- 26 Dec 22
Reissue of the year? No question, really. Pat Carty lays down all thought and surrenders.
I was talking to Pugwash man and Beatle nut Thomas Walsh not long after the release of the Revolver: Special Edition. I hadn’t, as yet, spent enough time with it but I wasn’t about to admit that to him and so opined that I couldn’t hear much difference in this latest Giles Martin remix, made possible thanks to the ‘demixing’ techniques developed by Peter Jackson and company during their work on Let It Be/Get Back, which someone compared to reverse engineering a cake into eggs and flour. Walsh shot me a look of great pity and recommended I get out the “good cans” – headphones, not beers – and try harder.
Was Walsh right? Did Beatles fans – everyone with ears – need to reach for their wallets yet again? I certainly liked what Giles Martin had done up to that point. He recently broke down the difference between remastering and remixing, comparing the first to polishing your car, and the second to dismantling your car completely, building it again, and then giving it a rub with a cloth. His mixes of Sgt. Peppers and The White Album are worth hearing but had they replaced the sacred mono versions in my affections? No, but Beatles music is like land, they aren’t making any more of it, so grab what you can. These rejigs are inherently a good thing.
According to Paul McCartney, who really, like your mother, should know, Revolver is the record where the four-headed monster that had conquered the world began to split apart, slightly, into its constituent parts. One might even say, as English journalist Mark Ellen recently did, that it’s the precursor to the solo-albums-in-everything-but-name The Beatles/The White Album that would arrive two years later in 1968. It’s the connecting tissue between the Mop-top-pop Fab Four and the weirdy-beardy rock band they were morphing into but is it their best record? That’s a bit like choosing a favourite child or the prettiest sunrise.
The Band Begins To Play
An astoundingly brief period of time separates the release of ‘Love Me Do’ on October 5th 1962 with the last gasp of Let It Be on May 8th 1970. The days go by at lightning speed, flashing past in a blur of brilliant light. Rubber Soul was recorded in the winter of 1965 and landed in the shops for Christmas on December 3rd, the same day as the double A-sided single ‘We Can Work It Out’/’Day Tripper’, which is tantamount to gifting someone a new house and then casually leaving them a car in the driveway while you're at it.
That album is seen as a turning point in pop, marking, with Bob Dylan’s 1965 albums, the changeover from singles to albums as the dominant artistic form. Brian Wilson was dazzled, didn’t sleep for two nights after hearing it, and began planning Pet Sounds, while Jagger and Richards responded with 1966’s Aftermath, the first Stones album they wrote in its entirety, prompting Ringo to suggest the next Beatles album be called After Geography. Dylan even, allegedly, responded directly to ‘Norwegian Wood’ with ‘4th Time Around’ on Blonde On Blonde.
They changed everything, a few times, but before they did it again, they got some time off when they said no to a contracted third movie. Accordingly, we’d never see them in A Talent For Loving, from the novel by Richard Manchurian Candidate Condon, the story of four scousers in a horse race through the old west, or a comedy version of The Three Musketeers, or even a go at The Lord Of The Rings. They also dodged the bullet of a proposed collaboration with Walt Disney on The Jungle Book.
George Harrison married model Patti Boyd, who he’d met on the set of A Hard Day’s Night, and continued practising the Sitar he’d first picked up during the filming of Help!, Ringo was enjoying the bar in his house called The Flying Cow and his own cinema. As for the song writing partnership at the Beatles’ core, they were living very different lives. Lennon spent most of his time at home in Weybridge, reading, listening to records, watching television, thinking and sleeping.
McCartney, on the other hand, seemed to be at the centre of everything. His relationship with the actress Jane Asher had him living in the family home, absorbing influences from her arty clan. He made friends with people like the artist and critic – and first husband of Marianne Faithful – John Dunbar, and Barry Miles, who co-owned Indica Books. He was listening to Stockhausen, Albert Ayler, and John Cage, having cocktails with Bertrand Russell, and reading the plays of Alfred Jarry. He was, something he is at great pains to point out in the 1997 biography collaboration with Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, the counter-culture Beatle, the advance guard of the avant-garde.
You could say that Revolver is the point where McCartney took the reins from Lennon, and certainly without Paul’s work ethic, the band would have broken up a lot sooner. On the other hand, a sweeping statement like that implies that Lennon was no longer really at the races, which was far from the case, but John and Paul were certainly starting to pull in different directions.
With all that in mind, let’s put on the headphones as Mr. Walsh suggested, and take Revolver for another spin.
1, 2, 3… 4!
Even the count in - marvel again at how far they'd come since the same numbers opened "I Saw Her Standing There' - before ‘Taxman’ is out of time with what’s going on around it, as Harrison, going first for a change, rants about the unfairness of the government’s demands. The sound belongs to McCartney though, his bass jumps out of the speaker – now more than ever - and starts dancing in your head, and that’s his sheet metal guitar solo too. Of the three Harrison songs on the album, it’s by far the best one, even if the chorus borrows slightly from the Batman theme tune. David Hepworth recently described ‘Love You To’ as “homework” and you can see where he’s coming from. It’s very probably the first western pop song written in an Indian style, and Harrison’s sitar playing had come on in leaps and bounds, but it does sound like research for Pepper’s superior ‘Within You Without You’. ‘I Want To Tell You’ isn’t entirely convincing either, with that jarring piano in the verse. It just isn’t as good as song a Rubber Soul’s ‘If I Needed Someone’, but the guitar intro and the heavenly vocal outro do sound pretty spectacular in this new mix.
McCartney had set up a couple of tape recorders in Ringo’s empty flat where he worked on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, a breakthrough in his song writing that even caught the ear of William Burroughs, who was in London at the time, working at the same address. The Beat drug hoover marvelled at how much narrative McCartney could squeeze into a few lines. Having spoken in interviews of trying to get away from the then conventional pop approach of writing only about love, a song about loneliness and old age was certainly something new. One of the most striking features of this mix is the string octet who appear to be in the room beside you and, because you’ve sprung for the super deluxe edition, you can hear George Martin ask Paul if he wants vibrato or not before an awe-inspiring string-only take 2.
‘Paperback Writer’, on another double A-side, released on May 30th as the public awaited the finished album, was a further step away from I love you and you love me with its lyric about a young author on the make. Influenced somewhat by The Who, engineer Geoff Emerick found a new approach to recording the bass, adapting a loudspeaker into a microphone, allowing its greater surface area to capture more of the instrument's tone.
‘Rain’, alongside ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, is a dispatch from Lennon’s bed. John and George had tripped for the first time when George’s dentist had slipped acid into their tea the year before and ‘Sleeping’ sounds like a song that is stuck to the couch, solitarily marvelling at the complexity of its own fingernails, and unlikely to move for anything but the sound of the delivery man at the door. The backwards guitar solo is now more centred in the mix alongside McCartney’s bass. Listen and you can hear him hit two notes at the same time. ‘Rain’ comes at us through a stoned haze as result of the tapes being slowed down to achieve the desired effect. The original Take 5 finds McCartney and Starr hurtling down a hill together at breakneck speed. How can The Beatles still be surprising us?
‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain’ – Lennon’s backwards vocals at the end a result of putting the tape in wrong at home one night whilst a bit over-refreshed, although George Marin always disputed this – have never sounded better that they do after Martin’s tinkering. The problem is they’re included in the big box as a not-very-good-value-for-money ‘bonus EP’. You could opt for the 2 CD version, which includes both, but then you’d miss out on the original Speedy Gonzalez cut of ‘Rain’. Never mind, you can always pay the mortgage next month.
The Meaning Of Within
I could write an article about every track. Lennon’s ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ sped up and improved from the earlier, Byrdsy version. McCartney’s ode to pot ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, inspired by a trip to see Stevie Wonder and the soul records he was listening to. Did you know The Beatles came very close to recording these sessions in Stax Studios in Memphis? Lennon’s ‘She Said She Said’ about Peter Fonda knowing what it’s like to be dead, although the bass in the new mix threatens to overpower the middle eight. McCartney’s favourite song ‘Here There And Everywhere’, written in tribute to Brian Wilson’s ‘God Only Knows’ from the Pet Sounds he went looking for after hearing Rubber Soul, with its separate opening inspired by the preambles in Cole Porter songs. ‘For No One’ featuring Alan Civil playing higher than the accepted range of his French horn just as Dave Mason’s piccolo trumpet would on ‘Penny Lane’. Getting vitamin shots from ‘Doctor Robert’ which might swing even more on the earlier take, or improving on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Daydream’ with ‘Good Day Sunshine’. It’s all impossibly good. Which leaves two.
Perhaps you think the sea shanty nursery rhyme cartoon script of ‘Yellow Submarine’ should have been left in the cupboard? You’ll have your mind blown by an early demo that has Lennon moaning how “in the town where I was born, no one cared” which beams in from an alternate universe before a second version starts to sound more familiar. In the aforementioned Many Years From Now, McCartney claimed “It’s pretty much my song as I recall” but the evidence here disputes that. One for the academics to argue over.
And finally, although it was the first song recorded, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Another declaration from Lennon’s daybed where he was reading, and quoting directly from, Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience rather than The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, this song – although using the word ‘song’ implies it has something in common with what went before - sticks all aspects of where The Beatles were at in a blender on the maximum setting. The vocals which Lennon wanted to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from a mountaintop”, an effect achieved by running his voice through a rotating Leslie speaker, are both acid-drenched and Indian influenced, and as brilliant as he is on ‘Rain’, Ringo Starr is even better here. Then Macca arrives from the future.
As a Christmas gift in 1965, he cut an acetate for the other three of a mix he called Unforgettable, including songs and his early electronic experiments, tinkering that reached its apogee here. Macca brought tape loops from home in a plastic bag. He and George Martin picked out the best four which were set up on separate tape machines, slowed down or sped up by everyone present using pencils or whatever was available and then run through the desk where McCartney and Martin worked the faders for a one-off, unrepeatable mix. 1966 was when Lennon dropped the ball by claiming “we’re more popular than Jesus” and, as the screaming continued, they had their run in with President Marcos in Manila. Their touring days were over but the recording of the loops in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was their greatest live performance in that incredible year.
What about the mono mix? The Beatles are, as usual, way ahead of you and have included that in the box too so you can spend the rest of your days comparing them because everything The Beatles did, even when they were just arsing around, should be cherished. Revolver is one of the highest peaks in their mountain range. Giles Martin has ensured that it’ll sound good on a pound shop speaker. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.
Reissues Of The Year: The Other Contenders
King Scratch (Musical Masterpieces for the Upsetter Ark-ive) – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
There are many compilations available of the work of perhaps the greatest reggae producer of them all but this one is as close to definitive as makes no odds. Not only do you get cast iron classics like Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’, The Inspirations’ ‘Tighten Up’ and Susan Cadogan’s ‘Hurt So Good’, you’re also blessed with Perry’s own brilliance on ‘People Funny Boy’, ‘Return Of Django’ and more. The really serious can get the pipe out for the 12” mix of Augustus Pablo’s ‘Vibrate Onn’ or bogle and dagger to Max Romeo’s ‘One Step Forward’. Crucial.
Divine Symmetry – David Bowie
Depending on the day of the week and which way the wind is blowing, Hunky Dory is Bowie’s greatest album and this is the kind of reupholstering it deserves. Across five discs we get everything from song writing demos to John Peel radio performances to live cuts and new mixes. Jesus Christ Almighty, put on the first song ‘Tired Of My Life’ and marvel with your jaw on the floor as you can hear the bones of ‘It’s No Game’, a song he wouldn’t release until Scary Monsters in 1980. January’s Toy box is a good bet too. His passing broke the universe.
The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) – Joni Mitchell
On the one hand, this is just a vanilla box of four albums with no bells or whistle extras but on the other, two of these albums – Court And Spark and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns – are era-defining masterpieces that they should be handing out in schools. ‘Help Me’, ‘Free Man In Paris’, ‘In France They Kiss On Main Street’, ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’, what more do you want? Well, how about the brilliant live album Miles Of Aisles, worth it for ‘A Case Of You’ alone, and – AND – the criminally underrated For The Roses. Staggering genius.
Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years – Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
St. Joe Strummer had the good fortune and taste to be in two brilliant bands in his lifetime and his three albums with The Mescaleros are collected here, alongside the usual ragbag of odds and ends. It really is no exaggeration to state that the best cuts are fit to stand beside his work with The Clash. Try the hilarious ‘Bhindi Bhagee’ or the rockin’ ‘Coma Girl’ and ‘Johnny Appleseed’ or ‘Tony Adams’, a distant relative of ‘White Man (In Hammersmith Palais’, and he never wrote a better song than ‘Yalla Yalla’. “Let’s cut out of the scene, go groovin’, distance no object, Rasta Fer-I”. We won’t see his like again.