Dividing audiences since late 1968, John Lennon’s sound collage ‘Revolution 9’ was an exercise in musique concrète influenced heavily by Yoko Ono and the avant-garde art world.
The recording emerged from ‘Revolution 1’, the final six minutes of which formed a lengthy, mostly instrumental jam. Lennon took the recording and added a range of vocals, tape loops and sound effects, creating ‘Revolution 9′, the longest track released during The Beatles’ career.
The slow version of ‘Revolution’ on the album went on and on and on and I took the fade-out part, which is what they sometimes do with disco records now, and just layered all this stuff over it. It was the basic rhythm of the original ‘Revolution’ going on with some 20 loops we put on, things from the archives of EMI.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Although he made no direct contribution to ‘Revolution 9’, being in New York at the time, Paul McCartney had led work on a similar sound collage, the unreleased 14-minute ‘Carnival Of Light’, 18 months previously.
‘Revolution 9’ was quite similar to some stuff I’d been doing myself for fun. I didn’t think that mine was suitable for release, but John always encouraged me.
The other Beatles and George Martin are said to have persuaded Lennon not to include ‘Revolution 9’ on the White Album, to no avail. Although McCartney had long been interested in musique concrète, particularly Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’, it is likely that he was concerned at the effect ‘Revolution 9’ would have on the group’s public perception.
I don’t know what influence ‘Revolution 9’ had on the teenybopper fans, but most of them didn’t dig it. So what am I supposed to do?
It wasn’t only the group’s teenage fans who were confused by ‘Revolution 9’. Charles Manson found a wealth of symbolism in the track’s loops and effects, and thought that Lennon’s shouts of ‘Right!’ were, in fact, a call to ‘rise’ up in revolt.
Manson drew a parallel between ‘Revolution 9’ and the Bible’s book of Revelation. He thought The Beatles were variously four angels sent to kill a third of mankind, or four locusts mentioned in Revelation 9, which he equated with beetles.
‘Revolution 9’ was an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens; just like a drawing of a revolution. All the thing was made with loops. I had about 30 loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects. One thing was an engineer’s testing voice saying, ‘This is EMI test series number nine’. I just cut up whatever he said and I’d number nine it. Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything. I didn’t realise it: it was just so funny the voice saying, ‘number nine’; it was like a joke, bringing number nine into it all the time, that’s all it was.
Rolling Stone, 1970
‘Revolution 9’ also featured in the ‘Paul is dead’ myth, after it was discovered that the ‘number nine’ motif, when played backwards, sounded like ‘Turn me on, dead man’. A number of other elements of the recording featured in the myth, including the sound of a car crashing followed by an explosion.