Revolver and drugs

The writing and recording of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was a clear indication of The Beatles’ ongoing interest in drugs. While the group had been experimenting with them since their Hamburg days, and had made allusions in earlier songs such as ‘She’s A Woman’ and ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ found them explicitly revealing – albeit to those in the know – their discovery of LSD.

It wasn’t the only Revolver song to be inspired by drugs. ‘She Said She Said’ was influenced by a conversation John Lennon had with actor Peter Fonda in America, while both were on acid. ‘Doctor Robert’ was about a New York doctor with a reputation for administering amphetamines to patients, and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was described by Paul McCartney as “an ode to pot”.

It’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying, I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The two best-known songs on Revolver, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’, also suggested The Beatles’ interest in drugs. The former contained the surreal image of the protagonist “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”, and the childlike wonderment of ‘Yellow Submarine’ was widely interpreted as a nod to the Sixties’ nostalgic sensibilities. They were both, however, written before McCartney had taken LSD for the first time.

While John Lennon’s songwriting arguably hit a peak on Rubber Soul, Revolver saw McCartney emerging as the dominant writer in The Beatles. Three of his songs in particular – ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘For No One’, and ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ – were among his all-time best, establishing him as a peerless writer of ballads.

‘Eleanor Rigby’ was scored by producer George Martin for a string octet. It was inspired by François Truffaut’s film scores, and the strings were recorded without reverberation, using a close-microphone technique that gave a distinctive stark quality.

Revolver contained, for the first time, three songs written by George Harrison. ‘Taxman’ opened the album, and contained perhaps The Beatles’ first piece of socio-political commentary. His biggest musical departure, meanwhile, was ‘Love You To’, the first of three Beatles songs by Harrison in the style of Indian music.

Chart success

Revolver was an instant hit with the record-buying public. It topped the UK charts for seven weeks from 13 August 1966, and spent a total of 34 on the charts.

In the US the album was the group’s 11th release for Capitol Records, and spent six weeks at number one. It was also the last time the label would alter the tracklisting of a Beatles album for the American market. Three songs – ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, and ‘Doctor Robert’ – had been included on the Yesterday… And Today compilation, which meant Revolver was issued in the US with just 11 songs.

Just one single was released from Revolver. The double a-side ‘Eleanor Rigby’/‘Yellow Submarine’ was issued in both the United Kingdom and United States on the same day as Revolver.

Cover artwork

Revolver was the second Beatles album, after Rubber Soul, to not feature the group’s name on the front cover.

The black-and-white artwork was by Klaus Voormann, a musician and artist whom The Beatles befriended in Hamburg. It was made up partly of pen drawings, with collage sections including photographs by Robert Whitaker and Robert Freeman. Whitaker also took the photograph on the rear of the LP.

Klaus had been a great friend since Hamburg days – he’d been one of the ‘exis’, the existentialists whom we’d got to know then. We knew he drew and he’d been involved in graphic design; I must admit we didn’t really know what he did, but he’d been to college. We knew he must be all right and so we said, ‘Why don’t you come up with something for the album cover?’

He did, and we were all very pleased with it. We liked the way there were little things coming out of people’s ears, and how he’d collaged things on a small scale while the drawings were on a big scale. He also knew us well enough to capture us rather beautifully in the drawings. We were flattered.

Paul McCartney

John Lennon telephoned Voormann, inviting him to work on The Beatles’ artwork. He visited the group in the studio, where they played him the Revolver recordings for inspiration.

Voormann chose black and white in an act of rebellion against the then-current fashion for brightly-coloured psychedelic covers. He worked from his studio at 29 Parliament Hill, London, where for two weeks he developed his concepts using pen and ink.

Voormann wanted The Beatles’ hair to be the focus, and drew likenesses of the group from memory. He then placed photos in and around the drawings.

John, Paul and I devoted an evening to sifting through an enormous pile of newspapers and magazines for pictures of The Beatles, after which we cut out the faces and glued them all together. Our handiwork was later superimposed onto a line drawing by Klaus Voormann, their old friend in Hamburg.
Pete Shotton
Friend to The Beatles

The Beatles loved Voormann’s “scrapbook collage” artwork, and the group’s manager Brian Epstein was so overcome that he cried tears of joy. Voormann’s payment for the album cover was just £40. He did, however, win Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts in 1967.

In Russia, Revolver was issued with a different collage and a recreation of Voorman’s drawing. This was an unofficial release by the St Petersburg label AnTrop.