‘Revolution’ was John Lennon’s response to the popular calls for uprising in the US and Europe. It was a revision of a version already recorded for the White Album, and became the b-side of the ‘Hey Jude’ single.
Although taped after ‘Revolution 1’, this faster, louder version was the first to be released. The song was written in India while The Beatles were studying meditation in Rishikesh.
I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, and we’re not going to just waffle.’ I wanted to say what I thought about revolution.
I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right. That’s why I did it: I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say.’
Rolling Stone, 1970
While ‘Revolution 1’ found Lennon uncertain about whether to join the struggle, on the faster ‘Revolution’ he emphatically demanded to be excluded.
Count me out if it’s for violence. Don’t expect me on the barricades unless it’s with flowers.
The urgency of the new arrangement was a result of Paul McCartney’s resistance to Lennon’s hopes of ‘Revolution 1′ being The Beatles’ next single after ‘Lady Madonna’. With the backing of George Harrison, McCartney argued that the recording was too slow, inspiring Lennon to re-record it in an up-tempo, distorted and spontaneous outburst of anti-revolutionary fervour. After two years lost in an LSD haze, and newly energised in his love for Yoko Ono, Lennon gladly rose to the challenge he perceived.
We recorded the song twice. The Beatles were getting real tense with each other. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of The Beatles’ position on Vietnam and The Beatles’ position on revolution. For years, on The Beatles’ tours, Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn’t allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, ‘I am going to answer about the war. We can’t ignore it.’ I absolutely wanted The Beatles to say something about the war.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In the studio
‘Revolution’ featured the most distortion on any Beatles recording, particularly in the twin fuzz-toned guitars plugged directly into the Abbey Road desk and deliberately played loud to overload the meters.
We got into distortion on that, which we had a lot of complaints from the technical people about. But that was the idea: it was John’s song and the idea was to push it right to the limit. Well, we went to the limit and beyond.
The first take of ‘Revolution’ – well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn’t fast enough. Now, if you go into the details of what a hit record is and isn’t, maybe. But The Beatles could have afforded to put out the slow, understandable version of ‘Revolution’ as a single, whether it was a gold record or a wooden record. But because they were so upset over the Yoko thing and the fact that I was becoming as creative and dominating as I had been in the early days, after lying fallow for a couple of years, it upset the applecart. I was awake again and they weren’t used to it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Although the rehearsal was taped, the next day they wiped the tape and recorded 10 takes afresh, with handclaps and another drum track overdubbed afterwards. The drums were as hard-hitting as the guitars were distorted, being compressed and put through limiters to give a claustrophobic air.
John Lennon also added his two vocal tracks on that day. He double tracked key words during the song, leaving in the odd mistake to emphasise the spontaneous sound of the recording, and also added the screaming introduction.
11 July saw the addition of bass and electric piano, the latter played by ace session musician Nicky Hopkins. ‘Revolution’ was completed the following day (or, more accurately, on the morning of 13 July; the session started at midnight), with another bass part and some more lead guitar, performed by McCartney and Lennon.