THE BEATLES, Revolver Deluxe Edition (Apple Corps Limited). For me, The Beatles are one of “those” groups. Music fans understand. “Those” groups are the ones certain music fans cannot conceive of not being in their collection, large or small. To us, not having “that” group is to create a void that couldn’t be filled with 100 other bands.
For me, the Beatles are one of “those” groups.
I remember how excited I was to receive the deluxe box set of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is one of “those” albums. Being able to hear its construction was a glorious opportunity to almost feel like I was there when they recorded it. I was equally excited to collect box sets of The Beatles (aka The White Album), Abbey Road and Let it Be. All were meaningful. All made an impact.
But none of them were my favorite album.
No, my favorite Beatles album is Revolver, for reasons I will go into soon enough. This album bent my mind and sent me on a journey to an ethereal world only “those” bands can offer us. Our minds are opened and we never want the experience to end.
Music is often about context. If ever there was an album requiring context, Revolver is one of them. To most, Sgt. Pepper is the titular album. It changed the course of rock music as we know it. This is a fair statement and perhaps the reason so many name check it as their favorite Fab Four album. When a friend asked me for my favorite, he seemed a little stunned when I said Revolver. “I don’t understand,” he said. “That album sounds like a bunch of stock Beatles songs.”
I understood what he meant, so I had to alter his thinking. “That’s because you’re not listening to the album in its proper context,” I told him. “Without Revolver, there would be no Sgt. Pepper. Many of the sounds being made on Revolver had never been made before. The album opened up a sea of new possibilities. When it was released, it was truly one of a kind.” To his credit, my friend picked up on this immediately.
I’ve heard it argued that Rubber Soul paved the way for Revolver, and therefore is the transformational album. I won’t argue the first half of that statement, but I think Rubber Soul was the musical equivalent of dipping one’s toes in the water. Revolver is a full on dive into the pool’s deep end.
And now, at last, I get to make my case. The Beatles have dropped another deluxe box set, this time of my favorite album! The Beatles were about to offer me another Masterclass in album construction and I am beyond excited.
The deluxe box contains just what it should. There are five CDs containing a new master of the original mono release, a disc containing two classic singles not included on the album proper (though they were released), two “Sessions” discs, and a new stereo mix by Giles Martin, son of legendary producer George and current keeper of the Beatles legacy. There is also a 100-page hardback book loaded with photos, essays and track information. Perfect.
The question: how does one absorb all the notes in this set? The answer came quickly: I would take in the original mono mix followed by the singles, the sessions, and the new stereo mix. It’s like seeing the house from afar, picking up a couple of tidbits in the front yard, then taking a hard look at the house’s blueprints before going back outside to look at the house from the proper distance again. Meanwhile, a couple of the constructors and a real estate expert would tell me why I should appreciate this particular house.
And so, the trek begins. Like me, Revolver was born in 1966. It’s kind of crazy to think my favorite album and I entered the world during the same year, but here we are.
THE MONO MIX
Look, I understand why people (who almost always seem to be a bit older than me) prefer the mono mix above all others. I’m sure it’s connected to nostalgia. Back in the days of single-speaker transistor radios, mono was how music was consumed. The wide spectrum of notes was essentially narrowed to a single band. That’s how people remember it and that’s the way they want to consume it, even after the advent of home stereo systems. I get it. I initially experienced the record the same way myself.
But here’s the thing: to me, mono means the band stands in a line and records using a single microphone, creating an output that sounds the same way, regardless of where you stand in the room. Even with a stereo system, both speakers sound the same. But that’s not how recording works!
During the recording sessions, musicians occupy different parts of the room. Sometimes they occupy different rooms altogether. What’s wrong with reflecting that on the finished record? Revolver was recorded live, but the Beatles weren’t standing single file to capture the songs. They were separated, if only slightly, from one another. With that being said, the album was recorded to one track one-inch four track tape, as was the practice at the time.
Technology now exists to revisit those recordings and isolate individual elements on the tape. This offers the producer the opportunity to widen the musical spectrum just enough to really hear what each musician is doing individually. The music is given a more spacious feel and I’m allowed to make the most of my stereo speakers when I sit directly in between them. Now I can feel like I’m there in the studio with the band!
That being said, the mono mixes sound wonderful. I could’ve gone for a bit more bottom end, but that wasn’t necessarily something you pulled out of a transistor radio, was it? Still, the band sounds like they took a couple of steps forward toward the microphone in order to make sure we could hear what they’re doing as a collective. There are no major faults to be found.
Two additional songs were recorded during these sessions, but didn’t make Revolver’s final cut. “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” are offered on a disc in both stereo and mono. The stereo mixes EXPLODE out of the speakers, quickly enveloping us in sound. This is my mix. It’s the perfect answer to why I went through the trouble of upgrading my sound system, which old codgers like myself continue to use enthusiastically. The mono mixes sound … quaint by comparison.
Not the babies, but the musical pregnancies. The Beatles invite is into the studio to hear them put Revolver together. It is a fascinating journey, indeed. No doubt songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” sounded more than a little weird when the album was released. But the finished product sounds almost tame compared to what was being worked on initially.
The initial thought process behind “Got to Get You Into My Life” veered toward a “classic” (read, original) Beatles sound, complete with the traditional harmonies. But that didn’t work. The introduction of horns gave the song a more soulful sound. That combined with a steady groove made the song the classic it is.
Most of the songs are presented in either very raw form or a tweak or two away from perfection. Sometimes too quick a tempo was problematic, or something traditional needed to be eliminated in favor of a more exotic element. The ultimate point is the band was using “foreign” elements like a string quartet and sitars in ways not yet heard on pop albums. So, this is where context becomes the key. For music nerds like me, this is a fascinating study.
THE NEW STEREO MIX
You probably already know what I’m going to say about the new mix. And you’re right. I LOVE it! I’ve heard complaints about this mix not being all that different from the original stereo mix. I understand this position and ask those with doubts to listen to this album with good headphones. There are new details that reveal themselves when you listen carefully. A cowbell on “Taxman” that would make Christopher Walken proud, a yawn I’d never heard before on “I’m Only Sleeping,” and other sneaky treats. The devil, they say, is in the details. This mix is very much about the details!
The new mix pops eagerly out of the speakers and grabs you by the ears. Centering yourself between the speakers takes you a long way toward digging the placement of each instrument in the stereo spectrum. It gives the album more of a concert feel, enveloping you in sound rather than just shoving you in the chest via mono. Your mileage may vary, of course. Some will not be able to come off Mono Mountain. Well … their loss.
As always, this box set comes with some very cool art to keep you occupied for some time. Quick essays from Paul McCartney and Giles Martin give way to a much lengthier and personal journey by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, best known as the drummer from hip-hop legends The Roots. In addition to being one of the tightest drummers alive, Quest has an eclectic musical palate, making him someone I would love to hang out and talk music with.
Honestly, the essay has the discovery and aspects I would’ve written had I been asked. Kudos to Giles and company for choosing someone who probably wasn’t the first person most would have thought of as an author for this piece. I still get odd looks from fellow African-Americans and others when I profess my love for the Beatles. But that’s another rant for another day. Bottom line: good on ya, mates!
I knew Quest and I were on the same page simply by him titling his essay Evolver, because that’s precisely what this album is: an evolution. And like me, this is his favorite Beatles album. “It’s the record that shows the most diversity and virtuosity,” he wrote. “If Sgt. Pepper’s is a concept album, this is a concept album about not having a concept, a door-to-door illustration about a band in the middle of rapid change …”
I mean … why did I even bother to write all these words? Quest nailed it in a single paragraph! The remainder of the essay is just as compelling. I need to call him so we can hang out.
Also included (naturally) is a track-by-track breakdown and the full story of the album’s fascinating cover art. (Another precursor to Sgt. Pepper? Sure! No argument there.) And of course, the photos are plenty cool, too.
When I write box set reviews, I almost always say they are geared toward band completists. And while that’s certainly true here, I’m certain neophytes could get quite a bit from this package, as well. If anything, it helps to comprehend my argument about context and the band’s evolution. And Questlove’s got my back!
Pick this package up, turn your sound system up a bit (or go hang out with someone who has a sound system), and turn this album loose. If you weren’t a Beatles fan before, you will be! It’s rather cool to think Revolver and I entered the world during the same year. I’d say the album was more successful, but at least I have a great benchmark.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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The 2022 remix really lifts this album into the 21st century. 👍
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