For all the legendary pomp around 1967’s ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, or even around the latter albums like ‘Abbey Road’ (1969) and farewell record ‘Let It Be’ (1970), it’s inarguable that ‘Revolver’ was the true game-changer. The Beatles’ seventh album kicked down the door to the ‘60s counterculture; leading fans through it by their clammy hands, and inviting them to turn off their minds, relax, and float downstream. With the band retiring from live performances within a month of the album’s release, the increasingly experimental foursome immersed themselves in studio life, bringing string quartets, jam jars, tambours, sitars, French horns, and quite a lot of weed along with them.
It’s the latest entry into Giles Martin – son of Beatles’ beloved producer George – in his efforts to remix and remaster The Beatles oeuvre, having already completed ‘The White Album’, ‘Sgt. Peppers…’ and more. ‘Revolver’ had, in fact, had been mooted for earlier in his series, but the four-track recording proved an obstacle, one that was eventually conquered with the help of Peter Jackson and his momentous documentary, Get Back: “While working on [Get Back] we developed this tech where we could de-mix stuff, which is basically separating multi-tracks out, so it was really a technological breakthrough which allowed us to do it,” Martin tells NME.
But with old recording equipment, squashed together instrumental tracks, and fuzzy sound, brushing up ‘Revolver’ was a trickier task than any of the previous projects. Martin details the process of heading back into the studio with the Fab Four on the new remixed and expanded edition of ‘Revolver’, out this Friday (October 28).
“‘Taxman’ is the first time a George song opens up a Beatles album, and it’s obviously an iconic opening. It was the first one we started work on – it was the first one that proved to me that we could do this. It’s easy to take an album that people have known for so long for granted, and you listen to it now and think ‘oh my god this is truly groundbreaking’.
George had a number of personalities: he was very spiritual, and at the same time he was writing about this 95 per cent tax in the UK. The thing about ‘Revolver’ is that lyrically, it’s not a very happy album, and with its acerbic tone ‘Taxman’ is a good starter.”
“‘Eleanor Rigby’ stemmed from the Psycho score [Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror], and that’s why it’s such strident strings… I can’t think of another song by a band which just has strings or voices on it which isn’t seen as prog or classical. It’s very unusual. It doesn’t seem like an odd song because it’s so familiar, but it really is.”
People don’t realise how [George Martin] was heavily involved in the concept of how it should be. It’s like punk strings, and when you hear the sessions, you hear how collaborative the whole thing is. My dad had a great turn of phrase, the way he says to the players ‘we won’t use vibrato unless you have something to say’. It’s such a pleasant way of putting it.”
‘I’m Only Sleeping’
“They would have only had half the album if it wasn’t for Paul. John had this innate unbelievable genius and talent, but he also liked to chill out. ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is classic John, if you think about it. They’d rejected being the Fab Four and gone from the ‘topper-most of the popper-most’ to ‘sod that, we’re going to be individuals’.”
‘Love You To’
“It shows what George was bringing to the band, and also how the band accepted it. This album is an album of everyone’s acceptance and everyone’s ideas, and it shows how George had progressed as a sitar player compared to ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ [from 1965’s ‘Rubber Soul’]. People didn’t think at the time it was him playing sitar on this song, but the outtakes show that it was, and Paul, of course, was playing tambora now. The Beatles were always at the forefront of technology and I like the fact that we can still do stuff with music that’s 50 or 60 years old.”
‘Here, There, and Everywhere’
“The thing about this song is it can be overlooked – it feels like it’s always been here, like a standard. It was also my dad’s favourite song of Paul’s and is one of Paul’s favourite songs of his own. Paul talks about an old song [‘Anything Goes’ by Cole Porter] as an influence for this one.”
“With ‘Yellow Submarine’, we didn’t realise it was a John idea to begin with. The pencil drawing – as I like to call it – of the song, is John singing ‘In the town where I was born, no one cared, no one cared’, so quite a dark lyric, more like a Woody Guthrie song, and on this journey through the demos, you hear Paul’s influence: ‘great melody, let’s do this with it’. I always thought it was a Paul thing, but it was a collaboration between the two of them. It’s the equivalent of Paul singing “It’s getting better all the time” [on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s…’ ‘Getting Better’] and John singing “it can’t get no worse”.
‘She Said, She Said’
“People say ‘Oasis sound like The Beatles’ but Oasis don’t sound like The Beatles, they sound like ‘She Said’ and ‘Rain’. The thing to notice on this song is how John has started changing his vocals – he’s almost singing in different ways. The [vocals] change, just like the drumming styles on ‘Revolver’ change all the time: the drums on ‘Dr Robert’ is entirely different to the drum sound on ‘She Said…’ and the same applies to John’s voice: ‘this is this song, and I’m going to be in character for this song’”.
‘Good Day Sunshine’
“Interesting arrangement, this, and for a simple sounding song there’s an interesting time signature in the chorus. At the time, there was this trend of summer songs like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by The Kinks and ‘Daydream’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Paul wanted to write something sunny too. There are very few outtakes of this. They knew exactly what they wanted and they just went and did it.”
‘And Your Bird Can Sing’
“What’s intriguing about ‘And Your Bird…’ is the early demos show how much it was meant to be a Byrds song. It’s like that classic line from Douglas Adams [author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy]: “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” And sometimes the secret about writing a great song is to copy someone and not do it completely correctly. In the early demos it’s almost too Byrdsy, and they had to de-Byrds it a bit. John’s guitar playing on this is extraordinary, also.”
‘For No One’
“One of my favourite Paul songs. There’s a French horn on this song, and the player had to hit an incredibly high note that he could only do a couple of takes of. In classic Beatles style, Paul said, ‘well he can do it, can’t he?’ After a couple of goes, my dad said: ‘yes, but I don’t think we can make him do it again’.
It’s such a beautiful song. Paul usually writes songs about other things; but this was a personal song, I believe, about how he felt about his present time with Jane Asher [McCartney’s partner between 1963-68]. They wrote beyond their years. The elegance of their lyrics and the heart of what they did went beyond, and they pushed each other as well.”
“This is one of the few songs on the album which still has a Merseybeat, ‘60s feel about the rhythm and sound, and again John’s voice is in character, disguised by being double-tracked. It’s also a very ‘John’ song, though I think Paul may have helped him with the ‘Well, well, well…’ middle-eight bit.”
‘I Want to Tell You’
“It can be a very forgotten song, but I did some playbacks in LA and New York recently, and it kind of rocks now. It’s one of those songs that people go ‘do I know this song? Oh I know this one’. As George said himself, he didn’t start out as a writer, and my dad always said he wasn’t as instinctive as [John and Paul], but he was like a carpet weaver, meticulously layering stuff on and thinking about how it should be. You can see why he got disillusioned, because he has three songs on this album, and on ‘Sgt Pepper…’ he’s only got one.”
‘Got to Get You Into My Life’
“Obviously, it’s Paul’s ode to Motown, Paul became interested in how he could have more bass on the record too, and they went in ‘Revolver’ from saying ‘we’ll become the biggest pop and live band in the world’ to ‘now we want to break ground with recording’. If you listen to ‘Revolver’ against ‘Rubber Soul’, they’re supposed to be soulmates but they’re not really as the rhythms are very different.”
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
“What’s extraordinary about this track is it’s the first thing they did ‘Revolver’, and the demo is almost more innovative than the final piece. They’d had their first holiday ever because they were meant to be filming a movie that got cancelled, and they came back with all these ideas. Paul says this is the album they became individuals and discovered pot, and this open-mindedness my dad had. For John to come in and say ‘I’ve written this song, it’s just one chord, and I want it to sound like I’m in the Himalayas singing from a mountaintop’, and my dad to go ‘alright, let’s go and do that’ was amazing.”
“What’s interesting about ‘Rain’ is they don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but they can imagine what it’s going to sound like, and with ‘Rain’, they knew they wanted to record it at half speed to get the effect they wanted. It’s the beginning of them playing with tape, and it’s the same technique they used with ‘Penny Lane’. The feel of this song matches the slowed-down version much more than the speedier version. As a player, if you slow everything down you expose the mistakes you’re making, and it’s just the foresight of them knowing the sound they were going for, and playing so meticulously, that strikes me.”
“This is the only song from this period they ever dared to perform live. The vocal arrangement is so complicated, but they never really questioned their ability. They had each other, and they believed they could do anything. I asked my father once: ‘Did you ever think you weren’t any good?’ and he replied ‘No, I always thought we were brilliant’… and that’s a very un-English thing to do, but the fact of the matter is that they were kind of right – they were brilliant.”
And Giles’ favourite moment…
“When people hear an early version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in the box set, they have to realise it was Take 2, and ten minutes before, the song would have been dots on a page, and no one would have any idea what it would sound like. So I think personally, it’s hearing my dad and Paul working on the strings for ‘Eleanor Rigby’, and hearing how kind and collaborative my dad was with people.”
The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ special edition is out on October 28 on Apple Corps