 to usurp Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the album considered their greatest.

What The Beatles must have been thinking when they consciously set out to make their artiest statement! What injustices would Capitol rain down on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Would Dave Dexter drown “A Day in the Life” in even more echo? Would he lop off “Fixing a Hole” so he could put it out on a new record called The “Hole” Beatles!? How about removing “With a Little Help from My Friends” for The Friendly Beatles or another one for Getting Better with The Beatles?

Lucky for that record’s reputation, Dexter would no longer be a problem by ’67. Capitol demoted him in 1966. If he remained in position as A&R rep., would he have tampered with The Beatles’ “Big A” art piece? Well, he probably would have wanted to, but he would not have been allowed since The Beatles made certain that when they renewed their contract with Capitol in January 1967 that it specified the label could no longer tinker with their art. So the only alteration Capitol made was removing the two-second loop of gobbledygook from the run-out groove of Side B. Otherwise, Americans finally got the same Beatles record as their British friends. Never again would Capitol mess with a Beatles LP at all. Their EPs, however, remained fair game…
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