Revolution

Past Masters album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 9-12 July 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 30 August 1968 (UK), 26 August 1968 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, electric guitar, handclaps
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, Hammond organ, handclaps
George Harrison: electric guitar, handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums, handclaps
Nicky Hopkins: electric piano

Available on:
Past Masters
Love

The b-side to Hey Jude, Revolution was John Lennon's response to the popular calls for uprising in the US and Europe, and a revision of the version already recorded for the White Album.

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Although taped after Revolution 1, this faster, louder version was the first to be released. The song was written in India while The Beatles were studying meditation in Rishikesh.

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.'

John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

While Revolution 1 found Lennon uncertain about whether to join the struggle, on Revolution he emphatically demanded to be excluded.

Count me out if it's for violence. Don't expect me on the barricades unless it's with flowers.
John Lennon, 1980

The urgency of the new arrangement was a result of McCartney's resistance to Lennon's hopes of Revolution 1 being The Beatles' next single after Lady Madonna. With the backing of Harrison, McCartney argued that the recording was too slow, inspiring Lennon to re-record it in an up-tempo, distorted and spontaneous outburst of anti-revolutionary fervour. After two years lost in an LSD haze, and newly energised in his love for Yoko Ono, Lennon gladly rose to the challenge he perceived.

We recorded the song twice. The Beatles were getting real tense with each other. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of The Beatles' position on Vietnam and The Beatles' position on revolution. For years, on The Beatles' tours, Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn't allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, 'I am going to answer about the war. We can't ignore it.' I absolutely wanted The Beatles to say something about the war.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the studio

Revolution featured the most distortion on any Beatles recording, particularly in the twin fuzz-toned guitars plugged directly into the Abbey Road desk and deliberately played loud to overload the meters.

We got into distortion on that, which we had a lot of complaints from the technical people about. But that was the idea: it was John's song and the idea was to push it right to the limit. Well, we went to the limit and beyond.
George Martin
Anthology

On 9 July 1968, following a remake of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, The Beatles began the remake of Revolution, rehearsing the song and trying out the new arrangement.

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.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Although the rehearsal was taped, the next day they wiped the tape and recorded 10 takes afresh, with handclaps and another drum track overdubbed afterwards. The drums were as hard-hitting as the guitars were distorted, being compressed and put through limiters to give a claustrophobic air.

John Lennon also added his two vocal tracks on this day. He double tracked key words during the song, leaving in the odd mistake to emphasise the spontaneous sound of the recording, and also added the screaming introduction.

11 July saw the addition of bass and electric piano, the latter played by ace session musician Nicky Hopkins. The song was completed the following day (or, more accurately, on the morning of 13 July; the session started at midnight), with another bass part and some more lead guitar, performed by McCartney and Lennon.

26 responses on “Revolution

  1. BeatleMark

    Yes, the single version of this song (in mono) is what John Lennon preferred. He listened to the stereo version on The Beatles 1967-70 and stated that the song lost it’s heaviness in the transition. “They took a heavy record and turned it into a piece of ice cream!” He stated. Although the version on “Love” brings buried guitars out in the open, it’s heavily edited and not the full song.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Revolution was John’s answer not only to the political unrest in France and America in the spring of 1968, but also an answer to Jean-Luc Godard and the New Left who said the Stones were more responsive to the times with “Street Fighting Man” than the Beatles were in the spring and summer of 1968.
      In fact, Godard filmed a movie with the Stones entitled One Plus One.
      Lennon may have been thinking about leaving the Beatles by that time but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to let anyone criticize the Beatles without a response.

      1. Vonbontee

        I doubt this track had anything to do with the Rolling Stones at all. It was recorded about the same time as “Street Fighting Man” and released earlier, so John wouldn’t even have been aware of the Stones song unless he visited them during the recording sessions (admmittedly not impossible.)

      2. Greg Field

        “titled”, not EN-titled. You’re entitled to your opinion, but nonetheless, the song is TITLED revolution, but though it may have been entitled to a fair chance at being a single, it was not

    2. McLerristarr

      I don’t have a very finely-tuned musical ear (I’m a drummer – although that’s not a very good excuse!) and I can’t hear the difference between the normal version and the Love version other than the loudness and the length; however, on the DVD-audio version of Love, there are longer versions of Revolution and Back In The U.S.S.R.

      1. BeatleMark

        Man! I need to get that DVD then! I think that the “Love” version sounds wonderful it’s just that they cut out a huge portion of it on the cd. (I’m guessing the edited “Love” version goes along with the show?)

      2. Benny Sanders

        I’m a drummer as well… lol I do hear the difference. The ‘Love’ version is smoother, softer and the drums are sharp, not distorted as they were in the White Album version. On the WA version, sometimes the guitar part seems to jump out and it almost swallows the vocal. Compression/overdriving of the whole track makes it pop thru… whereas the L version sounds like the guitars were compressed separately behind the vocals. I like the WA version better.

  2. Juan L. Bellot

    There is another difference between the Revolution 1 and Revolution versions: the latter was increased to a half semitone higher (from A to A#), isn´t it?

  3. Jammy_jim

    What I absolutely love about the “Love” version: the 2 guitars are separated, where the original stereo version had them both in the same channel. Listen with headphones… awesome.

  4. horse to the water

    All this time when i was hearing the single version and although i loved the song i always felt like something is missing,
    until yesterday when i discover the love version…. just what it needed to make this song as amazing as it should be.
    I wonder why they didn’t make it sound that way in the first place

    1. Clemenza08

      Yes but the stereo version and the Love version aren’t the mix that the guys made at the studio. They did the mono version. The stereo one was mixed a year later by the Abbey Road studios personnel; and the Love version, you know, a lot of years later by George and Giles Martin.

  5. GeorgeTSimpson

    Is there an organ I don’t hear one. Nice song, lennon’s best, much better than the album version although the shooby-doo-was are nice, you know, so the semi-live version (the promo video) is possibly my favourite versiin

    1. robert

      The irony to your comment GeorgeT is that Lennon preferred Revolution 1 (the slower version) and McCartney and Harrison vetoed it as a single (the slow one). In a sort of heated response, Lennon did the faster one and purposely fuzzed out the guitar to stick it to the other two. So Lennon’s fav is the slow one.

  6. GeorgeTSimpson

    There is no rythm guitar, it’s two lead guitars. You can hear both guitars in different channels in the love version. Lennon plays the opening riff and the short guitar only breaks, but he plays the rythm guitar parts during the parts with vocals and harrison plays the lead guitar in those parts

  7. James Ferrell

    This is my favorite version of Revolution. I love the guitar tones, the urgency of the vocal, the walking bass line, the back-to-basics drums, Nicky Hopkins’s electric piano solo… The White Album’s Revolution 1 always seemed a little tepid to me.

    If you listen to the Esher demos, John plays Revolution at a pretty snappy tempo, so maybe even then and even in an acoustic context this tempo was what seemed natural to him.

  8. Art

    Regarding the group contretemps over releasing (or deciding not to release) Revolution 1 as a single, it really would have been far out and Solomonic to have put out both versions on the same single. Although I think the uptempo Revolution is the more commercial (and indeed I like it better) it would have been mind-blowing to make it the B side. Wind down Rev 1 with the fade out, then flip it over and that screaming riff and screaming scream, hello! [Cross-posting this to the Revolution page as the decision on which version was suitable for the single is also discussed there.]

  9. Leonard Meyer

    Though Revolution is technically a B side, I think of it as a double-A side with two timeless classic songs equal to the double-’A’s of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever and Come Together/Something.

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