The following article about the Beatles Revolver first appeared in the Holiday 2011 issue of Guitar world.
Revolver is the album that made the Beatles recording artists in the absolute sense of the term.
Their previous six albums had demonstrated the increasingly ambitious songwriting skills of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the band’s proficiency with a range of musical styles. But the productions, while strong, were mediocre. Aside from reverb, compression and EQ, the instruments and vocals were recorded in a fully representative manner.
But as early as 1963, when recording With the Beatlesthe band members had begun to wonder why their instruments and voices couldn’t sound like something… else.
“Can we have a compressor on this guitar? George Harrison had asked Norman Smith while recording his song Do not disturb me in September of this year. “We could try to get some sort of organ sound.”
In the same session, Lennon had been rejected by George Martin when he plugged into a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone. In 1966, no one, not even George Martin, could curb the Beatles’ musical ambitions. Not only was their music changing; their consciousness was expanding, thanks to experimentation with pot and LSD. This synchronicity would creatively culminate in Revolver, the only album the band released that year. But what an album it was.
Since its creation, Revolver was designed to be an exploration of sound as it had never been heard before in pop music.
And no one but the Beatles themselves has been more instrumental to that end than 20-year-old Geoff Emerick, who crafted Revolver and created its many revolutionary sounds. Emerick had served as tape operator on a number of Beatles sessions with Norman Smith, during which he befriended McCartney.
When Smith quit working with the band to become a record producer in early 1966, Emerick was asked to become the Beatles’ engineer rather than some of his more skilled colleagues. “I suspect Paul had something to do with it,” Emerick says. “We got along well, and I was young, so he knew I would be open to the kind of experimentation they wanted to do.”
Although shy and quiet, Emerick was rebellious and dismissive of EMI’s strict policies, which prohibited microphones from being placed within 18 inches of drum kits and discouraged overloading of audio signals to create distortion and sounds. “unnatural”. On RevolverEmerick consistently broke rule after rule in his efforts to give The Beatles the new and unusual sounds they demanded.
“I’ve always thought of sound as images rather than in strict technical terms,” says Emerick. “A lot of the sounds I heard in my head were dark, with more depth. And with Revolverit was more about making things different rather than real.”
The new direction was evident from the very first track recorded: You never know what tomorrow brings. Simply titled Brand 1 by the time recording began on April 6, 1966, the song was written by Lennon, the product of his experience with LSD, which he had taken the previous January.
Using lines of The psychedelic experience, an LSD textbook based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, he wrote the song as a mantra consisting of a repeating melody line over a driving bass and drum track. “There’s only one deal, and the whole thing is supposed to be like a drone,” Lennon told Martin and Emerick.
Additionally, he explained, he wanted his voice to sound “like the Dalai Lama singing from the top of a mountain.” Said Emerick, “I was thinking, Well, I have an echo chamber and… that’s it! I didn’t know what I was going to do. And suddenly there he was, staring at me! ”
“It was the studio’s rotary Leslie cabinet, a standard piece of equipment for organs but had never been used for any other instrument or for vocals.
As Lennon’s voice swirled through the Leslie, the assembled group listened in awe from the control room. “It’s the Dalai Lennon!” McCartney exclaimed.
Emerick also showed his ingenuity by recording the song’s drums to achieve the “thunderous” sound that Lennon had requested. In addition to moving the mics to the drum heads (earning him an EMI reprimand for “microphone abuse”), Emerick applied a heavy dose of compression using a Fairchild 660 limiter to give the drums sound very “pumping”. .
“What did you do to my drums?” Ringo Starr asked Emerick. “They look fantastic! (Emerick would continue to use the close mic elsewhere on the album, including for horns on hello sunshine and the strings on Eleanor Rigby.)
The day after Revolver first revolutionary session, You never know what tomorrow brings was completed with another unusual technique: an overdubbing of tape loops assembled by McCartney, with distorted guitar and bass sounds and sound effects. Tape loops had long been used in composition by avant-garde composers, but for the pop music world it was entirely new.
For all Emerick’s sonic trickery, one of his greatest accomplishments on Revolver was his work on Beatles guitar sounds. Over the past year, the band had been unhappy with their guitar sounds, particularly the lack of presence.
For Revolverthey had new, powerful amps to work in their favor, including a cream-colored Fender Bassman (intended for McCartney but appropriated by Harrison), two new blackface Fender Showmans with 1×15 cabs, and 120-watt Vox 7120 guitar amps .
New guitars for the sessions included Harrison’s recently acquired 1964 Gibson SG Standard, his main guitar for Revolverand Lennon and Harrison’s Epiphone sunburst casinos, a model that McCartney had owned for some time and also used on Revolver (Harrison’s and McCartney’s models had vibratos; Lennon had a trapeze tailpiece).
Lennon also used a Gretsch 6120 when recording Paperback writer on April 3, and he and Harrison could have used their Sonic Blue Fender Stratocasters, acquired in 1965 while making To help! McCartney, for his part, relied on his Rickenbacker 4001S bass, which he had received in the summer of 1965.
But Revolver guitar sounds aren’t just a product of Beatles gear. Again, that’s thanks to Emerick’s touch with, again, the Fairchild 660 limiter.
“It added a lot of presence,” Emerick says. “Even if you plug it in and use its circuitry, it sounds like the best tube amp ever.”
To register Revolver guitars, Emerick used his beloved Neumann U47 tube pickups. These, however, he kept well away from the speakers, “normally about a foot, 18 inches”. This, he says, is where the magic happened. “That’s where it sounded good.”
The fruit of his efforts can be heard everywhere Revolver tracks like And your bird can sing, she said she said and particularly, Collector. The Harrison-penned track was considered so strong that he was chosen to lead the album – although it was McCartney, not Harrison, who handled lead guitar duties on the song.
McCartney also joined Harrison in recording the stunning dual-guitar lead work on Lennon’s And your bird can sing.
Two lead guitars, vocals in Leslie phase, tape loops, strings and brass… It’s no wonder that when, after finishing Revolver, the Beatles embarked on what would be their last commercial tour – August 12–29, 1966 – the set list did not include a single song from the album. Almost anything would have been impossible for them to pull off in four pieces.
In almost every way, Revolver represented a departure from the band’s teenybopper past and, simultaneously, a signpost to the Beatles’ psychedelic future.
It was just a tryout for the album that followed: their 1967 milestone, sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandaged.