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Revolution in the Head
5 February 2015
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parlance
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Inspired by ewe2's comment here, I looked up past discussions of Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head. I was surprised there wasn't a topic specific to it given how contentious it can be here.

A few past discussions: 1 2 3 4

parlance

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Check out my fan video for Paul's song "Appreciate" at Vimeo or YouTube.

5 February 2015
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And I see @DrBeatle echoes some of my thoughts on it already. @parlance can I ask which edition you read when you were making those comments a couple of years ago? Some of the comment seem to reference stuff not in my 2nd revised edition which doesn't feel quite as reverent as you say.

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5 February 2015
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ewe2 said
And I see @DrBeatle echoes some of my thoughts on it already. @parlance can I ask which edition you read when you were making those comments a couple of years ago? Some of the comment seem to reference stuff not in my 2nd revised edition which doesn't feel quite as reverent as you say.

I had borrowed (and now own) the third edition. I mentioned in one of those threads that it was updated to include references to Anthology and Many Years from Now.

parlance

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Beware of sadness. It can hit you. It can hurt you. Make you sore and what is more, that is not what you are here for. - George

Check out my fan video for Paul's song "Appreciate" at Vimeo or YouTube.

5 February 2015
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And I'm surprised at the contentiousness which I haven't seen much evidence of, although I do have a bit of a ranty view myself a-hard-days-night-paul-11. It's not that I don't think it isn't a worthy and important book. It does raise issues for me about Beatles criticism and analysis in general, and it's a good example of where you can get it very right and very wrong too. I have a big rant here that does require a good knowledge of the latest edition (the one we both seem to have); please don't take the tone the wrong way, I can be a bit err enthusastic in my prose :D

edit: new url for rant on WIP website :P

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6 February 2015
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Wow, you put a lot of time into that. 

I'm always interested in people's opinions about this and that Beatle song, especially when they can articulate why they like/don't like certain songs. I suppose that's why I enjoyed Spignesi and Lewis's "100 Best Beatle Songs" even if didn't always agree with their ranking.

A bit of exuberant bias can be entertaining...

"Into the Sky with Diamonds" (the Beatles and the Race to the Moon – a history)

6 February 2015
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A very interesting, and well written, review, @ewe2. While I didn't agree with all your points, your arguments are extremely well made.

One line in particular did interest me on what you were basing the assertion:

If it were not for studio fees, they would have preferred to record albums in America.

While at times they did express envy at how advanced US studios were compared to Abbey Road , I do not believe that studio fees were the reason they never recorded there. They would have had the same access to any Capitol studio they wanted (some of the most advanced in the world at the time, good enough for The Beach Boys at their most ambitious) as they did to AR. Remember, just as EMI owned AR, they also owned Capitol and every one of its studios. The paperwork may have been a little more complicated, but ultimately it would have been as much an in-house "paper transaction" as their use of AR was, and Capitol would have welcomed them with open arms, looking forward to trumpeting that the boys were using one of their studios.

I think there were reasons why they chose never to copy the Stones and record in the US, but don't believe it had anything to do with studio fees.

Here's what I think, for what it's worth.

Firstly, the mania of US fans was something that left them feeling increasingly trapped and suffocated by over the years.

Secondly, their relationship with Capitol. As I pointed out in another thread, a whole section of their 1967 contract was aimed at putting Capitol on a leash. Before that they would not have wanted them to have sight of what they doing and demanding tracks early that they were not prepared to give up early. In London, when the demand came mid-sessions for some tracks for yet another cobbled together hodgepodge of their work, they could control what they were prepared to give up. After 1967, when they'd got control, they were spending so long in the studio it would have involved them virtually moving to America (look at something like the White, which was nigh-on 6 months in the studio) - after the debacle of 1966 "bigger than Jesus" tour which had further alienated them from America as a country.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, they loved their position at the very top of a London scene that was the most important in the world at the time ("The four kings of EMI," as Mickey Dolenz would refer to them in Randy Scouse Git), and - for all its flaws - were very at home at AR, and loved the ambience of Studio 2, and the creativy of its staff.

For all the technical advantages American studios may have had, so far as The Beatles were concerned they had one big problem, they were in America.

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6 February 2015
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Those are important points, and probably most accurately the Capitol relationship and the setting up of Apple put paid to that idea. But they did make noises about it, possibly to keep EMI in line, and I can't recall for the moment where I got that idea from, so I'll have to edit that until I'm more certain of my sources.

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6 February 2015
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@ewe2, having done some further research as what you'd suggested intrigued me, and looking through books, it does seem that Paul said in 1966 that they were considering recording Revolver  in the US, but that EMI baulked at the studio costs - which would seem to suggest that they were not thinking of using a Capitol studio, for the reasons I give above (though it is possible that Capitol were trying to stiff EMI).

We were going to record Revolver in America, but they wanted a fantastic amount of money to use the facilities there. We thought we'd forget it because they were obviously trying to take us for a ride because we were The Beatles. We'd been thinking about going to record there for some time. When we finished Revolver , we realised that we had found a new British sound almost by accident. I think there were only two tracks on the LP that would have sounded better if we'd cut them in America. Taxman and Got To Get You Into My Life because they need that raw quality that you just can't get in this country for some reason. But Eleanor Rigby would have been worse, because the string players in America aren't so good. We may still record in America. What we might do though is write some numbers especially, take them over, do them and see how it works.

This may well be the quote you were thinking of, but needs to be looked at in context.

This could easily have been part of the contract negotiation with EMI as their contract actually ran out in June 1966. (Yes, strange as it may seem, between June 1966 and January 1967 The Beatles had no contract with EMI, even though Revolver  was released by EMI during this "out-of-contract" period.)

However, considering this comment was made in the midst of contract negotiations by the PR Beatle, I would suggest that the whole thing was a ploy in the negotiation - well aware that EMI would see it - and looking to strengthen their hand.

I do not believe it supports the assertion that "they would have preferred to record albums in America". As Paul says, he only thought two tracks would have sounded better if recorded in a US studio, another worse.

Ironically, looking at @Joe's article on Revolver  to see whether he had anything to say on it, he also has this quote in the article (which may be where you got the idea) and comments on the contract situation. Joe and I may have slightly different views on Paul's comment (I don't know), but I believe it has everything to do with the contract negotiation, and does not indicate they seriously would have preferred to do the majority of their recording work in America.

Paul's comment has to be viewed in context of the deal they were negotiating with EMI. So, in my opinion, not so much to keep EMI in line, but to get a better deal from them.

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6 February 2015
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Thanks for that, it looks very much like something I might have drawn from, probably someone quoting this as a source and of course it makes sense in terms of contract negotiations. I don't know how much the boys knew about the issues George Martin was having with Capitol (I of course had no idea until the Lewisohn book), and it intrigues me to wonder if EMI played on that. In fact I'm wondering how aware were they of Martin's power in the company at all; wasn't it at this time he set up AIR?

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6 February 2015
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The possibility of recording 'Revolver ' in America is covered in Robert Rodriguez's 'Revolver ' book, i'll dig it out to see if there is anything else in it.

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6 February 2015
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Just continuing this tangent, I've googled that statement of Paul's and found a couple of different sources, but this one adds something else:

When The Beatles were in Memphis that month during their final American tour, a reporter asked: “It was said that you would record ‘Revolver ’ in Memphis. What happened?” Paul’s answer was: “Little things kept getting in the way, like money. We wanted to come. A couple of tracks would have been much better if we had come. We wanted Steve Cropper, a guitarist for Booker T & The MG’s to A&R the session. He’s the best we’ve heard.”

It's been documented that Steve Cropper was indeed earmarked to produce the album but that manager Brian Epstein had cancelled the Memphis sessions because of security problems. One can only imagine how “Got To Get You Into My Life ” would have sounded with this legendary guitarist/musician as producer. As it is, the innovative work of George Martin and Geoff Emerick back at EMI Studios in London did bring amazing results. As Paul himself stated in 1966: “When we finished ‘Revolver ,’ we realized that we had found a new British sound almost by accident.” A fortunate accident I’m sure most will agree!

Um, wow.

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6 February 2015
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George Martin quit EMI and set up AIR in 1965, meaning it's likely that Rubber Soul  was recorded with him having to be hired by EMI as an independent producer. The Beatles would certainly have been aware that he was no longer an EMI-staffer by the time they toyed with the idea of possibly recording Revolver  in America.

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7 February 2015
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ewe2 said
And I see @DrBeatle echoes some of my thoughts on it already. @parlance can I ask which edition you read when you were making those comments a couple of years ago? Some of the comment seem to reference stuff not in my 2nd revised edition which doesn't feel quite as reverent as you say.

 

It's a book I've always been conflicted about, moreso as I've gotten older. 14 year old me in 1994 thought it was the bible when it came to the Beatles. Over the years, I realize just how joyless and clinical (and flat out wrong) a lot of MacDonald's analysis is. It's still an essential book for any Beatles fan, though.

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7 February 2015
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parlance said

ewe2 said
And I see @DrBeatle echoes some of my thoughts on it already. @parlance can I ask which edition you read when you were making those comments a couple of years ago? Some of the comment seem to reference stuff not in my 2nd revised edition which doesn't feel quite as reverent as you say.

I had borrowed (and now own) the third edition. I mentioned in one of those threads that it was updated to include references to Anthology and Many Years from Now.

parlance

 

I need to get the newest revision, I still only have the first edition. I keep meaning to pick it up but other things keep getting in the way :)

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7 February 2015
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Going to boil down my rant for those who took one look and ran away screaming:

Revolution was an attempt to synthesise the new information from Lewisohn's Beatles Recording Sessions with a critical assessment of each song and the cultural context it comes from. It's been through three editions now, each time borrowing from new sources as they appeared, so my 2nd revised edition is probably very different from the first. It's got some handy lists at the back (song keys, bibliography, discography), and each song entry lists the writers, who played what, when it was recorded and released and whatever MacDonald chose to say about it. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information in the book, there are probably errors and they're unlikely to ever be corrected since the author's death. I think MacDonald does a good job of getting all this information together, the book is (so far) unique in this aspect.

My disagreement is with his critical analysis. He doesn't think the lyrics have any consequence at all and thinks they may well be incoherent to someone a century from now, by which time it may be possible to objectively criticize their work (which is something I do agree with). He dislikes the Beatles later composition-by-multitrack methods and in particular an aspect he calls random, the use of collage either by tape loop or song fragment. MacDonald believes this is drug-induced laziness and describes their career in terms of an arc which begins to descend after Sgt. Peppers. Naturally I have all sorts of problems with this :D But it doesn't stop there. He dismisses most of Harrison's output, and begins to attack -- starting musicologically but by the end of the book, personally -- Lennon's work too. You can't escape the rising disappointment in everything MacDonald writes from Part 3 onwards, it's distressing, and as a critical analysis it becomes too opinionated to be of any use. I think MacDonald mourns the 60's and he's bitter about it. I also think that his attempt to rewrite Paul's contribution (based on the material in the Barry Miles book) may have critically unbalanced the book although I don't have the first edition to properly make this comparison, but he certainly does a lot of Paul-defending between the lines.

I don't agree with many of his cultural pronouncements, I suspect he couldn't disentangle his attitude to his generation from the artistic products of it. I think it's best to say he tried to be an objective critic but was bound to fail, as most of us are. It's a great book if you treat it as the cultural artifact that it is, but be wary of imbibing its point of view. So that's the short version of my rant, which is more wordy and literary and detailed. The short version , you say paul-mccartneypaul-mccartneypaul-mccartney

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7 February 2015
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Long version's a great read. Thanks for that takedown, @ewe2! (Oh, and did you know that you misidentified Paul's co-biographer as "BUDDY Miles" at one point?  :D   Sorry, but it's funny)

I skimmed through much of RitH in a couple of hours in a bookstore years ago and remember being very impressed by certain individual song entries but largely annoyed by the whole.  Mainly, I hold a grudge because of a small bit of disinformation (regarding the "Taxman " guitar solo) that appeared in the book and used to be (still is?) cited on the web as fact. (yes it bothers me!)

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7 February 2015
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@Ron Nasty I found where I had sourced that assertion, it is indeed in Revolution In The Head p189 but suggests that EMI's contractual clauses made it too expensive to record in America, which is a little different from the verbatim quote. @vonbontee the suggestion that the solo is the same is indeed still there on p191. It's nothing like it, and I don't know how I missed that but it is in a footnote. Oops about "Buddy", it's fixed!

Another illustration of how MacDonald's critical distance falters in the latter stages of the book: p362 where he discusses Paul's demo [U181] Come And Get It . Now, its fine to like the song. It's fine to speculate whether it should have been accepted as a Beatles song. Who knows why Lennon didn't participate? It doesn't sound like it needed any help. But the critical failing here is that he starts the discussion by contrasting this demo with [U138] Not Guilty as a means to yet again trash George and his composing method and surely this meant friction between Paul and George because Paul is quick and George is slow. An unfair comparison is made with a song that was shelved with a song mystifyingly left out of the Beatles canon. This is truly fanfiction and unnecessary, but it's the kind of thing MacDonald does increasingly over the course of the book with no basis in fact.

Looking back on it, I am beginning to wonder just how final this final revision was and how much the publisher is to blame.

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18 March 2015
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It's a book I have always enjoyed, and never completely agreed with.  It has always provided me with food for thought (the rationalisation of Walrus as one of Lennon's most strongly autobiographical songs rather than simply Carrollian wordplay is a particular favourite) and, irrespective of the extent to which I agree with it - or not - I think it is very, very well written.  And the potted sociological history of the 60s in the introductory material is worth the price of admission on its own.

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17 March 2016
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This is a book which is not only the first book about the Beatles I read but the first piece of rock criticism I read.  I got it for Christmas and remember reading it in the early hours of the morning, dipping in and out of it to find the songs I had heard and being scandaslised at some of the horrible things he said about some of my then favourite songs.  Let It Be was the only album my parents had on vinyl and I listened to it all the time - I felt very defensive about it!

I have re-read it many a time since.  Not being a musician I tend to skip over the bits that go "the middle appergio is played in a descending chord scale on a Rickendoubledecker Bus 3000" or whatever.  I find his over use of the word 'idiom' intensely irritating (honestly, once you notice it it is very annoying).  I'll always enjoy it though.

Out of interest, what are the factual flaws people find in it?  I get that people aren't going to agree with all the verdicts on a song from a subjective point of view but apart from the "Taxman solo in Tomorrow Never Knows " controversy are there a lot of real errors?  Because I've always thought it was pretty authoritative.

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18 March 2016
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There's rather too many to list, some are unintended because he based much on the work of others; @Joe mentions these on the sites song listings. Some are more hearsay than fact. You should not rely heavily on his idea of who played what, for just an example.

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