In the studio

On 30 May 1968 The Beatles recorded ‘Revolution 1’, during the first session for the White Album.

Take 18 became the basis for ‘Revolution 9’. The final six minutes of the recording formed an extended jam, which was cut from ‘Revolution 1’ and used as the starting point of ‘Revolution 9’.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono then assembled a range of effects and tape loops to add to the recording, and added a range of new sounds.

Work on ‘Revolution 9’, as a separate entity, began on 6 June, when Lennon prepared 12 effects tapes. Some of these were of his own making; others were taken from the Abbey Road archives. According to Mark Lewisohn’s book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, five were marked ‘Various’; the others were titled ‘Vicars Poems’, ‘Queen’s Mess’, ‘Come Dancing Combo’, ‘Organ Last Will Test’, ‘Neville Club’, ‘Theatre Outing’ and ‘Applause/TV Jingle’. Not all were used on ‘Revolution 9’.

On 10 June Lennon spent three hours assembling a further three tapes of sound effects. The following day, while Paul McCartney was in Abbey Road’s Studio Two recording ‘Blackbird’, Lennon was in Studio Three compiling more effects.

The most significant day’s recording for ‘Revolution 9’ was 20 June 1968, in a session beginning at 7pm and ending on the following morning at 3.30am. Using Studios One, Two and Three, Lennon oversaw the live mix of his sound collage, with numerous tape loops being played across a number of Abbey Road’s tape machines.

We were cutting up classical music and making different-size loops, and then I got and engineer tape on which some test engineer was saying, ‘Number nine, number nine, number nine’. All those different bits of sound and noises are all compiled. There were about ten machines with people holding pencils on the loops – some only inches long and some a yard long. I fed them all in and mixed them live.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon played a key role on the day, fading the various elements in and out in the control room. The following elements can be identified from the many that featured on the four-track master tape:

  • George Martin saying ‘Geoff, put the red light on’, looped with heavy echo
  • A choir accompanied by backwards violins
  • Extracts from a symphony orchestral performance, edited and rearranged, and played backwards
  • A repeated sample from the orchestral overdub for ‘A Day In The Life’, recorded on 10 February 1967
  • A Mellotron, performed by Lennon and played backwards
  • Various extracts from symphony and operatic recordings
  • The final chord from Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony
  • High pitched humming by Yoko Ono
  • Lennon and George Harrison whispering six times the phrase ‘There ain’t no rule for the company freaks’

Most memorable, however, is the recurring ‘Number nine’ announcement, culled from examination tapes made for the Royal Academy of Music, formerly stored at Abbey Road. The phrase appears sporadically throughout the track, faded in and out as a constant thread running through an otherwise chaotic creation.

Also on 20 June, Lennon, Ono and Harrison recorded a series of seemingly random statements. These included Ono’s ‘You become naked’; Lennon’s ‘Industrial output, financial imbalance, the Watusi, the Twist’; Harrison’s mention of Eldorado; and Lennon’s ‘Take this brother, may it serve you well’.

The track used Abbey Road’s STEED – single tape echo and echo delay – reverb system. During the live mix the delay ran out, and at 5’11” the sound of the tape being rewound can be heard.

I did a few mixes until I got one I liked. Yoko was there for the whole thing and she made decisions about which loops to use. It was somewhat under her influence, I suppose. Once I heard her stuff – not just the screeching and the howling but her sort of word pieces and talking and breathing and all this strange stuff, I thought, My God, I got intrigued, so I wanted to do one. I spent more time on ‘Revolution 9’ than I did on half the songs I ever wrote. It was a montage.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

A stereo mix of the song was made on 21 June, after a final set of sound effects were added by Lennon and Harrison. The following day the track was completed, with an edit taking its running time down from 9’05” to 8’12”.

When released on the White Album, ‘Revolution 9’ was preceded by two further recordings. The first of these was an ad-libbed Paul McCartney song commonly known as ‘Can You Take Me Back?’, taped during the 16 September 1968 session for ‘I Will’. The 28-second snippet was edited from the full 2’21” version.

The second recording, from an unknown session, featured Apple’s office manager Alistair Taylor apologising to George Martin for forgetting to bring him a bottle of red wine.

Taylor: …bottle of claret for you if I’d realised. I’d forgotten all about it George. I’m sorry.
Martin: Well, do next time.
Taylor: Will you forgive me?
Martin: Mmm, yes.
Taylor: Cheeky bitch.

These two snippets were added during a 24-hour session which spanned 16 and 17 October, in which The Beatles prepared the final running order, crossfades and edits for the White Album.

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