My Most Important Album: Revolver

I grew up with music… mostly the Beach Boys, being from Florida. I had a little green transistor radio on my desk every night. I remember listening to it when I was 12 and heard an announcement about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. I remember that “La Bomba” by Valens was a big hit at the time, but I didn’t know much about Holly. I listened to Ricky Nelson (I was actually named after him, but that’s another story). For several summers I worked as a lifeguard at a small motel that would house acts that played a the Lake Worth Casino, right down the road. I got to meet the Four Seasons, Randy and the Rainbows, Lesley Gore, Bryan Hyland, and a few others. They were all from up north and loved to swim in the Florida weather.  I listened to The Everly Brothers, the Tokens, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, the Ventures… everything that was on radio at the time. Except Presley. I hated Presley.

The Beatles hit the charts in the winter of 1964. I was a high school senior. I didn’t get the whole Beatles thing. I kind of liked “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but “She Loves You” was just blathering. I also couldn’t figure out why every female I knew lost their minds over such pedestrian songs. At my high school graduation, my principal Mr. Stansfield gave a speech based on “Four Strong Winds,” the Ian and Sylvia song. I was impressed, bought their album, and that was my introduction to folk music. When I started college, I listened to two albums a lot:Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds and Wednesday Morning 3AM by two folkies named Simon and Garfunkel that nobody had heard of at that time. They inspired me to buy a guitar, actually.

Minnesota Historical Society

But then in the fall of ’66, my roommate bought a copy of Revolver. We listened to it in a variety of different physiological states, true, but it seemed like a masterpiece to me. Listening to that album with headphones on was like nothing I had ever experienced. Guitars recorded and played backwards? “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Alternative instrument choices and drug-infused wizardry? “She Said She Said,” based on an acid trip John Lennon took with David Crosby and Roger McGuinn. Some Motown influences with horns? “Got to Get You into My Life.”

But that album belonged to McCartney. “Good Day Sunshine” was great to sing along with. I tried to learn “Here, There and Everywhere,” but I couldn’t sing it OR play it. “For No One” was written about the end of Paul’s relationship with Jane Asher, and it was unique at the time since Lennon and Harrison didn’t play on the song. Paul played piano, clavichord and bass and Ringo played drums.

The dark angst and isolation of Simon and Garfunkel’s album, with songs like “The Sound of Silence,” “Bleeker Street” and “Benedictus,” appealed to me, but “Eleanor Rigby” went to a whole other galaxy of loneliness. Written in Em, none of the Beatles played instruments on it. Instead a string ensemble of four violins, two violas and two cellos played a score developed by George Martin. It’s also one of the few songs in their catalog that had lyrics included by all four Beatles. I remember listening to the words intently and wondering how a band that could record “She Loves You” could end up recording a song with such depth. Even though I had listened to some Dylan songs before this, and especially Byrds versions of them, these lyrics were masterful.


1966: Beatles and George Martin in the studio Credit: Fair Use

The album was groundbreaking in a number of ways. “Taxman” was the first Beatles song that addressed a political issue. It was the first album that utilized automatic double tracking on vocals, used by many after that (especially “Bohemian Rhapsody”). It was released right before their last tour, and none of the songs were ever played live. Setting the scene for “Hey Jude,” they used a lot of well-known background singers on “Yellow Submarine”: Brian Jones from the Stones, Marianne Faithfull, Donovan, and George’s first wife, Pattie Boyd.

While Wednesday Morning 3AM got me started, I expanded my attention to lyrics and the skills of songwriters after Revolver. When the overdubbed “Sounds of Silence” track was released with new songs by Simon and Garfunkel, I devoured it. Highway 61 Revisited came out that year, and I became a huge Dylan fan. Revolver led me to years of paying attention to great songwriters and a lifetime of listening to them: James Taylor, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Harry Chapin, John Prine, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Rodney Crowell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gretchen Peters and Jason Isbell.

I grew to love bluegrass, too, just a few years later in my life, but that would need another story. That’s like a different corner of my music brain. Luckily there’s room for a lot of choices.


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