No Beatles album has a mystique quite like Revolver. John, Paul, George, and Ringo threw all their craziest ideas into their experimental 1966 masterpiece, turning Abbey Road Studios into a hotbed of madcap creative frenzy. Revolver was underrated for many years — especially in America, where the complete album didn’t even get released for 20 years. So it took time to get recognized as the Beatles’ boldest, brashest statement. But the shock of the new Special Deluxe Edition, with a treasure trove of unheard outtakes, is realizing there’s so much more to these songs than anyone knew. Hearing the new Revolver is a revelation that takes time to sink in for real: proof that the world is still underrating the Beatles.

Revolver is the Fabs’ guitar album, soaring on the electric flash of “Taxman,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” But it’s also got sitars, tape loops, a string octet, jazzy horns, and psychedelic funk drones. Most important, it’s got superhuman levels of cocky bravado — it never even occurs to these lads to slow down and choose a lane. When the uncut Revolver finally came out on CD, in 1987, it felt like a whole new album. Yet that’s how it feels to process all the surprises on this box set. The Beatles challenge you to forget everything you think you know about this music, and start over with new ears. 

But in addition to everything else it is, Revolver is the Beatles’ most collaborative album. This is where John, Paul, George, and Ringo were closer than they’d ever been, as friends and co-conspirators. No matter how bitchy they got later, they were at the peak of their friendship in 1966-67, right up until Brian Epstein died and things got messier. Revolver captures the moment when they were head over heels in love with being Beatles, craving one another’s company even when they weren’t working. Other people were fine, but … not the Beatles. As John Lennon said at the time, “We have met some new people since we’ve become famous, but we’ve never been able to stand them for more than two days.”  

You can hear that all over the music. Revolver is the album that feels most like four boys in the studio clubhouse, casually reading each other’s minds. They’re arrogantly confident that all they need to do is amuse their own imaginations — they’re desperate to impress each other, and only each other. They begin the fantastic alternate take of “Got to Get You Into My Life” with a passionate argument over the opening note on the organ — an absurdly heated discussion, but all four love the argument as much as they love this song. In a rehearsal of “For No One,” Ringo Starr asks Paul McCartney, “What, shall I just keep it straight, then? Not do anything else?” Macca tells him, “No, do!” That’s basically the motto for the whole album.

The new Special Deluxe Edition is the deepest way to experience Revolver, because it puts you right there in the room with them, as did the previous editions of Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, and Abbey Road. But with Revolver, the in-the-room factor is more crucial than ever. Producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell open up the sound, using the “de-mixing” technology developed by Peter Jackson’s audio team for Get Back. It sounds more gloriously weird than ever.

The fact that Revolver dropped the same week Taylor Swift scored 10 songs in the Top 10? It makes perfect poetic sense, because there are so many cosmic connections between Revolver and Midnights. “Bejeweled” is basically the same story as “For No One,” except from the woman’s perspective — you stay home, she goes out, she misses sparkling. “Lavender Haze” is Swift’s “I’m Only Sleeping”; “Karma” her “Love You To”; “Sweet Nothings” her “Here, There and Everything”; “Mastermind” her “Tomorrow Never Knows”; and believe me, we could keep going. (“Snow on the Beach”? “Got to Get You Into My Life,” enchanted by another kind of mind.) Bob Dylan famously said the Beatles converted him the week they had eight songs in the Top 10. And like the Beatles, Swift initially got scoffed at for having too many teenage girls in her audience. Like all great pop stories, this one just goes on rewriting itself over the years. 

Generations of fans have marveled at Ringo’s maniac drums on the B side “Rain” — but the version we heard was slowed down. Hearing it at the original speed, with Ringo pumping the pagan skins at Motörhead velocity, he’s going even harder than we realized. (Yet another way we’re still underrating the Beatles.) Even the throwaway “Doctor Robert” is arguably the best Weakest Song on any of their albums, winning any head-to-head competition with “Piggies,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” “When I Get Home,” etc. As a Rubber Soul partisan who’s reluctantly willing to admit Revolver is a better album, I have to concede that “Doctor Robert” beats “The Word.”

All four Beatles are evolving into very different individuals in 1966, yet that just brings them closer together as a team. Paul is the most confident man on Earth, but he assumes (rightly) his music will get even more brilliant after George and Ringo manhandle it. John is the most sarcastic man on Earth, but the band is a safe space for him to confide secrets he wouldn’t dream of admitting in real life. Ringo is the most Ringo man on Earth — still is — and George the most likely to look hot wearing a lace bowtie. Yet they absolutely trust one another to bring their spaciest whims to life. “It’s that instinct they had for each other’s music,” Martin says. “They grew with each other, but they didn’t outgrow each other. They just outgrew the original idea of the Beatles.” 

Paul and George were both coupled up with intellectual women with their own careers and their own ideas. Jane Asher and Pattie Boyd had a massive influence on the songwriting. “I’ve got a lot of my taste off Pattie,” George said in 1966. “Pattie keeps asking me to write more beautiful words.” (Although “I’ll make love to you, if you want me to” probably wasn’t what she had in mind.) The Quiet One took off as a composer, with three of the album’s highlights: “Taxman,” the insanely underrated “I Want To Tell You,” and the awesomely bitchy sitar trip “Love You To,” a backhanded reply to “Love Me Do,” with George sneering, “You don’t get time to hang a sign on me.” (When Mick Jagger heard this, he tried rewriting it as “Ruby Tuesday,” only to sound like a total simp by comparison.)

Ironically, George had never paid his taxes in his life when he wrote “Taxman” — none of the Beatles had. “No one had mentioned it to them,” their accountant said. (When the accountant did try to explain what taxes were, John replied, “Don’t be a drag, Al.”) But George was clearly outraged about all the taxes he wasn’t paying. 

You often see people claim “Taxman” was inspired by the theme to the TV show Batman, which is a cute theory, but only plausible if you forget all about Motown, which the Beatles never did. The massively obvious inspiration for “Taxman” is Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ 1965 Motown smash “Shotgun,” from the “tax-maaaan!” hook to the bass line, where Paul does his best James Jamerson. No offense to Batman, but the Beatles were obsessive fans of American R&B, and never more so than on Revolver, which they originally hoped to record at the Stax studio in Memphis. Motown was always their deepest inspiration. “The Detroit Sound,” George told a 1964 press conference, when asked about their biggest influences. “Tamla-Motown artists are our favorites.”

The admiration was mutual. Junior Walker was a George fan who did the all-time best cover version of “Something,” on his 1971 album Rainbow Funk. “You’re asking me will my love grow? I don’t know! Junior don’t know!” (And FWIW, Batman didn’t debut in the U.K. until May 21, 1966 — a month after the Beatles recorded “Taxman.”)

Paul’s work on Revolver is so profoundly bizarre, we’re still just beginning to make sense of it. The fact that a 23-year-old boy wrote “Eleanor Rigby”? A boy who happens to be the world’s most adored pop star, chased around the world by fans and socialites and hustlers, with every hedonistic distraction open to him for the asking, but no, he wants to sit in his girlfriend’s attic and write about lonely old ladies back in Liverpool? Trying to imagine the sad dream that Eleanor Rigby lives in? Yet Paul always loves to imagine the language of women’s dreams — it’s his great lifelong artistic obsession. That spirit is in love songs like “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Good Day Sunshine” — he’s fascinated by what’s going on inside her head because she’s another kind of mind. You can hear it in his solo “Here, There and Everywhere (Take 6),” the way he lingers over the line “Watching her eyes.” Like “Eleanor Rigby,” it’s a song that feels more shocking, more inexplicable the longer you listen.

One of the weirdest John mysteries is how he never realized “And Your Bird Can Sing” is a work of genius. He always dismissed it, as he often did when a song scared him by revealing too much. But it’s the heart of the new Revolver, with the wildest outtakes. “Take 2” has Byrds-style guitar jangle, yet it doesn’t sound at all like the Byrds, because it has Ringo, and Michael Clarke couldn’t outdrum Ringo’s bootlace. “Take 6” has metallic-guitar blare, over Ringo’s proto-krautrock groove, with John calling out, “Quite, quite brisk! Moderato, foxtrot!” There’s also the “giggling” take: John and Paul cracking each other up, laughing too hard to sing.

All the complexities and contradictions of Revolver come together in this box’s biggest surprise: “Yellow Submarine,” in early demos never previously bootlegged or rumored or even suspected. Nobody guessed this kiddie classic started off as a John song, much less a morose acoustic ballad about his childhood. It’s the same melody, but the opposite mood.  As Martin quips, “The submarine is sinking!”  

But it’s moving to hear John and Paul sing it together as a folkie duo, just like their teen years when they used to play as the “Nurk Twins.” John gets shy and urges Paul to sing it solo, fretting, “You do it then — they’ll never hear it with two of us.” Paul coaxes him into it, urging, “But you know how to sing it!” Yet Paul can hear it in John’s voice, as soon as they start to sing — John is having a moment here, going somewhere deeply personal, so Paul hangs back to let him run with it. It’s a moment when you can’t miss Paul’s brotherly generosity — these two seem to read each others’ moods in real time. Just a private moment from the world’s most famous friendship — one they never meant us to hear. But it says so much about how this partnership created so much magic (and pain) (and joy) (and drama). And the fact that it stayed secret for almost 60 years, buried in the vaults, says so much about all the other tiny John-Paul moments we’ll never know about.  

Like everything else on the new Revolver, it’s a glimpse of how they worked — but also how deeply they knew and loved each other. That’s why these songs refuse to slide into the past, and why we keep hearing new sides of ourselves in this music. “It’s the idea of a yellow submarine where all the kids went to have fun,” Paul told the Detroit Free Press in 1966. “I was just going to sleep one night and thinking, if we had a children’s song, it would be nice to be on a yellow submarine where all your friends are with a band.” That fantasy is exactly where the Beatles lived when they made Revolver. It’s a magic circle where our friends are all aboard, and every one of us is all we need. Listening to the new Revolver means stepping into that room, becoming part of that circle, and setting sail for the unknown. 

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