Revolver   Spins Seductively Psychedelic in AAA Mono Reissue

Rubber Soul was released on Friday, December 3rd 1965 three short years after The Beatles first entered Abbey Road Studios and met George Martin. It was their fifth album and the final one engineered by Norman Smith who was promoted a few months after Rubber Soul’s release to EMI’s A&R (artist and repertoire) Dept.

Smith wanted out anyway because Rubber Soul wasn’t really where his musical head was at and he felt it was a good time to move on—hard as it might be to believe that anyone would want to break an association with The Beatles. A few years later he began working with a new group signed to EMI called the Pink Floyd.

On April 6, 1966 The Beatles began working on their next album, which was eventually called Revolver but it had no name when they produced three takes of the first song recorded for it, which when fully produced would become the album’s final song “Tomorrow Never Knows”. What a way to start!

Promoted from disc cutter to Beatles engineer was an at first terrified 20 year old Geoff Emerick. Emerick’s willingness to experiment and break with rigid EMI engineering traditions was the key to producing the sonically groundbreaking Revolver. The Beatles themselves were demanding certain sounds and Emerick and others at Abbey Road including engineer Ken Townsend were more than willing to oblige. Townsend invented what became called ADT or “Artificial Double Tracking”. It allowed a single vocal take to become two by feeding the signal to another tape recorder running at a slightly different speed and then feeding the signal back to the original recording—all in real time. The Beatles, especially Lennon had gotten tired of doubling their vocals by recording it a second time.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” features Lennon’s voice fed through a Leslie speaker/amplifier system, which includes inside a spinning pair of horn speakers. The pioneering track also includes a wide variety of effects tape loops created by tape oversaturation, some “home brewed” by Paul McCartney. They’d run these loops simultaneously on up to five tape machines and record them to multitrack that Emerick would then “play” using the board’s faders. Revolver also features George Harrison’s first Indian music-flavored tune, one of three strong songs he contributed to the album.

While all of this was going on, the group found time to record the catchy single “Paperback Writer”, which astute listeners at the time noticed contained the French children's song “Frere Jacques” as a backing counterpoint to the main vocal, as well as the memorable “Rain”. For that one the rhythm section was played way faster than intended and then slowed down to the correct speed, producing mesmerizing instrumental textures. The vocals were similarly produced. Both songs were good enough for Revolver but were relegated to singles.

According to “The Complete Beatles” (Sterling Publishing) Mark Lewisohn’s highly recommended book (without which these reviews would not have been so context-rich) on April 27th multiple mono mixes were produced of 3 songs but all were rejected by the increasingly interested Beatles, who had previously left mixing decisions to others. Even so, Lewisohn writes “…they paid little attention to stereo. In fact, no stereo mixes had been done (at that time) for any Revolver songs.”

Audiophile types (guilty as charged) often complained about “Eleanor Rigby”’s strident sounding strings—a double string quartet. Seemed a shame it didn’t sound sweeter but it was in keeping with the colder, metallic sound of the entire album, perfectly captured by Klaus Voorman’s edgy black and white line drawing cover.

Emerick placed the microphones so close to the instruments they almost touched the strings. No wonder they sounded edgy! The song is just the strings, originally recorded to all four tracks, then mixed down to three, leaving one for McCartney’s overdubbed vocal.

Of course that version wasn’t the final one for these studio perfectionists. Paul re-recorded the vocal, double tracked with harmony and John and George assisted with some “aah”s and the “all the lonely people” part.

On June 6th 1966 four years to the day the Beatles first entered Abbey Road Studios, the boys spent the evening overseeing mono re-mixes of five album cuts. At midnight and for the next hour and a half, McCartney performed an additional “Eleanor Rigby” overdub.

Emerick employed the same close miking technique recording the trumpet/sax quintet backing for “Got to Get You Into My Life”, putting the microphones into the trumpet bells and then in the recording “limiting the sound to hell!”

The album was completed on June 21st with marathon mono and stereo mixing sessions (many of which were “tweaking” remixes of songs that had already been mixed and remixed more than a few times) and with one more song still needed, John contributed “She Said She Said”— as perfect a song about an LSD trip as has ever been written. Final mixes were on June 22nd and the album was released on Friday August 5th.

The American release cheated Beatles fans of the mesmerizing “I’m Only Sleeping” the charming “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Dr. Robert” ironically about a real-life New York City based doctor who dispensed to his friends hallucinogenic drugs.

Was this the perfect pop/rock record? Who would say no? Forget the studio innovations littering the grooves. The songwriting was and remains stellar. Everyone steps up their creativity. George Harrison’s contributions are his best and most varied: a protest song— “Taxman”, his first Indian foray “Love You To” and “I Want to Tell You”, McCartney writes his most affecting song “Eleanor Rigby” and perhaps his most melodically engaging “Here, There And Everywhere, among others. And John Lennon’s “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” would have been enough but he offered more as did McCartney. Only Ringo was unable to produce so the others wrote him the still charming “Yellow Submarine”, which provides some much needed levity on a mostly hard-edged album.

Consider that Revolver was released three years five months and seventeen days after Please Please Me. How was that possible? I don’t think anyone can really explain. You could probably write a book about “Tomorrow Never Knows”—about how it was made, how it affected studio recording from that day forward, and especially how it affected a generation of listeners during a very turbulent period of time.

As unsettling and unstinting as Revolver was, at the time, it resonated well with many college aged kids. For me (feel free to skip this part of the review written only because of encouraging reader feedback) it was a bummer of a time that I relive with every play. I had almost flunked out of Cornell’s School of Agriculture, having lost all interest in veterinary medicine. I wanted to move to the school of Industrial and Labor Relations, which was where many pre-law students went. Switching meant a semester in a netherworld “division of unaffiliated students” or some such Twilight Zone named group headed by a guy whose last name was "Rideout" as in "I'm going to ride you out of college"). You were given one semester to prove yourself. If you didn’t achieve a certain grade level you were out even if you passed every course. And I believe the deal was, only the top X number of kids in the division could move on, so it was not only your performance that counted, it was how well you did against others.

Sophomore year I lived in a fraternity house. Junior year you had to move out to an apartment. Most of the kids paired up but the fact is, for one reason of another none of them wanted me as a roommate. Maybe it was the loud music or my less than serious academic pursuits. I was a screw-off, which is why I was flunking out. Most of my frat brothers became doctors, dentists, friends of Hillary, college presidents, etc. so maybe they were right rejecting me!

The inseparable duo of Rosenberg and Friedman, two hangers on-ers/non-fraternity members asked me to room with them at 114 Ferris Place, Ithaca, NY—but only because they couldn't afford the apartment themselves. I remembered the address while listening to Revolver for this review, thank you. And I remembered much more! Such is the power of music.

They rigged it so that each had a bedroom while I got the living room. It was the biggest room but since it was my bedroom there was no living room and the apartment was strictly for sleeping and for them and not me, endless fucking, which was impossible to not hear since I had no door to close.

It wasn’t the biggest of deals since I had really buckled down to study and spent most of my time in the library studying so I wouldn’t flunk out and give my parents heart attacks.

At the time I kept a terrarium full of Venus Fly Traps in the unused kitchen. I kept it very well manicured. For some reason I couldn’t understand, every time I manicured the terrarium, Rosenberg and Friedman would come out of their rooms to watch. As I tweezed away the weeds, they let out pained grunts. It was weird.

Some evenings I’d return to the apartment to find the windows wide open in the middle of the Ithaca frozen tundra winter. The place was freezing. I’d ask Rosenberg and Friedman “What the fuck is going on here?” but was always met with zombie-like blank stares.

One night I opened the door and smelled it. I’d never before smelled marijuana but one whiff and it was obvious what it was. It immediately also became obvious why I’d often walked into a freezing apartment with windows wide open and what were those weeds I’d been plucking from the Venus Flytrap Terrarium and why they would wince. Also obvious at that point was the cause of their vacant expressions and bleary eyes.

I raged at them about my law school ambition and about how they were threatening my future with their illegal, immoral and dangerous behavior. How dare they! I told them I was leaving and going over to visit (names omitted). They were good students, serious kids, and about as likely to smoke pot as were the members of the Cornell Young Republican Club with whom I’d spent my first semester agitating on campus for the election of Barry Goldwater.

I got in my car, which was a really cool Austin-Healey 3000 MKIII (possible only because my father had saved for typical college tuition costs but at the time Cornell state school tuition for New York State residents was around $500 a semester so with money left over, he kindly indulged me with the car and I rewarded him by almost flunking out). On the other hand, an Austin-Healey convertible, which had a solid rear axle and ground clearance of a few inches was a seriously suicidal car to drive in an Ithaca winter so I sometimes think he was trying to kill me or I was trying to kill me.

So I drove over to my friends’ basement apartment to seek solace and comfort from slide-rule carrying engineering and horn rimmed glasses (now cool, but not then!) wearing liberal arts majors, all of whom comfortably fit in the “nerd” category. I had my opening self-righteous outburst ready to go.

I burst through the door and? And? And I immediately smelled it! They were busy passing around a joint and having a high old time. “What?” I said. “You too? I just left Rosenberg and Friedman smoking dope.”

“You, Michael, are the only person we know who doesn’t smoke pot. We’d have invited you over to join us but you have been so loud and self-righteous in your condemnation we didn’t bother. Now that you are here, sit down, relax and float downstream…” (or words to that effect).

Revolver sounded even better every play after that evening. My grades were good enough to transfer to Industrial and Labor Relations and the next year I moved in with those guys, bringing with me, my Dynaco PAS-3X preamp, Stereo 120 amp, Dual 1009SK/Shure V-15 and AR 2ax speakers. A splendid time was had by all, every Friday afternoon and throughout the weekend. During the week the combustibles were hidden in the garage and the stereo remained turned off as did we—end of multi-Revolver listening session induced ancient memories.

The Beatles had always admired the bass power of many Americans records compared to theirs and on Revolver they decided to find a way to pump up the bass—something that was obvious way back in 1966 to Beatle fans with decent stereos. The record had much more and powerful bass than had previous Beatles albums thanks to Emerick’s efforts. What’s also obvious and amazing is how McCartney’s bass playing on the album had also taken an enormous leap forward beginning with his startling riffs of “Taxman”.

I compared this reissue to UK and American originals and to the CD and the 1982 Japanese Odeon red vinyl reissue. In this case, given the generally harsh sound of the original recording, the CD fares pretty well, though it becomes ear-unpleasant as you turn it up. One level of the hardness is “digitally induced”, the overall picture is flattened and congealed and the percussive transients are coarse and smeared compared to any of the LP versions.

Even though the stereo mix obviously consists of pre-recorded elements mixed together into monophonic tracks hard-panned left and right, a case could be made for the stereo mix here, though there are weird distracting mix moments as on “Eleanor Rigby” where you can hear the mix engineer pan the main vocal during the chorus.

Once you read in detail how these tracks were recorded, their nakedness in the stereo mix—the way the individual elements are left exposed left/right—though interesting, become distractions, making the mono mix that much more attractive and of course coherent. Still, this is one album of which I’d be sure to have both mono and stereo mixes. McCartney’s vocal overdubs on “Here, There and Everywhere” and the backing “oohs” from the others make for fascinating listening even as they more effectively blend together in mono.

Interestingly, the mono reissue’s EQ is warmer than the mono original’s (true of the UK and American originals and the 1982 Japanese reissue) but much closer to the somewhat warmer sounding stereo original.

The red vinyl Odeon reissue was cut very hot on this title and no one will complain about a lack of bottom end weight (he prodigious amount of bass might have some complaining about too much bass), but the top end is certainly more strident than the original’s and of course that of the reissue’s. It’s more “hi-fi” than accurate in my opinion and spatially flatter than the reissue. On my system at least, it gets sonically annoying over time, whereas the reissue does not.

In general we're talking about minor tonal differences among these pressings (the revisionist Odeon pressing excepted) sure to be overwhelmed by your system’s character and especially by your cartridge’s particular personality. “Yellow Submarine” sounds especially warm on every version auditioned, analog or digital.

The mono reissue’s bass is deep and powerful but is not heard as a heavy-handed EQ choice as it especially was on the stereo reissue, where it’s heard as “bass” and not as the contours and textures of the instrument producing the bass.

The reissue’s transparency and depth surpass that of the original and there’s more detail to be heard even as the original’s overall upper midrange/lower high frequency range is somewhat suppressed on the reissue compared to the original’s purposeful, shimmering glaze. In this case I think most listeners will prefer the reissue. Don’t worry though. It’s not soft. I think the reissue was somewhat toned done compared to the original because most people now as opposed to then listen on speakers with far more extended high frequency response. McCartney’s sibilants on “Eleanor Rigby still sear. Find the ideal level and the balance will produce close-miked but not strident strings and a very present Sir Paul in your room. Interestingly the background vocals in the mono mix appear well behind McCartney as intended while in the stereo mix they are simply panned laterally, which is not nearly as effective. The more you listen to and appreciate the mono mixes the less you’ll appreciate the lateral separation.

Another perfectly flat, perfectly quiet record, too.

BTW: I didn't read what I'd written a few years ago about the stereo box set reissue. I think it's quite consistent with what's written here.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Ben Adams's picture

Michael, looks like something happened to your formatting, as the second half of the review is in all italics.

Love the anecdotes!!!

Michael Fremer's picture
Early readers get to see the formatting, spelling and grammatical errors. I can't find them until they are published and once published I immediately fix....glad you enjoyed the anecdotes!
Brother John's picture

I just received an email this morning that I'll hopefully receive my Beatles mono box set Tuesday September 9th! After reading all of your reviews Mikey I can't wait hear what I've been missing out on most of my life!

bill lettang's picture

Hello Michael...on the SH site some have claimed there's distortion on the mono Revolver cd's. Did you notice any on them or the re-issues other than what may just be sounds inherent to the original recording.... like purposely distorted horns or guitars? P.S.,thanks for turntable/cartridge suggestions!

Michael Fremer's picture
Where? What tracks? What kind?
timorous's picture

On every mono pressing (and CD re-issue) of Revolver I've heard, there's some gross overload distortion after each of George's opening vocal lines. It's on the two (fuzzy sounding) cymbal crashes that follow each line. The stereo mix is noticebly less distorted. Must be tape saturation on the mono mix.

On another note..I recall reading Geoff Emerick's very interesting book on his recording career "Here, There and Everywhere", in which he states that George Harrison had a lot of trouble coming up with the 'perfect' solo on many recordings. So in this case, it is Paul who plays that searing solo on Taxman. Hmmmm.

DavidFell's picture

In this particular case, I wouldn't say Americans were cheated of the three songs omitted from the US version. We already had those songs, on "Yesterday and Today," albeit slightly different mixes.

That said, this UK lineup is rightfully the definitive version.

Michael Fremer's picture
But how often do you (or anyone) play "Yesterday and Today"?
DavidFell's picture

Before I had access to the UK Revolver, quite a bit!

nvinyl's picture

Waiting for my own copy of the Mono Box
What a fabulous read!!

bill lettang's picture

sorry Michael, the posters are vague on precise spots. I'll look for more credible specifics....."I Should Have Known Better"...sorry to waste your time....

Paul Boudreau's picture

"Revolver" is my favorite Fabs LP, although in the original version - the US one is a awful hatchet job. I found a mono US LP some time in the '90s once I had been clued into the "different mixes, official versions" idea and listened to it, waiting for "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "I'm Only Sleeping." I was peeved.

Actually my favorite Fabs "album" would be the original versions of "Rubber Soul" + "Paperback Writer/Rain" + "Revolver." An amazing listen all together and in order of release, too. Fits on one 80m CD, by the way.

skil's picture

Do we get the uber rare Take #11 or the common Take #8?

Michael Fremer's picture
Rare take 11 was scheduled to be on the final master. Geoff Emerick was about to cut lacquers on July 14th 1966 when the phone rang in the studio. It was George Martin requesting take 11 be removed and replaced with take 8. Since take 8 was on the original LP it is the take you will get in the box. After reading the history, I think there's an album to be had of alternative takes...somewhere down the road.
skil's picture

I seem to remember there was an initial pressing of 500? LP's that had Take #11 on them before the change to Take #8.

vhild's picture

I have one of those copies with mix 11:
Matrix / Runout (Runout Side 1): XEX-605-2
Matrix / Runout (Runout Side 2): XEX-606-1

skil's picture

Remix #11 appears on side two with the runout XEX-606-1. Remix #8 is on XEX-606-2

amarok89's picture

With the different piano at the end? At least that better be what I paid for a few years back.

Macca's picture

If you are interested in the famous take 11, it is included in a japanese 45th anniversary Yesterday and Today CD. I have it and it sounds really good.

bill lettang's picture

Hello Michael: In your fine reviews, an advantage the originals have over some of the reissues is transparency. My understanding of the word is: the more transparent a sound is, the less that sound has been altered or colored in some way. What do you listen for when determining the originals are more transparent than the re-issues?

WaltonGoggins's picture

Been waiting all summer for these games/reviews and can't wait for the next one, but the "season" is already half over, which is kinda sad. It is definitely a season to remember, though.

Devil Doc's picture

Great review, one of your best. The incorporation of your story was a great touch. I always like to tell the one about the first time I heard the alarm clock On PF's "Dark side of the Moon". Maybe a more appropriate time.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture important to understanding any art form, thanks for providing a historical context for "Revolver" to those who didn't live through the period. Even more importantly, thanks for providing a personal context for how you reviewed the album.

In violating the supposed journalistic rule of not making it about yourself, you've elevated the art of the review. Perhaps it works for you, and not others, because you've built up enough trust and credibility over the years.

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

I went into HMV's store here in Dublin yesterday and was delighted to see all The Beatles Mono LPs in the store, my elation didn't last long unfortunately, because when I got close to them the price knocked me back on my heels.

Reading these reviews of The Beatles Mono LPs had me really excited, but now I am totally deflated! The reason: HMV are charging $44 dollars for a single LP.

I would expect to that price for a US import but not for an EU pressing. It is unheard of, the recent Led Zeppelin reissues only cost $23 each.

The record company has made their money ten times over on The Beatles, why go way over the top on these reissues?

I love vinyl, have stuck with vinyl through the CD era, put my money where my mouth is, but this is just too much to take!

Thanks for the wonderful information on all these releases Michael! You have put a lot of effort into bringing us what to expect from these releases but I am going to have to pass because of the prices!

James, Dublin, Ireland

Puffer Belly's picture'll also love Bruce Spizer's 8 books. Both authors write well researched books about the Beatles.

azmoon's picture

The music is no eleven in my book. John's songs are great but Paul dips into the Burt Bacharach sugar bowl too much and George's lyrics are mundane ("I'll make love to you, if you want e too" ugh).

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...not so long ago, I was talking about music with an intelligent over 30 person. I mentioned the Beatles and she'd never heard of them. Never heard of Elvis either. She asked if I'd heard of several Asian artists. Nope. She was surprised because they'd sold many millions of records. Well, there you go. Music is largely tribal and contextual. Burt B is of an older tribe. For many, it doesn't matter if his stuff was any good - good question - it's just old fart stuff. The Beatles, however, seemed to float above these tribal memes. They defined new memes. Let's see if they last as long as Bach.

Macca's picture

I don't agree with you at all. I think Revolver shows McCartney at the peak of his creativity, with masterpieces such as Eleanor Rigby, Here There and Everywhere, For No One, and other great ones like Got to Get You Into My Life. Besides, it's the first time Paul has more songs than John in an album.

John's songs for Revolver are very good, but not as memorable as what he created for Rubber Soul (to me, RS is John's peak).

vinylsoul1965's picture

All you need to do is compare any other record recorded in 1966, save for Pet Sounds, to see the greatness of this record. "Burt Bacharach Sugar Bowl?". If that is the case, bring on the tooth decay and the extra weight! Revolver is one of the most important pop records of the 20th Century. There, I had the balls to say it!

daveming3's picture

"The Beatles had always admired the bass power of many Americans records compared to theirs and on Revolver they decided to find a way to pump up the bass—something that was obvious way back in 1966 to Beatle fans with decent stereos"

I remember reading an interview with one of the Beatles' engineers (forget which one and also forget the time period), but being a bass player myself, I took special note of the engineer's (or Paul's) insistence on overdubbing his bass parts LAST. That way the bass had as much fidelity as possible, since some fidelity was lost when bouncing multiple tracks from one 4 track recorder onto one track of another 4 track (the common practice during the 4 track era).

AnalogJ's picture

I just picked up the Beatles In Mono LP box from my local Newbury Comics store (whose manager insisted that they came in from Korea!). I'm very excited. I have to temper my day by some other musts such as voting in the political primary as well as reviewing a script (I'm an actor as well as musician).

In any event, here is my review of The Beatles In Mono Vinyl box:

Picking up this heavy, densely filled white box, it reminds me of another heavy white box we used to have in our possession. I remember when I was just a few years old, we had a new refrigerator delivered. It arrived in a large white box. I was fascinated with it. It became a source of much amusement for a young kid. It was a fort, a place to hide in, my own little home-let. It was also a source of fascination for the cat. The cat's warm, autumn-tinged colors was a contrast to the box, but inside, where it was dark, I could hardly make out the cat's colors. She and I shared a common space. It was our's. It took up a good deal of the living room, perhaps 1/3rd of it. My father moved the box to the basement, where me and my cat could enjoy endless hours of pretend time, though I don't how much the cat knew the distinction between pretending and reality. Still, it was a moment I remember like it was yesterday -- if I could only remember yesterday.

The shape of the Beatles In Mono box reminds me of a box into which you might put a cake or a large pie, if you were to turn it on its side. My favorite pie has always been cherry, but it's hard to find a fresh cherry pie in the Northeast. This area specializes in apple pies, of course, but also peach and strawberry pie, the latter sometimes paired with rhubarb, which turns it into strawberry rhubarb pie. We had rhubarb growing naturally in our backyard, but no strawberries. My mother baked occasionally, but not pies. She would bake the occasional cake, but more often fresh bread. There was a plum tree on our next door neighbor's property. She was able to make fresh plum preserves which we spread on the bread. I remember how much I loved those preserves.

There is an outer sleeve which encases the main record box on all but the top and bottom. The colorful printing is both bright and very sharp, both qualities I can also attribute to my wife. The outer sleeve fits the box very tightly, an attribute my wife likes about me.

Comparing the CD mono box to this new release, there are many similarities, but this one is much larger. The 2014 box creates a much more substantial impression. Compared to the 2012 stereo box, however, the stereo box has a much blacker background, whereas the mono LP box appears much brighter. You can turn down the lights, though, and reduce the brightness affect.

All in all, a sterling job on the box, not an Optimal one. In later posts, I hope to render reviews on the records themselves. I expect them to be round and flat. We'll see.

jahnghalt's picture

Rick Tomaszewicz wrote:

"Let's see if (The Beatles) last as long as Bach."

From your lips to God's ears. Wouldn't we all like to see if they last so long - though I think Mozart is a more apt comparison.

and referred to "the supposed journalistic rule of not making it about yourself"

Too many journalists in the USA publish what they believe and let their beliefs inform which facts they use and experts they quote. So their "rules" may not be such a good guide. I encourage Fremer to continue with his personal stories.

I hear Cornell is a tough school. Good job to buckle down and stick around. There are (were) enough hours in the day to have fun (beer and babes) and do the job of grinding through a University curriculum (books).