Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)
John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, lead guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, piano, Hammond organ, bass
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Francie Schwartz: backing vocals
Derek Watkins, Freddy Clayton: trumpets
Don Lang, Rex Morris, J Power, Bill Povey: trombones
The Beatles (White Album)
The first song to be recorded for the White Album, Revolution 1 was written in India in early 1968. Inspired by the 1968 student uprising in Paris, the Vietnam war and the assassination of Martin Luther King, it heralded a political awakening for John Lennon, which later became a key feature of his early solo career.
Early 1968 saw a profound shift from the hippy-era’s believe in peace and love, towards political turmoil, protest and struggle. An increasingly politicised and energised Lennon watched the unfolding events with interest, and decided to put his feelings into song, aware of the risk of alienating The Beatles’ fans.
I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, and we’re not going to just waffle.’ I wanted to say what I thought about revolution.
I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right. That’s why I did it: I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say.’
Rolling Stone, 1970
The song started life simply as Revolution; The Beatles didn’t anticipate recording it more than once, and it was only when the other members vetoed it as a single release that Lennon considered the faster reworking for the b-side of Hey Jude.
When George and Paul and all of them were on holiday, I made Revolution , which is on the LP and Revolution 9. I wanted to put it out as a single, I had it all prepared, but they came by, and said it wasn’t good enough. And we put out what? Hello, Goodbye or some shit like that? No, we put out Hey Jude, which was worth it – I’m sorry – but we could have had both.
Rolling Stone, 1970
Although recorded after Revolution 1, the faster Revolution was released before the White Album. It divided audiences, with many condemning Lennon’s unwillingness to take part in the protests. When he recorded Revolution 1, however, Lennon was less certain of his position, opting to be counted “out, in”.
McCartney was uneasy about such a political song becoming a single, and with Harrison’s backing he vetoed Lennon. As a result, the song was re-recorded in its faster form, satisfying Lennon’s wish to see the song on a Beatles single.
The first take of Revolution – well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn’t fast enough. Nnow, if you go into the details of what a hit record is and isn’t, maybe. But The Beatles could have afforded to put out the slow, understandable version of Revolution as a single, whether it was a gold record or a wooden record. But because they were so upset over the Yoko thing and the fact that I was becoming as creative and dominating as I had been in the early days, after lying fallow for a couple of years, it upset the applecart. I was awake again and they weren’t used to it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In the studio
The Beatles began recording Revolution 1 (then simply titled Revolution) on 30 May 1968, more than three months after their previous Abbey Road session.
Sixteen takes were recorded, the last of which formed the basis of the album version. Substantially longer than other attempts, it ended at 10’17″ with Lennon’s shout, “OK, I’ve had enough!”
The final six minutes descended into a mostly discordant instrumental jam, with feedback, Lennon repeatedly screaming “All right”, and moaning from Lennon and Yoko Ono. This later formed the basis of Revolution 9, with the addition of a number of tape loops and sound effects.
Recording continued the next day, with two separate vocals by Lennon and bass by McCartney. Harrison and McCartney also recorded backing vocals.
Lennon re-recorded his vocals on 4 June while lying on the floor of Abbey Road’s studio three, in an attempt to make his vocals sound different.
John decided he would feel more comfortable on the floor so I had to rig up a microphone which would be suspended on a boom above his mouth. It struck me as somewhat odd, a little eccentric, but they were always looking for a different sound; something new.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
A number of other recordings were made for Revolution 1 on this day. McCartney and Harrison taped more backing vocals, singing “Mama, Dada, Mama, Dada” repeatedly towards the end of the still lengthy recording.
Ringo Starr also recorded more drums and percussion. Lennon added a guitar part played through a volume pedal, and McCartney taped an organ part. Two unused tape loops were also made: all four Beatles singing a high-pitched “Ahhhh”; and what Mark Lewisohn describes as “a rather manic guitar phrase, played high up the fretboard”.
An 11-minute rough mix of Revolution 1 leaked online in February 2009. The mix, numbered RM1, reveals how the song evolved into Revolution 9, with the extended jamming and various tape loops, and begins with John Lennon announcing “Take your knickers off and let’s go”.
Revolution 1, with its final title in place, was completed on 21 June 1968. Two trumpets and four trombones were recorded, and George Harrison overdubbed a lead guitar part.