Revolution 9

In the studio

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On 30 May 1968 The Beatles recorded Revolution 1, take 18 of which became the basis for Revolution 9. The final six minutes of the recording formed an extended jam, which was cut from Revolution 1 to form the basis of Revolution 9. Onto this John Lennon and Yoko Ono assembled a range of effects and tape loops, and recorded a range of new sounds.

Work on Revolution 9 began on 6 June, when Lennon prepared 12 effects tapes. Some of these were of his own making; others were taken from the Abbey Road archives. According to Mark Lewisohn's book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, five were marked 'Various'; the others were titled 'Vicars Poems', 'Queen's Mess', 'Come Dancing Combo', 'Organ Last Will Test', 'Neville Club', 'Theatre Outing' and 'Applause/TV Jingle'. Not all were used on Revolution 9.

On 10 June Lennon spent three hours assembling a further three tapes of sound effects. The following day, while Paul McCartney was in Abbey Road's Studio Two recording Blackbird, Lennon was in Studio Three compiling more effects.

The most significant day's recording for Revolution 9 was 20 June, in a session beginning at 7pm and ending on the following morning at 3.30am. Using Studios One, Two and Three, Lennon oversaw the live mix of his sound collage, with numerous tape loops being played across a number of Abbey Road's tape machines.

We were cutting up classical music and making different-size loops, and then I got and engineer tape on which some test engineer was saying, 'Number nine, number nine, number nine'. All those different bits of sound and noises are all compiled. There were about ten machines with people holding pencils on the loops - some only inches long and some a yard long. I fed them all in and mixed them live.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon played a key role on the day, fading the various elements in and out in the control room. The following elements can be identified from the many that featured on the four-track master tape:

  • George Martin saying 'Geoff, put the red light on', looped with heavy echo
  • A choir accompanied by backwards violins
  • Extracts from a symphony orchestral performance, edited and rearranged, and played backwards
  • A repeated sample from the orchestral overdub for A Day In The Life, recorded on 10 February 1967
  • A Mellotron, performed by Lennon and played backwards
  • Various extracts from symphony and operatic recordings
  • The final chord from Sibelius' Seventh Symphony
  • High pitched humming by Yoko Ono
  • Lennon and George Harrison whispering six times the phrase 'There ain't no rule for the company freaks'

Most memorable, however, is the recurring 'Number nine' announcement, culled from examination tapes made for the Royal Academy of Music, formerly stored at Abbey Road. The phrase appears sporadically throughout the track, faded in and out as a constant thread running through an otherwise chaotic creation.

Also on 20 June, Lennon, Ono and Harrison recorded a series of seemingly random statements. These included Ono's 'You become naked'; Lennon's 'Industrial output, financial imbalance, the Watusi, the Twist'; Harrison's mention of Eldorado; and Lennon's 'Take this brother, may it serve you well'.

The track used Abbey Road's STEED - single tape echo and echo delay - reverb system. During the live mix the delay ran out, and at 5'11" the sound of the tape being rewound can be heard.

I did a few mixes until I got one I liked. Yoko was there for the whole thing and she made decisions about which loops to use. It was somewhat under her influence, I suppose. Once I heard her stuff - not just the screeching and the howling but her sort of word pieces and talking and breathing and all this strange stuff, I thought, My God, I got intrigued, so I wanted to do one. I spent more time on Revolution 9 than I did on half the songs I ever wrote. It was a montage.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

A stereo mix of the song was made on 21 June, after a final set of sound effects were added by Lennon and Harrison. The following day the track was completed, with an edit taking its running time down from 9'05" to 8'12".

When released on the White Album, Revolution 9 was preceded by two further recordings. The first of these was an ad-libbed Paul McCartney song commonly known as Can You Take Me Back, taped during the 16 September session for I Will. The 28-second snippet was edited from the full 2'21" version.

The second recording, from an unknown session, featured Apple's office manager Alistair Taylor apologising to George Martin for forgetting to bring him a bottle of red wine.

Taylor: ...bottle of claret for you if I'd realised. I'd forgotten all about it George. I'm sorry.
Martin: Well, do next time.
Taylor: Will you forgive me?
Martin: Mmm, yes.
Taylor: Cheeky bitch.

These two snippets were added during a 24-hour session which spanned 16 and 17 October, in which The Beatles prepared the final running order, crossfades and edits for the White Album.

48 responses on “Revolution 9

    1. Ian

      The recording of “Hymnen” was first released after “Revolution 9″ was recorded, so Lennon would have had to have access to a pre-release version.

  1. Timothy

    What part of Revolution 9 does George Harrison and John Lennon whisper the phrase ‘There ain’t no rule for the company freaks’ six times??? I’ve listened for it many times, but couldn’t hear it. Is it audible at all???

    1. Joe Post author

      As far as I know it’s on the four-track tape, but wasn’t used in the final mix. Mark Lewisohn mentioned it, but I’ve never heard it myself. Possibly it’s buried deep in the mix somewhere, though.

  2. Richard

    “Revolution 9″ : was so far ahead of it’s time I was amazed alot of people didn’t like it simply for the absolute genius of it? When I bought the ‘White Album’, I always felt the album would be incomplete without it, being every song has it’s genre it represents! This song is the ‘Beatles’, the creativity, invention and total mystery of it’s existence? ‘Abstract Expressionism’ hanging upon the walls and ‘Revolution 9, playing unending! Sometime in the future, folks play the song 9 times in a row, as I did, you’ll be amazed how it actually ‘sounds’ like an actual musical song, exsisting in the Beatles popular catalogue of songs and it’s why the ‘White Album’ is so important to the history of recorded music!

    1. Max

      I do agree it becomes a song, after all these years I actually expect every hidden sound of it; and when the Ipod plays it randomly I will let it play to the end. (but please: its genre, its existence, it’s why. Its and it’s are not the same)

    2. Tweeze

      It’s good to hear someone else feels this way. I absolutely understand what John was on about hear. Music is, after all, controlled noise. This piece seems to be a carefully choreographed sound. It sounds like music but defies most people’s expectations. Once you get around that, it’s a symphony.

      1. Lutfi

        I’ve been doing an extensive search to find that song. And I finally did! The original Arabic song is called “Awwal Hamsa” -Arabic for “First Whisper”- sung by Syrian/Egyptian artist Farid Al-Atrash.

  3. Arno

    I hear some “War of the Worlds” battle scene sounds in there around 5:30…
    This “song” (collage) never ceases to fascinate me. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall while Lennon and his mates going through all those EMI tapes.

  4. Norman Therun

    Revolution#9, Wild Honey Pie, You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), When I’m 64, Being For The Benefit of Mr.Kite, Lovely Rita, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life, Maxwell Silver Hammer, Good Night, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, I Want You/She’s So Heavy, Because, Helter Skelter, Sexy Sadie, Yer Blues, Long Long Long, Savoy Truffle, Don’t Bother Me, Octopus’s Garden, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, Rocky Racoon and so many many more are why I love The Beatles. They are so diverse, so talented, so catchy, so deep, so fun and all of them are so unforgettable

    1. Joe Post author

      No, it was released on the US White Album. I missed it out of the discography due to a cut and paste error (more cut than paste), but thanks for letting me know about it – I’ve amended the discog.

  5. SgtPepper1909

    This song is so darn comical.

    “So the wife called me and we’d better go to see a surgeon
    Or whatever to price it….yellow underclothers
    So, any road, we went to see the dentist instead
    Who gave her a pair of teeth which wasn’t any good at all
    So I said I’d marry, join the f?!%$#g navy and went to sea”

    What the heck? Not only does he constantly change person, his lyrics are as collaged as the music…There are passages that are slightly related in their subjects, but it is all a big acid trip–sort of fascinating, but also scary—very tense, like it’s all about to blow apart in your face.

    I’d heard that above phrase said about the Who, but this is entirely different instance.

  6. Anandgyan

    You know, that was the good thing with a L.P., you sure could spin it backward, and darn, I sure did hear “Turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man” when, what was heard forward, was “Number nine, number nine, number nine…”. Sure can’t do that with a CD!

  7. Marcelo

    Music is made for create an emotional response in people. “Revolution 9″ amazes me and gives me the creeps every time I hear it.

    I also agree that it is a “song”.

  8. Steve

    I remember seeing years ago on TV a live performance of this track where the band (can’t recall the name) played an impressive percentage of the sounds live, the rest sampled from the CD…

  9. McLerristarr

    John saying the Number 9 part was taken from an engineer saying “This is EMI test series number nine” clashes with the claim it was “culled from examination tapes from the Royal Academy of Music”. Which is correct?

    1. Joe Post author

      The Royal Academy information came from tape operator Richard Lush, who worked on the sessions. I suspect the tapes were made for the Academy at Abbey Road, so both could have been true. I don’t know for sure. Apparently the tapes no longer exist, and the identity of the person isn’t known.

    1. Joe Post author

      You’re right that John was the de facto producer, although George Martin was listed as producer on the studio documentation. I’ve listed them both.

      As for Ringo’s participation, I’m not sure why I wrote that. I’ve removed the credit now. Thanks for the suggestions.

        1. Joe Post author

          There’s a recording of George Martin speaking to Alistair Taylor at the very start, but that doesn’t make them contributors as such. I’d need a better source than Wikipedia (!) if I was going to add Martin and Starr to the list, as I’m not sure they did anything during the actual assembly and recording of the track.

          In the line-up I’m ignoring various performances that were taken from other recordings, mainly Revolution 1 and A Day In The Life, and concentrating instead on who did what for the actual sound collage.

  10. M. Whitener

    I’ve listened to it several times & I don’t get it. From a sound experimentation stand point, fine. But it is too far of a radical departure from basic music for my tastes, even in the standards of the White Album.

    In their (and I say that loosely, based on the construction of this) entire catalog, I rank this as their worst effort & not even by Beatle standards, just general music.

      1. M. Whitener

        I didn’t mean it in the sense of worst music ever period. God knows much of the “good” music now is way worse than this could ever be. At least Rev 9 is ambitious. I’m just saying that it’s not good by basic standards.
        A lot of the time some songs are just “Beatle Bad” (Ex. “Little Child” compared “I Want To Hold Your Hand”), but in this case I feel Revolution 9 is a subpar sound in general.

    1. Upsiditus

      I’ve listened to it a few times over the years. It was always a painful experience, so it is the only track on a cannon Beatles LP that I deliberately skip. This is just random sounds.

    2. philmat

      Absolutely agree. Not only can this not be categorized as Beatle, It can’t even be categorized as music. It’s just noise. Not surprising considering Yoko Ono’s influence on John at the time. This is not avant garde, or experimental or anything. This is just John and Yoko telling the world: “We can do whatever we want and get away with it.” It’s almost as if they’re making fun of the entire world, Beatle fans included. Mr. Lennon, if there was ever a Beatle song that was a piece of garbage, or a throwaway, this is definitely it. It should never have been released, at least certainly not on a Beatle album.

      1. robert

        philmat – I respectfully disagree with you on many levels – and I am not a fan of Rev. 9 and usually skip it myself. However, if you were alive at the time it was released (I was and already a Beatles fan) you know how it fit into the times amazingly. Everyone was experimenting with sound – I don’t think Lennon ever considered it a song per se – as much as a sound collage. People were throwing paint against canvas just to see what you’d get – this is the equivalent.

        Again, I’m no fan of it, but believe it or not, Rev. 9′s influence on modern music today is huge. All this sampling and random sounds etc we hear today- this is in part where it came from first.

  11. Tweeze

    Following suit shortly thereafter comes 1910 Fruitgum Co.’s interesting sounding but hardly ambitious ‘Pow-Wow’, which was really a straight song played entirely backwards. I was never compelled to try and play it forward though.

    1. Buis

      “Pow Wow” came from really ridiculous throwaway song called “Bring Back Howdy Doody” which was probably an insider’s joke. Some American producers really loved to put those kind of things to single b-sides…

  12. Christopher Hight

    I think Revolution 9 is brilliant and a perfect example of Lenoons genius. Much of the content is bits of classical pieces played backwards or repeated. It took courage for him to insist on its inclusion in White Album. The album wouldn’t be the same without it. Not a song for the teenyboppers. It was obvious Lennon was trying to get out of the box. Similar to his posing full frontal on Two Virgins. Biggest pop star in the world at the time. That took some big balls.

    1. Peter

      It did take courage. And the sad thing is, one wonders how John’s attitude towards the band might have changed markedly if Paul had been more receptive rather than being actively *opposed* to its inclusion on the album.

      Moreover, had Paul (and John) been more encouraging of George…

      Paul, being the group’s control freak (for better or worse) might have helped his cause had he actually loosened, rather than tightened his reins over the band’s artistic vision. Of course, then, they wouldn’t have been “The Beatles” as Paul wanted Beatles to be…

      In any event, the track is brilliant and hints at where the band might have gone had it evolved into the looser, more experimental association John could have lived with.

      Also, my five-year-old was just chanting “Number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine…” in the car today, demonstrating to me, without a doubt, that that is as infectious a hook as “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”

      1. Joseph Brush

        Lennon also exhibited this kind of artistic courage when he released Some Time In New York City. It took guts. Especially when one considers what was going on in the USA at that time. AND he paid the price for that stance. Of course, Revolution 9 raised its finger and stared back in the face of status quo.

  13. Mark

    It has been suggested that most Beatles fans have never listened to this more than once. The irony is that one *has* to listen to it more than once to take everything in because there is so much going on in it.

  14. FrankDialogue

    Let’s remember that Paul was the one who first brought the ‘musique concrete’ or collage influence to the Beatles eith ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’…Paul played John a lot of this stuff in 1966-67 & it was something that fascinated John.

    I doubt there was much conflict with Paul over the inclusion of this piece musically.

    Any conflict was probably due to Ono.

  15. Jimmy

    In the credits, I don’t love the use of the word “samples.” The tape loops involved already cover the different snippets. “Samples” is a latter-day term usually used in reference to triggered sounds. An all-inclusive “tapes” could be good too, since not all the sounds are “tape loops”; some, such as the original ‘Revolution’ track, just play straight through or only play once, not being in loop form. Also, Lennon has said that Yoko helped him compile the tapes. Thus maybe more accurate credits might be: “John Lennon: voice, tapes, effects. George Harrison: voice. Yoko Ono: voice, tapes, effects.”

  16. Dreww

    This is one Beatles song I can barely listen to. I respect and admire the ambition of trying to create such a project. And the Beatles did their own take on many other genres, often taking those genres to new levels. But this doesn’t work for me at all.

    I don’t think you can even call it a song. It’s a sound composition but it really isn’t musical.

    One thing that comes out of this is I am curious what Carnival of Light sounds like!

    1. Julian

      That’s interesting. I can listen to “Revolution 9″ any day of the week & I’m so glad that I like it THAT much. You can listen to it repeatedly & ALWAYS find a new effect or a new sound. Honestly, for me it’s one of the top Beatles tracks, up there with “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

  17. peopleman

    It’s good to see that I am not the only one who loves the track. I spent too many hours with headphones and my mind in an altered state that it is part of a very special part of my youth. Music is emotional, and this one hits some with different emotions.

  18. David Reynolds

    Okay. I’m going to upset a lot of people here. Its a piece of garbage. Waste of space. Just self indulgence. An actual song would have been more appropriate. Another George Harrison song perhaps? Anything but this.

  19. Pat

    I don’t believe a higher complement could be made. Great art always brings out strong feelings. Advantage is not foreveryone. I have had many different feelings listening to Revolution #9 over the years. I’m glad it was made and included on the white album and not released as a solo project.

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