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 released in the UK on 5 August 1966, and on 8 August in the US.

The album 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.

The US edition

Revolver was the last Beatles album released by Capitol Records with a different tracklisting to its UK counterpart, with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour.

‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, and ‘Doctor Robert’ had already been released in the US on Yesterday… And Today, so were left off Capitol’s Revolver.

By omitting three John Lennon songs from the US Revolver, Capitol made him the main songwriter on just two songs: ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. This made Paul McCartney the dominant songwriter, with six songs, and put George Harrison ahead of Lennon with three.

The Beatles signed a new contract with EMI in January 1967. One of their stipulations was that Capitol could no longer issue albums with track listings not authorised by the band. From Sgt Pepper onwards, gone were the days of different running orders, artwork, titles, and audio mixes.