This awareness comes after reading the beautiful book accompanying the Revolver box. Pages with track-by-track commentary have titles above each section of text, listing recording dates, studios used, personnel, and who played what. Flip through, and there’s the log of what John was doing. Or not up to par.
In contrast, the only Beatle on each track of the album is Paul McCartney. Besides John, George Harrison is also not on “For No One”. His only absence. Unsurprisingly, Ringo Starr isn’t heard on “Eleanor Rigby.” John is Revolver The least obvious Beatle.
Contrast that with a riveting, previously unreleased first passage of George’s “Love You Too.” He plays acoustic guitar, while Paul adds harmonies completing the melody. As the takes go up, Ringo adds a tambourine and the familiar recording emerges. Paul has been with everything from the start.
There is a counterweight, with John chosen as the pioneer of the album. The first one Revolver recorded track was his “Tomorrow Never Knows”, a dive into new uncharted territory. He set the tone with that and, to lesser degrees, “She Said She Said” and “Rain” (recorded during the album sessions and intended to become the B-side of “Paperback Writer”). But even though Paul’s “Eleanor Rigby” was a different genre, it was as groundbreaking as “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Then there’s “Love You Too” by George. John wasn’t the only innovator.
Most of this was unknown when Revolver was released in August 1966 and, until now, has never been so boldly apparent. Cumulative snapshots revealing which hands seem most consistent on the Beatles’ bar foreshadow Paul’s later, easier-to-see prominence: with the Sergeant Pepper concept with Magical Mystery Tourwith what has become Come back and So be it.
Of course the Revolver The cabinet is not necessarily about discerning where apparent dominance lies. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to reflect on what is presented and to move towards certain conclusions. (pictured left is a box for the four-track soundtrack from the “Tax Man” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” sessions © Calderstone Productions Ltd)
Digging into the nuts and bolts of what made the monumental Revolver what it is is bolstered by often jaw-dropping session and demo tracks that have never been heard before (a few tracks were first released on Anthology 2 in 1996). The treats keep coming.
There are five takes of “Rain”, played as is: before being slowed down for the published version. It’s super fast. Ringo’s drumming is amazing. Hearing it is heartbreaking. The first songwriting demo of “Yellow Submarine,” recorded at John’s house, contains these lyrics: “In the town where I was born, nobody cared, nobody cared. It’s dark, with an atmosphere akin to the opening section of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” A second “Submarine” songwriting demo with Paul on board is catchy and cheerful, pointing to the fun track that was released. The Lennon Desolation was dropped.
But this set doesn’t just help reinterpret the past. There’s a new Giles Martin stereo mix of the album, and of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” too. They’re made with what’s called “unmixing”: each track of the original four-track tapes had multiple instruments or vocals, and artificial intelligence technology extracted unique elements to create new building blocks from which work. The goal is to revise Beatles recordings to accompany them with modern material on streaming services. Leaving aside the views on that monkey, the new stereo version isn’t noticeably different from the original album: it’s more present, has more separation, and extra punch. Not trembling, not a mustache on the mona-lisa That is. The world would go on turning without him. On top of that, the set includes a new remaster of the original 1966 mono album that sounds great, very immediate in the room. It is this mixture in which the Beatles and George Martin had invested the most time. So if contemporary is needed, go here. (pictured right is a box for the four-track soundtrack from the “She Said She Said” sessions © Calderstone Productions Ltd)
All of this comes in a nice package. The neatly illustrated, LP-sized book fits into a slipcase with a similarly sized fold-out wallet with five CDs: the remixed album, the mono original, two discs of the demos and session tracks, and a fifth of the new stereo versions of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain”, as well as their original mono counterparts which were singles. The text of the book is essential reading. Like what has been heard, that says tons that have never been said before.
This doorstop-like rendition of one of the greatest musical landmarks of the most invigorating musical phenomenon of the 20th century could be considered over the top as The Beatles are endlessly remarketed, endlessly repackaged, endlessly raked. Such scruples fade away as Revolver the box set is as noticeable as the original album; as much as anything the Beatles themselves – including the semi-detached John Lennon – were experiencing at the time of its creation. An important and essential release.