500 Greatest Albums of All Time

3

The Beatles, 'Revolver'

Capitol, 1966

"I don't see too much difference between Revolver and Rubber Soul," George Harrison once said. "To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two." Revolver extends the more adventurous aspects of its predecessor – its introspection, its nascent psychedelia, its fascination with studio artistry – into a dramatic statement of generational possibility.

The album, which was released in August 1966, made it thrillingly clear that what we now think of as "the Sixties" was fully – and irreversibly – under way.

The most innovative track on the album is John Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows." Attempting to distill an LSD trip into a three-minute song, Lennon borrowed lyrics from Timothy Leary's version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and recorded his vocal to sound like "the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop." Tape loops, a backward guitar part (Paul McCartney's blistering solo on "Taxman," in fact) and a droning tamboura completed the experimental effect, and the song proved hugely influential. For his part, on "Eleanor Rigby" and "For No One," McCartney mastered a strikingly mature form of art song, and Harrison, with "Taxman," "I Want to Tell You" and "Love You To," challenged Lennon-McCartney's songwriting dominance.

Part of the album's revolutionary impulse was visual. Klaus Voormann, one of the Beatles' artist buddies from their days in Hamburg, Germany, designed a striking photo-collage cover for Revolver; it was a crucial step on the road to the even trippier, more colorful imagery of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would come less than a year later.

Revolver signaled that in popular music, anything – any theme, any musical idea – could now be realized. And, in the case of the Beatles, would be.

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