One of the more interesting recent takes on The Beatles’ Revolver came from a 2012 episode of Mad Men. Don Draper, wanting to understand the Beatles craze, puts the album on, listens to a bit of album closer “Tomorrow Never Knows” and then turns it off. Revolver has been so highly praised throughout its 50 years of existence that the idea of somebody just shutting it off is a more interesting response than giving it further acclaim.
I’d rather read a critique of Revolver—along with most Beatles albums—at this point. Everything good has been said about the band to the point where the bad is all that’s left. But if you want heavy criticism, you won’t get it from me, because I think the album is wonderful. Of course, it gets overpraised by many. Acclaimed Music currently has it as the second most acclaimed album of all time after Pet Sounds, so unless you agree that it belongs around that area, there’s nowhere for your opinion to go but down.
Revolver was released 50 years ago today, and it represented a jump in maturity for the Fab Four. On “Here, There, and Everywhere,” Paul McCartney seemed to settle into his sappy nature, while John Lennon and George Harrison allowed their cynicism to take hold, producing sarcastic and pessimistic tunes like “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Love You To.”
As somebody who likes his rock and roll immature, I prefer Rubber Soul — which shows the Beatles still figuring their stuff out — and The Beatles’ Second Album — an American release in which record company suits accidentally compiled the band’s most energetic album. But nevertheless, Revolver was a necessary step forward, and for an album of transition, it’s consistent and confident.
Sacred cows like Revolver often have their flaws overlooked, but every album has its weak points. Similar to “Piggies” from The White Album, “Taxman” features political lyrics from Harrison that get fairly cringe-inducing, but it makes up for it with its solid rock sound. Then there’s “Yellow Submarine,” which I’ve tried hard to like during my decade or so of being a Beatles fan. I can’t. The words, sound and Ringo Starr’s voice could all be fine on their own, but when put together, they make for one of the worst records the Beatles ever put out. Furthermore, placed near the end of the album’s first side, it throws off the pace.
So that’s two flaws, one major and one minor, that drag the album down a bit. But two drawbacks aren’t many for a 14 song LP, and the songs that work on Revolver are magnificent. “She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are among the best songs Lennon ever wrote, while McCartney offsets the optimism of “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” with the devastating “Eleanor Rigby.” Even Starr is at the top of his game, as the album features some of the best drumming of his career. He may not be the best drummer in the Beatles, but you wouldn’t know from listening here.
The psychedelic influences are perhaps Revolver’s most notable feature, as they would eventually lead to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Personally, I like these elements more here, as they are kept mostly subtle, from the sitar on “Love You To” to the dream-like sound of “I’m Only Sleeping.” Even when the psychedelic elements get explicit on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” it works better as a one-off track at the end.
A negative take on Revolver would certainly be a more interesting read at this point, but for its 50th anniversary, it’s probably a better idea to celebrate the album, its greatness and its influence. These songs still retain power and freshness years after I first heard them. I’ll save my negativity for a couple years, when The White Album turns 50.