In Defense of 'Revolution 9' at 50: Why the Beatles' Most Daring Track Is Still Underrated


The Beatles have by no means launched something extra radical, daring and ahead pondering than 1968's "Revolution 9." Nothing of their prior work -- the death-obsessed drone of "Tomorrow Never Knows," 1967's apocalyptic "A Day within the Life" -- may have ready a Beatles fan for the sonic hurricane close to the top of the White Album.

Even 50 years later, the jury's nonetheless out on whether or not "Revolution 9" is an avant-garde masterpiece or a self-indulgent mistake. Comparing it to different Beatles songs appears specious; it doesn't resemble something that they had launched earlier than or since. It appears to erase any signifiers of a rock band in favor of a cavalcade of unusual discovered sounds.

By now, the story of the Beatles' experimental years has been rehashed many occasions over: sitars, Moogs and Leslie audio system, guitar tracks sped up and slowed down and performed backwards. But with "Revolution 9," it's value contemplating how far they actually pushed these tendencies by jettisoning any conventional Western metric of music and venturing into Cage or Stockhausen territory.

Diving into EMI Studios' sound impact financial institution wasn't even a brand new Beatle trick; on 1966's "Yellow Submarine," they conjured a sound-world of crashing waves and captain's orders, and 1967's "Good Morning, Good Morning" incorporates a mosaic of barnyard animal sounds.

John Lennon had been messing round with a coda on the finish of Take 20 of his "Revolution," utilizing selfmade tapes that includes titles like "Vicar Poems," "Queen's Mess" and "Organ Last Will Test." The motif was a testing tape by an nameless engineer intoning: "This is EMI take a look at sequence quantity 9." This unintentional discover was of some significance for John; "It turned out to be my birthday and my fortunate quantity and every thing," he later recalled to Rolling Stone.

Lennon edited the tape to simply repeat "quantity 9" repeatedly, panning it forwards and backwards within the stereo discipline. It was the launching pad for a bona fide cacophony. Mangled classical snippets from Beethoven, Sibelius and Schumann wheeze to life solely to sputter out.

Lennon and George Harrison comply with together with their non-sequitur prose. "Industrial output / Financial imbalance / The Watusi / The Twist," Lennon mutters. "El Dorado," Harrison feedback. "There ain't no rule for the corporate freaks," they whisper collectively, six occasions over. Meanwhile, there are American soccer chants ("Hold that line / Block that kick!") and an eerie recording of Yoko Ono speaking about changing into bare.

This was certainly all a tough tablet to swallow again within the day, and this difficult observe would tackle a vital repute as an overlong slog. "Justly maligned," opined David Marsh and John Swenson in 1979's New Rolling Stone Album Guide. "The most unpopular recording the Beatles ever made," declared Mojo's Mark Paytress in 2003. Perhaps most scathingly, NME's Alan Smith chalked up "Revolution 9" to "pretentious … fool immaturity."

The White Album had additionally infamously caught in Charles Manson's craw as a piece of prophecy; Aside from "Helter Skelter," "Revolution 9" carries the brunt of this affiliation. He'd taken Lennon's repeated cries of "journey!" as "rise!" to substantiate his paranoid visions of a race battle. He egged on his murderous followers by conflating the title with the Book of Revelation, Chapter 9.

But "Revolution 9" is value exhuming from its cultural baggage. To right this moment's ears, it's not ponderous or detrimental, however giddily bizarre. This particularly goes for its just lately unveiled 5.1 model, included on this month's 50th Anniversary Edition of the White Album. If you haven't zoned out to the observe shortly, that is your greatest alternative in years.

Even producer George Martin, who generally felt pushed out of the body in the course of the White Album's classes, was enraptured by their weird noise experiment. "I really like 'Revolution 9'," he's quoted as saying within the 50th Anniversary guide. "You may sit in entrance of these two audio system and truly see issues taking place should you shut your eyes. It wasn't music, nevertheless it was a sound image."

It's surprising to think about that this "sound image" got here a mere 5 years after "I Want to Hold Your Hand." They'd shattered pop conference on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, however no second on both album got here close to this degree of abstraction.

It additionally stoked fan-first communion; in its disembodied moans, "Revolution 9" virtually invited public misunderstandings, late-night debates and fruitless hunts for which means. Backmask the "quantity 9" pattern, and also you hear one thing like "flip me on, lifeless man," which helped stoke the "Paul Is Dead" fires.

If the Fab Four legend started with screaming women and police barricades, that is that noise mirrored again on the world. If you've received a Beatle-suspicious particular person in your life who thinks they're all mop-tops and smiles, give them a dose of "Revolution 9."