Following the similarly groundbreaking Rubber Soul released the year prior, Revolver saw the world’s greatest pop band making a brazen statement of musical intent
The Time The Beatles Went Baroque
Cameron B. Gunnoe is an American writer, musician, and podcast personality. He holds a B.A. from Concord University and, in his free time, enjoys live music, nonfiction literature, and collecting vinyl. Follow Cameron on Twitter and Instagram
The Beatles’ Revolver remains one of the most audacious and sonically diverse collections of music ever to be laid to tape. Following the similarly groundbreaking Rubber Soul released the year prior, Revolver saw the world’s greatest pop band making a brazen statement of musical intent. Harnessing the vocabulary of their broader musical influences for the first time on record, The Beatles were able to assemble disparate worlds of musical language in such a way as to consolidate them into a single unified artifact of pop mastery.
It was during the production of Revolver that The Beatles began to truly stretch out and nurture their individual musical idiosyncrasies. George Harrison would make unprecedented use of the sitar and non-western musical techniques with “Love You To,” while John Lennon began his incorporation of psychedelic elements into the band’s music through manipulation of tape loops and backmasking with “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I’m Only Sleeping.” Paul McCartney was always the most studious of the group – he had planned to teach before achieving success with The Beatles – which reflected in his affinity for classic music, from which he often incorporate compositional elements into the structures of his own writing. McCartney’s more sophisticated tendencies are readily apparent throughout revolver, with tracks such as “Good Day Sunshine,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” and of course “Eleanor Rigby” demonstrating his compositional proficiency. One track of his stands out among the others, however. “For No One” is a stark piano ballad that more closely resembles the work of Bach than that of Chuck Berry. Devoid of the bright, direct textures of the Classical era as well as the lush, melodic adventurousness of the Romantic era, the song exists within a transparent shell of sorts wherein even the melodic instruments exude a discernible percussive quality. The interaction of the melodic movement of the chords against that of – what essentially is a pop vocal – is a fascinating juxtaposition, even more so when a french horn is brought in for a heavily contrapuntal solo section, then again beneath the third verse. The skeletal structure of the backing track serves as appropriate reinforcement for McCartney’s meditations on the futility of love. Aside from Ringo Starr who was brought in to contribute drums and percussion, McCartney was the only Beatle to participate in the recording of this tune, foreshadowing subsequent albums on which tracks were often recorded with as many as three band members absent. Further accentuating the moody and peculiar atmosphere of the track is the atypical key in which it was recorded. Played in the standard key of B major, the instruments used in the session were tuned slightly flat, leaving the song somewhere between the sounding keys of B major and Bb major.
The Beatles would continue pushing sonic and cultural boundaries with each release, leaving a slew of quintessential albums in their wake and effectively setting an inscrutable benchmark of artistic achievement. Revolver marked the beginning of The Beatles as a true studio band and provided the capacity through which they were able channel the abstract within their music. Still, beyond the studio wizardry and production magic which typify the band’s most extolled material, exceptional songs always lie at the heart of the production. This is certainly the case in the instance of the production-heavy Revolver, and indeed in that of Paul McCartney’s love letter to the 1600s: “For No One.”
Listen to “For No One” , Paul McCartney’s love letter to the 1600s
Listen to “Revolver” on Spotify
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