The fourth in the remixed and augmented Beatles albums to be released, Revolver almost didn’t happen. There were two reasons. First, so much of the instrumentation had been recorded onto single tracks live, that it was thought to be impossible to remix properly. Second, it was thought that most of the outtakes of worth had been released already on the Anthology 2 album.
Fortunately for Beatles fans, both of the above assumptions proved wrong. Giles Martin was able to remix the album thanks to Peter Jackson’s demixing technology which had been used to great effect on The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Martin compared it to giving a cake to the technicians and being handed back eggs, flour, milk and all the other ingredients. The second assumption was also mistaken; Martin and his engineer, Sam Okell, found a number of fascinating outtakes and demos in EMI’s vaults with a bit of digging. The result is a boxed set of great worth and importance.
The 5 CD set kicks off with the remixed Revolver album on the first disc. As you know if you’ve read past reviews, I am not a fan of Beatles remixes. However, this is one of the better ones. Compared to the original, which often isolates vocals or the drums to one side, everything is nicely arranged to sound as if the Beatles are right there in front of you. The bass and drums are prominent—sometimes too much so, but a lot of folks like that—and the balance of the original mix is for the most part upheld. My biggest gripe is the lack of cowbell on the remixed Taxman. I believe most fans will like the remix, though, and it certainly showcases the demixing technology to give us hope for future remixes. Perhaps With the Beatles someday? It seems possible.
Discs 2 and 3 contain the outtakes and demos. Revolver is such an outstanding record that I feel they’re all worthwhile, but less hardcore fans may disagree. Take 1 of Tomorrow Never Knows, originally included on Anthology 2 but here in a slightly longer version, is an equally mind-bending version of the famous mind-melting album closer. The mono mix which follows was released on only a few UK copies of the record before being recalled and switched out for the now-standard mono mix. I will happily listen to as many mixes of this song as you’ll give me, so I love it.
The three takes of Got To Get You Into My Life which follow show the development of the song from a slower, sparse version into the rocking horn-laden track which became a classic. The first take is available in a shorter version with no dialogue on Anthology 2, but the discussion at the beginning is fascinating. I love the mono mix without the horns; it sounds like a garage band Sixties rocker. Three takes of Love You To come next; the first sounds almost like a demo with George’s vocal and acoustic guitar. The book’s notes, BTW, prove that George played the sitar and Paul the tamboura. The final take showcases a harmony by Paul which was erased on the final track. There’s a reason why.
Next, we get an instrumental track for Paperback Writer which is nothing special, and then one of the highlights: the instrumental for its B-side, Rain, played at the actual speed in which the band recorded it. Ringo is astonishing. Anyone who says he couldn’t drum needs to hear this track. He out-Moons Keith Moon. And the others aren’t far behind. The slowed-down version with an early John vocal follows for comparison.
An unedited version of Doctor Robert shows that the group cut out part of a verse and the chorus to shorten the track. Those who dislike the song won’t be any happier with this version, but I think it’s neat. It ends with the “OK, Herb” dialogue which was part of the original US mono mix;1, which is actually John saying “Ok, er, we’ll….”
And Your Bird Can Sing has two takes of the first version which end the second disc, with the second version beginning Disc 3. The first two have the giggle-free version and a modification of the Anthology 2 take with the giggling highlighted. They’re both fantastic. The second take sounds less like the Byrds and more like R.E.M., without the guitar overdubs added later. I love all three tracks. Take 11 of Taxman follows; it’s basically the same as the one on Anthology 2.
Four mono takes of I’m Only Sleeping come next; the rehearsal fragment, extended a little, from A2, and two alternate takes and an early mix. Again, this is one song where I’m fine with different mixes, but this leads me to one of my criticisms of the set: Where’s the US stereo mix of this number? It only appeared on later versions of Yesterday…and Today, and was lost when EMI went with the British album configurations. (Not arguing against that, mind.) It wasn’t on the digital Y&T, either. They’ve forgotten about it, I’ll bet. This is why they should have a fan consultant with these sets. I’m available, guys.
Take 2 of Eleanor Rigby, complete with a discussion about whether to play with or without vibrato before it, follows. It amuses me that Paul couldn’t really hear the difference. At any rate, it’s a nice glimpse into the input that the session musicians had on the final recording. The backing track for For No One is probably the most dispensable selection, but it does highlight Paul and Ringo playing together.2
The Yellow Submarine sequence which comes next is perhaps the high point of this set. It’s one of those instances where everything we thought we knew was wrong. In my Album Spotlight review of Revolver, I wrote: “Paul wrote this, apparently with Donovan’s assistance,“ which is…not correct.3 John wrote the basis of the verses, and his demo is included, a sparse number with acoustic guitar and different lyrics which are quite sad. It’s like a Plastic Ono Band outtake. The songwriting work tape and early takes which follow show how Paul helped turn the song into a children’s tune, with John’s agreement. A final take which adds an opening section which was discarded and which highlights the sound effects is quite similar to one which was found on the Real Love single.4 It’s a marvelous journey through the recording process.
The disc finishes with a take of I Want To Tell You which highlights discussion before the song about its title, which fans will recognize from Mark Lewisohn’s Recording Sessions book; an early take of Here, There and Everywhere; and John’s demo and the backing track for She Said, She Said. The latter proves that despite conjecture that Paul had stormed out of the session and wasn’t present on the final recording, he was in fact in the studio laying down bass. At least, at the beginning.
CD 4 gives us a remastered mono mix of Revolver, well worth hearing for its differences to the stereo mix. The final disc has four songs: the remixes and mono mixes of the Paperback Writer/Rain single. Surely they could have just appended this to the album? But money talks, of course. I’ve also listened to the Dolby Atmos version of the album available on Apple Music and other sources. It sounded great, but all I have is a sound bar. Folks with a proper 5.1 setup should check it out, though. (And yes, they probably should have included a BluRay.)
While the digital version of this box is more than worthwhile, I knew I’d invest in the physical set since this is IMO the best Beatles release. And I’m glad that I did. The enclosed book has a plethora of photos, extensive notes about the sessions, an excerpt from Klaus Voormann’s graphic novel about drawing the cover (in English), and some interesting essays, including one by Questlove, which is unusual but at least imaginative. Recommended for Revolver fans who can afford it, but you’re not missing too much if you buy the digital download instead. Of course, lots of people can listen on a streaming service.
Despite a few minor flaws, the Revolver SDE box leaves me anticipating the next release, which will probably be Rubber Soul. I doubt I’ll buy any more boxes—Sgt. Pepper is the only other physical release I sprang for—but a remix of Rubber Soul should be really interesting.