By now, you are aware that every music blog has already celebrated the 50th anniversary of Revolver, the Beatles' seventh long player, the one that paved the way for Sgt. Pepper (the album that CHANGED THE WAY ALBUMS WERE EVERMORE MADE and perhaps is less fondly remembered in retrospect for that reason). Everyone has celebrated the 50th anniversary of the British release, which came out August 5.
Everyone but me.
I held out until August 8 to celebrate the release of the neglected stepchild, American Revolver. That's right, the one with three less songs, all John Lennon ones. (If you're keeping track, those excised songs are "I'm Only Sleeping," "And Your Bird Can Sing," and "Doctor Robert.")
For the sake of argument, and we will argue, I will make a case for the 11-song version also deserving its due.
Argument 1: The U.S. Revolver clocks in shorter than a sitcom length at 28:20, and comes off as more compact and weirder than it does in the more generous 35:01 version.
No one in their right mind could defend any decision Capitol Records made that shortchanged the fans. That said, no U.S. fans complained of being shortchanged those three songs, thanks to the makeshift Yesterday and Today album that came out two months before, which also gave us the fabulous "butcher cover" in the bargain.
That's right, we got two Beatles albums two months apart in one summer. There are labor laws preventing anything like that from ever happening now.
To their credit, Capitol did pick three cuts from the U.K. Revolver that wouldn't sound sonically jarring next to "Act Naturally" and "Yesterday." It's hard to imagine "Love You To" or "Tomorrow Never Knows" being dropped as excess baggage the way "Doctor Robert" or "And Your Bird Can Sing" were. Those two cuts serve to humanize Revolver a bit more, and sound quite at home on an album with Rubber Soul and Help castoffs. Only "I'm Only Sleeping" hints of the druggy heights to come but doesn't give too much away to be a spoiler. Those three Lennon songs cut from the album gain collectability (alternate mixes) and gain prominence on Yesterday and Today. On Revolver, they're just tossed out like chum.
Argument 2: The lack of Lennon songs on the U.S. Revolver actually increases his stature on the album.
When the Beatles were still operating (as Mick Jagger described them) as "the four-headed monster," no one was keeping track of who was getting how many songs per album. Like the Lennon and McCartney song partnership, we viewed the Beatles as an abstraction of unity, and there were always plenty of three-way harmonies on nearly every track to blur the lines of who did what.
Nobody noticed only two John lead vocals on this album the same way no one noticed Paul only had one lead vocal on The Beatles' Second Album. It certainly wasn't as apparent as it was when people noticed how sucky Monkees albums became when Davy Jones got too many songs. Compared to Paul's five lead vocals, George's three, and Ringo's one on Revolver, we only get two John cuts. But he gets to have the final word on both sides of the LP with "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," two cuts that should've alerted everyone to how much acid he was ingesting on a daily basis.
And in August 1966, when Lennon's off the cuff and out-of-context remarks touched off the whole "We're more popular than Jesus" furor, giving Lennon more than just the last word was probably more than America could handle.
Argument 3: The U.S. edition includes every Batman reference.
There was no bigger pop phenomenon than the Caped Crusader in 1966. In this year alone, both the Who and the Kinks issued recorded versions of the Batman theme, and here Revolver opens up with "Taxman," a song that practically screams the Neil Hefti-penned theme song in comic-book word-balloons. Elsewhere, on "Here, There and Everywhere," George manages to sneak in a guitar line that echoes the Batman riff, although it is probably also echoing the same line George used to play much faster on the Beatles' version of "Besame Mucho."
Argument 4: America recognized the significance of the cover first and awarded artist Klaus Voorman a Grammy.
In the pop world, no one thought of album covers as a place to showcase fine art, unless you want to count Jackie Gleason's hiring Salvador Dali to paint the cover for Lonesome Echo in 1955. But Revolver proved the Beatles to be more far out than the Stones, who named an album Out of Our Heads but never had a cover where the Beatles were actually coming out of their own heads and getting tangled up in their own hair as well.
The Grammy awards, usually preferring to award the Anita Kerr Singers or Herb Alpert over the Beatles, gave Voorman a nod for best album cover art, beating out such slim pickings as Barbara Streisand's childish crayon drawing on Color Me Barbara. It might have turned out very different had Voorman's first draft of the collage been used — it had a picture of McCartney sitting on a toilet that Brian Epstein made him remove.
Argument 5: The U.S. version is the only version Brian Wilson heard
If we're to believe the timeline – the Beatles heard an advance copy of Pet Sounds and immediately came up with "Here, There and Everywhere," which encapsulated the entire experience of Pet Sounds into one cut. In response to the edited Revolver, Wilson knew he has to make Smile even freakier just to keep up. That he didn't finish it demonstrates how intimidating even a truncated Revolver was. The U.S. version is also the only version the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Love, the Doors, and any other American group you want to name probably heard.
Argument 6: The first time I ever heard the word eclectic, it was used to describe Revolver
Not sure if it was in Roy Carr and Tony Tyler's The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, or Nicholas Schafner's The Beatles Forever, two great Beatles books which date back to the '70s, when there weren't many Beatles books period. But eclectic it was. Of course I was dumb enough to say, "Of course it's electric" before I put two and two together and raced to the Webster's Pocket Dictionary every school forced you to buy.
It may not seem that important to you, but to us rock critics, "eclectic" is an often-used word to describe an album that is all over the map, but in a good way. Before Revolver, you only had albums like Elvis' Something for Everybody, which contained one act doing a bunch of different-style songs but mostly sounding like they were done in the same all-night session. The Beatles invented so many genres in one album, and all the genres are represented on the U.S. Revolver: raga rock ("Love You To"), bubblegum pop ("Yellow Submarine") baroque pop ("Eleanor Rigby," "For No One"), big brass rock ("Got to Get You Into My Life"), and electronic dance/trance pop ("Tomorrow Never Knows"). I'll never forget when a friend of mine was crowing about how inventive and advanced "Setting Sun" by the Chemical Brothers was and how deflated he became when I played him "Tomorrow Never Knows," which came out a full 30 years before it.
Argument 7: The release of The U.S. Albums individually means you can get the mono copy of Revolver for cheap
When the Beatles issued The U.S. Albums in 2014, I was able to put myself in the mindset of how it felt hearing that record the first couple of hundred times in 1966: in mono, which will still kick your ass six ways to Sunday. I never liked the stereo of my favorite Beatles album, especially because of the way it makes "Taxman," possibly the hardest-rocking opener of any Beatles album, sound almost polite. On that mix, the fucking tambourine is as loud as the bass and rhythm guitar – something even the 2009 stereo mix doesn't really correct. Who thought that was a good idea? Sir George? In fact, I can hear that tambourine on almost every cut on this album – it's positively distracting!
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Arguments 8 & 9: The American Revolver was the first album we ever had in our household. And it began with the letter R.
Sure I'm biased. Everyone remembers their first album – their second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth album, not so much. Is there any reason to commit the sixth man to step foot on the moon to the memory banks? Didn't think so. (Sorry, Edgar Mitchell, it's nothing personal.)
So great was my love for this album that as a 5-year old, I have a clear memory of my kindergarten teacher Miss Courtney's puzzled face when I blurted out this album's title as an example of something that began with the letter R. If that happened now, I would've most assuredly been sent to a child psychiatrist or at the very least, be segregated from the general population until the authorities arrived.
Argument 10: The balance of McCartney tracks meant my parents let us listen to it more often
Paul gets in three of his prettiest ballads, plus the chipper "Good Day Sunshine," and Paul, riding high on "Yesterday" fumes, made the Beatles acceptable to many adults. This was a big deal when most houses only had one turntable and one record player, and you had to ask permission to use it.
When I think of all the times we sat down to dinner as a family and this album (which contained two acid-driven songs by John and a love song to pot by Paul among others) played in the background, Revolver seems like pretty subversive listening fare for enjoying a Sunday roast to.