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The Beatles Songs: Revolution 1

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Revolution 1

The "Revolution" bootleg which contains Take 20

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Revolution 1

Written by: John Lennon (100%)
(credited as Lennon-McCartney)

Recorded: May 30 and 31, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England), June 4 and 21, 1968 (Studio 3, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: June 4 and 21, 1968
Length: 4:15
Takes: 22

Musicians:

John Lennon: lead and backing vocals (double-tracked), acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200), lead guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")
George Harrison: backing vocals, rhythm guitar (1966 Gibson Les Paul Standard SG)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)
Freddy Clayton, Derek Watkins: trumpets
Don Lang, Rex Morris, Bill Povey, J. Power: trombones
Francie Schwartz: backing vocals

Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • By spring 1968, student demonstrations had reached a fever pitch all around the world, most notably in Paris, where a massive strike and resultant riots led to the collapse of the government led by Charles DeGaulle. John Lennon, who questioned the goals of the leftist movements even as he championed their basic beliefs, wrote this song during his spiritual retreat in India, addressed directly to the world's young revolutionaries, worried that the cause was turning both violent and dangerously vague. By the time the group had assembled at George's "Kinfaus" home in Esher in late May, the song was mostly written and sounding a lot like the finished single version, with only the third verse to be added while recording ("You say you'll change the constitution").
  • The very first song recorded for the "White Album," "Revolution" served as a portent for the internal strife that would define the sessions. John's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, sat in the control room during recording, delivering an internal monologue into a tape recorder and occasionally using the intercom to talk to John. George and Paul, who liked the song, were nevertheless convinced it was too slow and laid back for a single, overriding John's opinion that a public statement against violent revolution simply had to be made by the band, and that they had enough clout at that point to force stations into playing it. Lennon typically saw this as a betrayal, a power play within the band in order to control John's input now that he once again felt inspired. As he would later put it, "I was awake again, and they weren't used to it."
  • In any event, recording moved forward with the basic track being laid down on May 30, 1968: John on acoustic guitar, Ringo on drums, and Paul on piano. The next day was spent largely on vocals, both John's lead and harmony as well as "doo-wop" style backing vocals by Paul, George, and Paul's then-girlfriend Francie Schwartz. Paul then added his bass line.
  • On June 4, Paul added an organ part which was never used, while John contributed the opening electric guitar riff (later replicated in the single version of "Revolution") and Ringo added extra percussion. John, Paul, and George then set about creating a strange six minute coda, which consisted of extra backing vocals (George and Paul endlessly repeating a phrase which sounded very like "Mama, dada") and John lying on his back on the studio floor, going through an extreme ad-lib that involved moaning, conversations with Yoko, and even some screaming. George also added a siren-like distortion on electric guitar which was faded in and out of the mix. On June 24, the decision was made to edit out the extended coda and add a brass section consisting of two trumpets and two trombones. George also overdubbed some electric rhythm guitar, most notably at the end of each chorus.
  • After all that, however, the finished project was deemed unsuitable as a single, and the song was shelved for six weeks, at which time John had the inspiration to turn it into not two but three separate songs: a faster, louder, radio ready version which the world now knows as Revolution," a 9-minute experimental collage of tape effects, using all the non-musical material form the extended outro, which would become known as "Revolution 9" (named after one of the sound samples), and the original, edited take of the acoustic version, now called "Revolution 1" in order to establish its primacy. (In the end, "Revolution" didn't even make it as an a-side, once even John acknowledged that Paul's "Hey Jude" was a surefire hit. Lennon nevertheless later likened this struggle to the one he went through with "I Am the Walrus" and "Hello Goodbye.")

Trivia:

  • In 2009, a previously unbootlegged but apparently genuine "take 20" of "Revolution 1" made its way to the internet, showing the song's state just before it was edited and separated into three separate tracks. Praised by fans, quite a bit of whom prefer it to the released versions, it has come to be referred to as "Revolution 20" by many. It features the conversations with Yoko, the "Mama, dada" backing vocals, and George's distortion. It was first heard on the bootleg "Take... Your Knickers Off," named after a joke made by Lennon at the start of the recording, where he forgets the take number and says something naughty instead!
  • The presence of Francie Schwartz makes this the one album featuring backing vocals by all the Beatles paramours.
  • Unlike the single version, John deliberately follows the line "But if you talk about destruction / don't you know that you can count me out," with the word "in," symbolizing that when it came to violent overthrow, as John put it, "I wasn't sure." Lennon would go back and forth on the song's sentiment: at the height of his radical phase in the early 70s, he openly regretted the line about rejecting chairman Mao, but he later recanted. In his final years he seemed to have decided that when it came to violence in the cause of revolution, he was definitely out.
  • The mistake at the end of the last chorus, resulting in what sounds like broken meter, was in fact a mistake made during editing; Lennon, as was his wont, thought it was somewhat enigmatic and ordered it left in.
  • As McCartney had worried, "Revolution" angered some young leftists. A student at Britain's Keele University wrote an open letter denouncing the song as reactionary, which prompted Lennon to reply publicly: "You say 'in order to change the world, we've got to understand what's wrong with the world and then destroy it. Ruthlessly.' You're obviously on a destruction kick. I'll tell you what's wrong with it -- people. So, do you want to destroy them? Ruthlessly? Until you/we change our heads there's no chance. Tell me one successful revolution. Who f***ed up communism, Christianity, capitalism, Buddhism, etc.? Sick heads, and nothing else. Do you think all the enemy wear capitalist badges so that you can shoot them? It's a bit naive. You seem to think it's just a class war."

Covered by: Anima Sound System, Billy Bragg, The Brothers Four, Enuff Z'nuff, Jools Holland, Kenny Neal, Reckless Kelly, Stereophonics, Stone Temple Pilots, Jim Sturgess, The Thompson Twins, Trixter

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