Unboxing Revolver

“One thing I am always proud of is how The Beatles’ songs were so different from each other. Some other artists found a formula and repeated it. When asked what our formula was, John and I said that if we ever found one we would get rid of it immediately.”

— Paul McCartney, 2022

A quickie this month. I simply haven’t had time to put together another multi-part epic. But one is in the works, I promise. A two-parter, maybe three. Probably in early 2023.

Yes, my day job has kept me very busy this autumn, but I have to face the fact that my off-hours have not exactly been dedicated to intellectual pursuits, such as researching and writing for this boondoggle of a website. (I have retired the term “blog” for myself because it smacks so much of a bygone early-2000s era, when a more innocent nation collectively fell in love with LiveJournal, Wonkette, and Juno.) When I get home from work and drop my bulk into my cat-scratched recliner, I am usually so mentally (and at my age, physically) wiped from the day’s work that I just want to stare blearily at something low-stakes until it’s time for roughly twenty minutes of Jeopardy! (skipping the commercials and the contestants’ awkward personal anecdotes). My wife and I compete over Jeopardy! in the most lax, informal manner possible. No one keeps track of points, and if our mouths are full of dinner when a response is required, we use the honor system. “I knew that. You know I knew that, right?”

And there is nothing that represents low-stakes viewing more than YouTube. There is a wide array of YouTube rabbit holes to trip up the shiftless and lazy. My twin go-tos lately have been: 1) reaction videos. It’s peculiarly satisfying watching some innocent Gen Z’er come unhinged seeing The Exorcist for the first time, or a couple of fellow nerds nerding out (and even getting teary-eyed) over a Star Wars TV show trailer. 2) Relaxing footage of hobbyists painting miniature figurines for tabletop gaming. Mostly Warhammer 40K. The actual playing of Warhammer looks an order of magnitude less fun than painting the figures. (It seems you’re supposed to push them around on a placemat-sized cardboard grid.) If the painter/narrator has a soothing British accent, so much the better.

Which brings me to the most low-stakes YouTube genre of all, if such a thing is possible.

Unboxing videos.

People taking newly-purchased things out of their packaging, and describing the process. That’s it, and that’s all.

I’ve watched dozens.

Opening something new — especially something you’ve been anticipating getting for a long time — is an experience that can only happen once. Lots of folks out there share my opinion that half the fun is the aesthetically-pleasing packaging your new treasure arrives in. It was with great dismay that I finally forced myself to toss nine years’ worth of perfect little Pixel phone boxes. I ordered a cheap, off-brand external BluRay drive for my laptop the other day that came packaged like a tiara from Tiffany’s. (The BluRay drive itself turned out to be a piece of shit, but I wanted to put the box on my shelf.)

Don’t get me started on the sleek, gorgeous, modern-art masterpiece version of a covenant ark that a new laptop arrives in.

Despite my enthusiasm for splitting that shrink wrap and delving into the goods, I don’t think I’d ever bother to do an unboxing video myself, mostly because even that minimal effort seems like a waste of energy, and I doubt I’d come off well on video. My spindly paws are far from manicure-fresh, and like anyone with a soul, I cringe at the sound of my own recorded voice.

So I thought I’d do the next best thing and fill this space with some “unboxing” in pictures and text.

Revolver.

The August 1966 album that was The Beatles’ true masterpiece. For a long time, the following year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was hailed the pinnacle of the Beatles’ output (and as such, pretty much the pinnacle of popular music), but its baroque psychedelic fripperies have become a tad dated and indelibly associated with a specific, love bead-centric era. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s still The Beatles, and therefore essential, but you can almost smell the patchouli seeping out of it.) The more straightforward Revolver, on the other hand, is timeless, and a younger generation of Beatles fans have leap-frogged it ahead of Pepper, judging its merits more objectively without having been around for Pepper’s impact as a cultural phenomenon.

Here’s what I wrote about Revolver in the Idle Time collective’s 2009 book Decades: A Tribute to Our Top 400 Albums of All Time (where it easily sailed, by near unanimous acclamation, to the #1 spot).

Assured and almost aggressively self-confident, The Beatles took their undisputed mastery of pure songcraft (melody, rhythm, lyricism, etc.) into the studio during their first long break from touring, and delved into a bag of production tricks and techniques that are still being emulated to this day. Varispeed, tape loops, flanging, phasing — all of which can be done in the modern era with the click of a mouse, but in 1966 required a pioneering spirit and a willingness to push the limits of recording at all times. It required thinking way, way outside the box, and altering (sometimes even damaging) microphones, instruments, amps, and four-track tape machines. (Yes, it was all done on four-track!)

Revolver is like a prism — a seamless crystalline whole, but depending on which angle you approach it from, will provide a brilliant, colorful flash of each band member’s personality. John Lennon’s lazy, swirling material (“I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said, She Said”) reflects his own feelings of being adrift and confused early in the post-Beatlemania phase of his life, and his dabbling with the still-legal hallucinogen LSD. The album’s cacaphonous closer “Tomorrow Never Knows” is an attempt to convey the sensation of of an acid trip through pure sound…when he wasn’t tuning in and turning on, Lennon amused himself with satirical character sketches (“Doctor Robert”) that foreshadowed later figures like Mr. Kite and Polythene Pam. Paul McCartney’s songs showcase the skills of a master pop craftsman. “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “For No One” relate the beginning and end of a love affair in heartbreaking detail. The bouncy rhythms and positive vibes of “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” are the blueprints for Wings and the best of McCartney’s solo career. (Macca Bonus: His fluid, melodic bass-playing anchors the whole album perfectly.) George Harrison’s wry cynicism is our first taste of Revolver, as his stinging “Taxman” kicks off side one with its overdriven guitars and bitter lyrics telling the true-life, nouveau riche tale of losing 90% of your income to Britain’s harsh tax laws. No one wants to hold anyone’s hand here. His “Love You To” kicks off the ‘60s obsession with all things Eastern. The rest of the band sits this one out in favor of an all-Indian instrumental backing, with George singing earnestly of Hindu enlightenment in a thick Liverpudlian accent. And Ringo drums his heart out and sings “Yellow Submarine.” What more could you ask?

What The Beatles finally emerged from the studio with in the summer of ‘66 was the platonic ideal of a Great Album — sublimely-crafted songs that incorporated envelope-pushing experimentalism and stylistic shifts from track to track, and leaving the listener feeling like they’ve had an experience.

Yes, the prism simile needs work, the band was more active on “Love You To” than I had assumed, and I somehow failed to mention “Eleanor Rigby,” but I still think that’s a pretty decent chunk of musicological expounding by a younger version of the Holy Bee. (Sorry, folks, but the book’s first and only limited print run sold out years ago. It was self-financed by our music collective, and it’s a good thing we didn’t have to pay by the adjective.)

A big trend in classic rock re-issues in the last few years has been “Super Deluxe Editions” — lavish box sets with several CDs and/or vinyl LPs crammed with fully re-mastered mixes, demos, and outtakes, usually accompanied by other collectible material. Late-period Beatles releases (1967’s Pepper through 1970’s Let It Be) have all received the Super Deluxe treatment under the supervision of Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer George Martin), but no one was sure if such extensive re-mastering would work for the pre-Pepper stuff due to more primitive recording techniques prior to 1967. Luckily, recent technological breakthoughs have allowed Martin to apply his sonic magic to Revolver. (Click here for the audio-geek details.) It remains to be seen if earlier Beatles albums are suitable for Super Deluxe consideration, but I hope at least Rubber Soul gets the works.

Naturally, I clicked the button for the Super Deluxe Revolver as soon as it became available for pre-order. Here’s what arrived the other day:

First off, thank you to our Friendly Neighborhood Amazon Driver, who is never frightened off by ominous doormats, nor the frenzied barking of the vicious hellhounds (of the Labrador and German Shepherd mix variety) that keep Holy Bee World Headquarters safe from infiltration.

The iconic, monochromatic Grammy-winning cover art by long-time Beatle associate Klaus Voormann, whose face can be seen peeking from George’s hair (just under John’s mouth).

Unlike the Super Deluxe Editions of The Who Sell Out or The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, this package is not crammed with ephemera. No posters, stickers, photo sheets, or re-produced adverts or flyers. Just the music itself and the book. Anyone who might feel slighted by the lack of memorbilia will get over it with one glance at that book.

Five compact discs — a new stereo mix, the original mono mix, two discs of outtakes, and an “EP” of of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” The album’s track list represents the album’s official British release. The inferior American version was three songs shorter (all Lennon songs, lopped off to appear on the U.S.-only Yesterday And Today album earlier that summer). Click here to read the Holy Bee’s take on the differences between U.K. and U.S. Beatles albums.

The CDs are housed in a 12″x12″ gatefold sleeve designed to look like it would hold a vinyl LP.

Honestly, this is the reason I buy the Super Deluxe Editions of Beatles albums. These goddamn books. They are stunning — packed full of the most up-to-date research and information, rare photos, session notes, lyric sheets, and tons of other stuff. And they’re completely unavailable apart from these packages. The music itself is obviously awesome, but the Super Deluxe Edition track lists are usually available in their entirety on Spotify. The books are the selling point as far as I’m concerned.

During a break in the sessions, Paul peruses the back of The Rolling Stones’ brand-new (April ’66) Aftermath album. This photo reminds us (as Steve Turner did in his great book Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year) that the Beatles always kept a close eye on their competition. Ringo joked that the Beatles should call their own new album After Geography. (“Revolver” was chosen after considering such titles as On Safari and Abracadabra.)

Giles Martin & Sam Okell‘s new stereo mix, and the orginal mono mix. Although mono sound is a relic these days, the Beatles always preferred mono for their material, and lavished most of their attention on the mono mixes of their songs, so they’re always worth having if you want to hear the songs “as intended.”

The Revolver sessions (April-June 1966) not only produced the fourteen tracks on the album, but an additional two (“Paperback Writer” and “Rain”) released as a single. The mono and stereo versions of both songs are presented here as a four-track “EP” — a throwback to a format that had some popularity in Britain, but never really took off in the U.S. (Does the Holy Bee have some thoughts on the EP format? You bet your boots he does.)

Two discs of outtakes. Around the time of The Beatles Anthology, The Beatles made it known that they were dubious and hesitant about releasing their unfinished work, having the understandable old-school show business attitude that they worked really hard to present the best finished product possible, and who would want to hear the rough drafts and rejects? I don’t know if they ever reconciled themselves to the fact that every serious Beatles fan really does want to hear their works-in-progress.

If I were a specific type of horrible person, this little ding on the corner of the box is the sort of thing I would write a negative Amazon review about, and knock off two stars.

Another pre-order came with this shipment — Quentin Tarantino’s new book Cinema Speculation. No review yet as I haven’t read it (still working on Questlove’s Music Is History), but QT’s burgeoning career as an author of both non-fiction and fiction (his novelization of his own film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is pretty brilliant, and a completely different entity from the movie) may inspire a future entry here.

Oh, and I got some contact lens solution.

Stay tuned. I’m not sure what December will bring (if anything), but there’s definitely more Beatles-related malarkey in the pipeline…

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Filed under Music -- 1960s

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