Richard Furnstein: "Revolution 1" finds our heroes stumbling out of beds on a Sunday morning. A snippet of a boogie woogie acoustic guitar is picked up off of the studio floor, John nervously asks "Okay?" as the band kicks into a fresh take. It's a little studio vérité, a humbling back-to-basics approach for a band that once wanted their bass guitars to sound like acid raindrops sliding down a stained glass window and their vocals to sound like the Dalai Lama transmitting across the peaks and valleys surrounding Tibet. "Revolution 1" is John's original vision for his indecisive musical call to arms, where the state of being "in" or "out" is equally "alright." And we almost can't blame him for indecision with a heroin drip this slow.
Robert Bunter: It's not really kosher to dwell on Lennon's alleged heroin use (which is said to have started around this time), but it's difficult to listen and not detect the seductive opiated mood that permeates this track. Everything is slow and dreamy and languorous; after thoughtfully examining the age-old political question of whether the ends justify the means, the smiling stoned singer ultimately has nothing to say but "Don't you know it's gonna be alright?" The sinister undertones of heroin use are also audible, just below the surface of the Beatles' catalog as officially released. The blissful dope nod of "Revolution 1" originally functioned as but the introductory segment of the harrowing bad trip that is "Revolution 9." This connection has been known to fans for years; John discussed how the two songs fit together in published interviews. For a long time, however, the only hint of how they might fit together was the nearly-unlistenable "From Kinfauns To Chaos" bootleg, which features about 40 minutes of Yoko mumbling into a tape recorder while sitting in the corner of the Abbey Road control room. In the background, you can hear several segments of "Revolution 1" merging into "Revolution 9," but you have to sit there and listen to Yoko's self-involved navel-gazing monologue, which is at times quite gross. Luckily, that's not the end of the story. A few years ago, the Beatle fan world (or what I like to call just my regular daily life) was rocked by the unexpected release of "Revolution 1 (Take 20)" in pristine stereo. I have lots more to say but I'm rambling over here. Richard?
Richard Furnstein: I'm right here, and I'm with you. "Take 20" essentially writes a new White Album tracklist in my mind: side four of the double album should have been largely committed to the full "Revolution 1/9 Suite." As currently constructed, we suffer through a premature fade on "Revolution 1" and are shaken out of this gentle dope protest into McCartney's gooey soft shoe routine in "Honey Pie." Sure, "Revolution 9" appears later in the track listing after some more helpings of light fare, but by then we've written off the side opener as throwback pop music and not a precursor to the sonic overload and icy depths of "Revolution 9." The use of "Revolution 9" as a separate track, positioned late in the double album's running order, seems like an unnecessarily apologetic move from The Beatles. These geniuses didn't have to tiptoe around our blissfully sleeping heads on their way to the revolution. It was their responsibility to jostle us awake and drag us into the horrifying unknown. As it stands, "Revolution 1" can be easily misinterpreted as a throwaway track (the cloying "shoobedoowop" backing vocals are the biggest offender of the realized version).
There is thunder and lightning but no rain. Everything is purple and yellow, but it’s dark. Wait a minute, that’s not moonlight – there are UFO’s up there!Robert Bunter: Cloying? I disagree, I think this is another example of the White Album’s tendency to use ‘50s rock cliches to add an ironic detachment to the material (see “Back In The USSR” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”), as well as their intrinsic usefulness for musical effect. Paul and George’s doo-wop harmonies, in addition to being groovy, are a big part of the unique texture of this crucial track. Visualize a street-corner R&B vocal group in 1959, except they’re being heard in crystal-clear high fidelity instead of the opacity of scratchy 45’s or AM radio. They’re laying down mellow harmonies in the moonlight urban alleyway, but instead of stupid saxophones, they are surrounded by gentle acoustic guitars and distant French horn chords. The lead singer’s voice is double-tracked (BUT THIS IS HAPPENING IN REAL TIME) and he’s singing about Mao Tse-tung and he wants to “change your head.” There is thunder and lightning but no rain. Everything is purple and yellow, but it’s dark. Wait a minute, that’s not moonlight – there are UFO’s up there! Do you hear those sound effects? I smell laser beams, plus there are street gangs … bloodshot youths rising up against the oppressors, thirsty for violence. But just as they move to unsheathe their weapons, their hands are stilled by this weird celestial doo-wop group and their consciousness-expanding French horns. Get your head out of your butt, Richard. Those “shoobedoowops” pack more of a wallop then “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “She Loves You” put together, if you just have ears to hear.
Richard Furnstein: Hey man, don't blame me. I'm just a field correspondent reporting from the war. Many interpret the doo-wop backing vocals as overly playful, making the track seem like more milky nostalgia ("Back In The U.S.S.R."). It significantly distorts the message of the song for many. I love it, and I am totally into your version of the street corner apocalypse. I just think most people are seduced by the scuzz rock single version, so the original White Album arrangement seems a little too light and unfocused. The rhythm's in the guitars, but the destruction is in the mind. John's retreat to the loud rock ("single ready") arrangement leaves "Revolution 1" in a confusing, pencil sketch state. I don't think that was the intention, as "Take 20" demonstrates in vivid blood-red tones.
Robert Bunter: Yeah, the stark, high-energy single version of “Revolution” is the polar opposite of the breezy, slow-motion doo-wop of “Revolution 1.” The slow version was the original recording, but the heavy rock single was the first to be released. Listeners who hear “Revolution 1” as a rough demo can be forgiven (the introductory studio chatter heightens the effect), but not after they’ve read this blog. Now they know that the slow version of “Revolution” is John’s otherworldly doo-wop heroin masterpiece and the fast version is a sportswear commercial. In my fantasy world, the Beatles released at least three more albums in this vein – slow acoustic political songs with sweet harmonies, gentle production touches, French horns and sound effects. That would be a recipe for some platters that would certainly get plenty of “revolutions” on my Dual 1229 hi-fi phonograph machine!
Original Beatles fan art by Andrew Jones