1966: Revolver at 50

1966 The Beatles' Revolver at 50

The third of Jokerside’s tributes to the mighty cornerstone of pop culture that was 1966 links back to the first. It’s August 1966 and the arrival of the second of two musical landmarks that heralded the start of something new. A few months after The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles were about to turn into something else entirely … Revolver, released 50 years ago today.

Yet you may see the meaning of within… It is being, it is being

“Alchemy” – Tony Visconti

IN THE MIDST OF A CULTURAL EXPLOSION, UNCHALLENGED SINCE, MUSIC, FILM, TELEVISION AND ALL MANNER OF MEDIA EXPLODED IN 1966. It collided with street level pop culture revolution, simultaneously responding to and dousing those same flames with its own intoxicating fuel. Sat prime in the cultural decade that reached from 1963 to 1974, it blended with the baby boomers’ coming of age, the counter-culture and social revolutions that set a template that’s still felt today.

It had been building for some time. And having played a huge part in the beginnings of the cultural revolution in 1963, four years and six albums into their career, The Beatles were perfectly placed to help this seminal time reach its apex. They were also in the right place. The first two long-reads in this 1966 series have necessarily dwelt in America, celebrating the immediate success of Batman the television series and the May release of the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds. But few places could rival London as a hotbed for the ongoing revolution. And unlike The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and other bands who’d sprung from the capital, The Beatles had soon left the Merseybeat boom in the early sixties when they led the British invasion of America and by the mid-1960s were lodged in the British capital as observers as much as instigators. But unlike many other bands of the time, The Beatles’ output rarely responded or referenced the cultural shifts around them. Typically, the songs, films and long players that emerged from their prolific work-rate rose sat self-contained. Above that. But 1966 caught them on a cusp.

Spinning disks

“I was alone, I took a ride…”

Writing about Revolver always feels daunting task, as it teeters on the brink of full pelt worship. But subjective as The Beatles’ back catalogue is, it’s helped by its incredible quality. Picking a favourite tune from The Beatles’ output may wax and wane from day to day, season to season, but this writer’s favourite songs don’t sit on Revolver. Nor is the distinctive, monochromatic album cover their best. The difference comes on the turntable. While every Beatle album is an enjoyable album to spin, Revolver couldn’t have been better named. It slots together from that sleeve to the split of the sides, the balance of the tracks and the inspiration of its musicians make for a combination greater than the sum of its quality parts. It’s simply the greatest record playing experience in the Beatles’ oeuvre.

True, it followed close on the heels of albums like A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul each of which marked a new step in maturity, skills and depth for the band. But compared to the huge, influential leaps into the unknown that followed, Revolver is a clear tipping point. Balanced and varied, emotional deep and frivolously disrespectful, it’s an album of the future.

Because what Revolver does is something different altogether. It shows the Beatles at their full power: a live band, whose players were just about cohesive, before later albums found them drifting apart. That later divergence would take them on to higher plains, but the looser fit abandoned the energetic phenomenon that was the Fab Four, the unbreakable force that had defined Beatlemania.

Cohesion would remain in aspects of the albums that followed of course. But in many ways Revolver is the end of one Beatles story. The songs between it and its successor Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started a revolutionary new tale altogether.

At the end of the road, Abbey Road brought back the illusion of beautiful collaboration but from the work of many band members toiling in pairs or on their own, while most were working on solo projects. As a result, that album incorporates the worst excess of both McCartney and Lennon, left unchecked, where Revolver had demonstrated the power of the two working together just a few years before. The rivalry had stretched too far. Before Abbey Road, Let it Be featured a notably unified sound and blues sentiment under the brash production of Phil Spector, but that plastered over growing disdain for each other and multiple disagreements that had grown from mid-1960’s grumbling. Before that, Magical Mystery Tour was to find them rudderless without Brian Epstein, trying the experiment of McCartney leadership. Even Revolver’s follow-up Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a fraction too far into the band’s splintering. The arrival of facial hair and new costumes came with a studio-bound band that had left touring behind. Revolver was the lightning period, the tipping point. The Beatles’ recording era had arrived, where they had chosen studio over road. That, among other things… Read more…

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1966: Pet Sounds at 50

1966 Pet Sounds at 50

God Only Knows what would have happened without this LP…

The first of Jokerside’s tributes to the mighty cornerstone of pop culture that was 1966. It’s May 1966 and the arrival of the first of two particular musical landmarks that heralded the start of something new. It didn’t have long to prove itself… The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, released 50 years ago today.

 “1966”. IT SOUNDS GREAT. IT’S ALSO SOAKED IN FIVE DECADES OF HAILING ITS ACHIEVEMENTS. Their importance is obvious, but almost impossible to calculate within the confines of a standard year. I mean, 1967 was good, 1965 rather enjoyable…. Of course, 1966 sits in history now, a year of change amid a decade of cultural expansion. But if you were to pick out one year from that decade that pipped the others, that pulled everything together and set a new direction from the morass of creativity it’s the one satisfyingly named ’66.

Coming of age

Culture was ready to explode..

I once wrote of 1963, the year that launched James Bond on America, Doctor Who on British TV and the Beatles on the world, that’s there’s no coincidence it fell 18 years after the end of the Second World War. Culture was ready to explode, and as the last of the war children came of age it was impossible to contain the cultural blast that forged that remain with us today. And by that same logic we’re now 50 years on from the year that marked the 21st birthday of the first of the baby boomers.

The 50th anniversary birthdays marked this year are almost too many to remember, from film to music and that’s ignoring other defining events in the UK alone, from England hosting and winning the World Cup to elections and the opening of Longleat Safari Park. It was truly a cultural explosion, with a lasting impression that can be heard at any time of the day in 2016, often catching us by surprise. So sometimes it’s good to be overwhelmed by just a small slice of it…

To name four long players that 1966 brought us, Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, and of course The Beatles’ Revolver and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Singles released that year included Paint it Black, California Dreamin’, Uptight (Everything’s Alright), Strangers in the Night, You Don’t have to Say You Love Me, Wild Thing, Summer in the City, Sunny, You Can’t Hurry Love, Last Train to Clarksville, Mellow Yellow, Sugar Town… Other songs recorded but not necessarily released included A Well Respected Man, Bang Bang, Born Free, Eight Miles High, Friday on my Mind, Hey Joe, I’m a Believer, I Can’t Let Go, It Takes Two, Mame, Mission:Impossible, No Milk Today, Rain, Shape of Things, Solitary Mind, Spoonful, This Old Heart of Mine and… The Batman TV theme. It was the year that the Jimi Hendrix Experience formed and, er, don’t tell DJ Johnnie Walker, the Bay City Rollers emerged.

There wasn’t a simple zeitgeist or trend, one stand-out song that defined a summer. It truly was a cultural explosion, unprecedented since the years of stark warfare or when the Renaissance or Enlightenment had a good day. And that small smattering, although too big for this blog, sums up the diverse forces at work. There have been culturally defining years since, in Britain it’s particularly easy to see what 2012 was lacking and see the range that 1997’s Cool Britannia couldn’t quite muster. But in 1966, the shackles didn’t so much loosen and drop so many years on from that generation-defining conflict, but were thrown to the moon as new conflicts arrived amid new methods of thinking. It was the well-earned age of cultural landmarks, and it threw up the most unexpected casualties without borders. Read more…

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