By Bruce Spizer
Although quickly over-shadowed in 1967 by the Beatles follow-up LP, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver is now considered by many critics and fans to be the Beatles best album. It was issued at a time before the Beatles gained complete artistic control over their albums and singles released by Capitol Records in America, so the U.S. version of the album only had 11 of the 14 tracks contained on the British release. (The other three songs had previously been issued on Capitol’s Yesterday And Today collection about six weeks ahead of the early August 1966 release of Revolver.) And while the American version of Revolver is quite remarkable in and of itself, the 14-track British release is by far superior unless you believe that three more John Lennon songs is a bad thing.
With Revolver, the Beatles were looking for more color in their recordings, trying new instruments and techniques. But they were not using studio wizardry to cover weaknesses; they were looking for new sounds to enhance their already brilliant songs. George Martin and the Abbey Road engineers effectively utilized 1966 technology to record an album unlike any that had preceded it. Each song had its own distinct sound and feel, yet the collection held together as a well-coordinated album.
Unlike today, where digital recording provides an endless number of tracks to separately record each voice and instrument, the Abbey Road crew was limited to a four-track recorder. This forced them to record multiple instruments and/or voices onto a single track, greatly restricting the placement of sounds in the final stereo mix. These limitations increased when two or more tracks were mixed down to a single track to free up tracks on the four-track for overdubs. For example, if the bass, rhythm guitar and tambourine were initially recorded on separate tracks but then mixed down to a single track, those instruments had to be placed together in the final stereo mix.
Digital technology has enabled recordings from the sixties to be remixed in ways not previously possible. The first big advance came when engineers were able to go back to the initial tracks before they had been mixed down, and then run them simultaneously with the later overdubs that had been recorded onto separate tracks. By going backwards and running these separate tracks in sync, engineers were often able to expand the four tracks to eight or more tracks, adding greater flexibility to the mix. But that didn’t solve the problem of how to separate instruments and voices that were initially recorded onto a single track. For example, if the bass, rhythm guitar and drums were on a single track from the start, those instruments had to be placed together in the stereo mix. The three instruments could be placed in the left channel, the right channel or in both channels, which would cause the sound to be heard from the center.
The breakthrough came with Peter Jackson’s work on the Get Back project. The film’s soundtrack was recorded in 1969 on mono tape recorders. In many cases, conversations between Beatles were difficult to hear due to other sounds on the mono tape such as the Beatles playing their instruments and/or others having their own conversations. By using Artificial Intelligence technology to recognize the distinguishing features of different instruments and voices, Jackson’s WingNut Films was able to isolate and separate the multiple voices and instruments recorded on the mono tape, in effect, demixing the contents on the tape. This enabled Jackson to present clean-sounding conversations in the film without the other extraneous sounds.
This same WingNut AI demixing process was used on the original master tapes from the Revolver sessions. For example, on “Taxman,” the drums, bass and rhythm guitar were all recorded on a single track, meaning that those instruments had to be placed together in the stereo mix. But after the WingNut AI demixing process, each instrument became, in effect, a separate track. This gave Giles Martin and Sam Okell complete flexibility as to their remix, enabling them to place the drums in the center, and place the guitar and bass elsewhere. It was as if someone went back in time to 1966 and had the Beatles record Revolver on a 64-track recorder rather than a mere four-track.
The results of the Revolver 2022 remix are breathtaking. The clarity of each instrument and vocal brings an intimacy to the listening experience that was not previously possible. The gritty guitar work on tracks such as “Taxman” and “She Said She Said” sound even more powerful. The exquisite harmonies on “Here, There And Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” surround the listener. The strings on “Eleanor Rigby” place the listener in the middle of a string octet. The enhanced placement of the sound effects and odd-ball voices on “Yellow Submarine” add to the song’s party atmosphere, while “Tomorrow Never Knows” sounds even freakier.
The 2022 remix fixes some of the oddities present in the original stereo mix. On the 1966 mix of “Eleanor Rigby,” Paul’s vocal on the first verse is briefly heard in the left channel before panning to the right channel. On the remix, Paul’s lead vocal is straight down the middle. And, in keeping with the policy of basing the stereo mix on the mono mix, the stereo remix of “Yellow Submarine” now has the acoustic guitar and Ringo’s vocal start simultaneously at the beginning of the song as on the mono mix. The 1966 stereo mix delayed the acoustic guitar until after Ringo had sung “In the,” with the first chord coming in on “town.”
The remixed album also gives the listener greater appreciation for all of George’s songs on the LP. While “Taxman” is still the standout, “I Want To Tell You” and “Love You To” also shine.
In addition to the 2022 stereo remix, the Revolver Super Deluxe Edition contains a 2022 remaster of the mono album. The mono vinyl was cut directly from the original analogue master tape from 1966, with cutting engineer Sean Magee guided by cutting engineer Harry Moss’ mastering notes from 1966. The mono CD was mastered by Thomas Hall from a 24-bit/96kHz digital recording of the 1966 master tape guided by those same notes. The collection also an EP with 2022 stereo remixes and 2022 mono remasters of the two songs pulled from the sessions for exclusive single release, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” But for most fans, the most interesting part of the box set will be the two discs of outtakes and demos.
While curious fans and music historians will always want more outtakes, the two discs provide several revealing and memorable moments, as well as an enjoyable listening experience. Fortunately, Apple has moved on from its policy of not repeating outtakes that previously appeared on Anthology. This is a welcomed decision as fans do not want to pull out Anthology to hear essential outtakes not included in the reissue box sets. Although the outtakes were not put through the WingNut AI demixing process, the 2022 mixes of the outtakes take advantage of the latest technology and are superior to the earlier Anthology mixes, some of which were edited. Apple has also allowed more studio banter to accompany the outtakes.
The running order of the outtakes in the box set is chronological as to when the track was recorded. This gives the listener an opportunity to hear how the remarkable recording session progressed. The text in the book included with the vinyl and CD box set discusses the tracks in the order of their appearance on the album, followed “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.”
As was the case with Anthology, the box set contains Take 11 of the album’s opening track, “Taxman.” This has a guitar bit not in the finished master as well as the “Anybody got a bit of money, anybody got a bit of money?” falsetto refrain that would be replaced by the more stylish references to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath. The new version is remixed in the same style as the 2022 album remix and is vastly superior to the Anthology 2 version. It also has a little bit more of banter at the beginning and a sliding bass note at the end.
After the recording of the first take of the string octet backing for “Eleanor Rigby,” George Martin had a discussion with Paul regarding whether the musicians should add vibrato or play it straight. At Martin’s request, the musicians play the same segment with and without vibrato. After Paul admits he can’t really tell the difference, Martin makes the right call, telling the musicians to play the song without vibrato. This fascinating discussion is included in the box set prior to its inclusion of Take 2, an instrumental backing that has subtle differences from the take selected for the master. Anthology 2 contains the instrumental string backing of the master take.
The box set contains the same rehearsal fragment of “I’m Only Sleeping” found on Anthology 2, but with a little bit of added banter and notes at the end. Anthology 2 also contains Take 1 of the April 29 attempted remake of “I’m Only Sleeping,” with John on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul providing a harmony vocal, George on electric guitar and Ringo on tambourine. John’s presong announcement of “I’m Only Sleeping, Take 1” is actually from the April 27 session. While the box set does not rerun Take 1, it does contain Take 2 from the April 29 session, which breaks down at about the 1:15 mark, although the tape runs for another minute, capturing George Martin’s discussion about the balance of the guitars, banter from John and instrumental noodling. The box set also contains Take 5 from April 27. The group, knowing that the tape of the song would be slowed down to give the track a dream-like effect, played the song at a fast pace, with John on acoustic guitar, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, all recorded on a single track of the four-track recorder. John is heard in a few places with off-mike vocals to mark the place in the song. Finally, the box set includes Mono Remix 1 (“MR1”), which was sent to Capitol for inclusion on its Yesterday And Today album. George Martin later remixed the song for the British mono release.
While Anthology 2 has no outtakes of “Love You To,” the box set contains three. First up is Take 1 of the song, with George on vocal and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Paul on harmony vocal. At this stage, the song was in the key of D minor (considered by classical composers to the most melancholy of the keys). The box set also contains a rehearsal with George on sitar and Paul on tamboura (a four-string Indian drone instrument). The later takes of the song were played in C minor. The box set contains Take 7, complete with Paul’s harmony vocal, but without the song’s instrumental introduction, which was edited to the front of the master take. Kevin Howlett’s notes in the box set’s book confirm that George did indeed paly the intricate sitar part on the song. Harrison also overdubbed a fuzz guitar part. The track does not have bass guitar.
The box set contains Take 6 of “Here, There And Everywhere,” which is one of only two complete takes of the song. The track features Paul’s electric guitar and lead vocal backed by George on electric 12-string guitar and Ringo on drums. Even without the three-part harmony backing vocals of John, Paul and George, the song’s beauty comes through strong, although Paul’s lead vocal is more tentative than on Take 13, which was selected for the master.
“Yellow Submarine” has always been viewed as a children’s fantasy song written by Paul for Ringo. But a two-part songwriting work tape included in the box set demonstrates that the song’s verses evolved from a deeply personal and stark song that John was working on. Backed only by his acoustic guitar, John sings: “In the place where I was born/No one cared, no one cared/And the name that I was born/No one cared, no one cared.” Towards the end of tape, John changes the opening line to “In the town where I come from.”
But what started as a Bob Dylan/Woodie Guthrie-type song magically transformed into a party song for children of all ages when John’s song fragment (keeping the same melody) was merged with Paul’s catchy chorus about a yellow submarine. The second part of the tape features a new set of lyrics that replace John’s somber words with lines retrofitted to go with Paul’s upbeat chorus. When John suggests that Paul sing the rewritten verses, Paul tells him: “No…you know how to sing it.” After John responds, “oh yeah, OK,” Paul asks him: “Can you read that?” This implies that John will need to read the lyrics that were handwritten by Paul. John then strums his acoustic guitar and sings the new set of words over his original melody: “In the town where I was born, lived a man who sailed to sea/And he told me of his life and the land of submarines.” This is followed by the same second verse to the song as the finished version of the song. The chorus, sung by John and Paul, isn’t yet in its final form and contains a silly call-and-response: “We all live in a yellow submarine (Look out!), yellow submarine (Get down!), yellow submarine.” After the song breaks down, Paul does an impersonation of George Martin: “Now, come on, chaps. Cut it out! We gotta get a song done.” They then do the song again, this time repeating the same verses and chorus two times, except John sings “And he told us of his life.” At this stage, only the first and second verses had been written.
This fascinating work tape is followed by Take 4 of the song, featuring Ringo on lead vocal, prior to the addition of the sound effects and extraneous vocal shenanigans. The final piece of the story is a mix that showcases the sound effects preceded by a spoken introduction, similar to the version of the song contained on “Real Love” maxi-CD that was released in close proximity to Anthology 2.
By the time John recorded a demo tape of “She Said She Said” he had changed his original lyrics from “He said” (referring to Peter Fonda) to “She said.” The box set contains John’s demo, complete with the temporary line “it’s making me feel like my trousers are torn.” The box set also contains Take 15, which is an instrumental backing with John and George on guitars, Ringo on drums and Paul on bass, putting to rest speculation that George overdubbed bass after Paul stormed out of the session. (Paul did leave prior to the superimposition of the vocals, so only John and George are heard singing on the finished master.) On the box set, the track is proceeded with John encouraging the lads: “Keep going. Last track! Last track!” (This studio banter actually took place before an earlier take.)
Although the box set does not contain any outtakes of “Good Day Sunshine,” Howlett’s notes provide some previously unknown information regarding the recording of the song. While the tape box and recording sheet for the session show three takes of “Good Day Sunshine,” the tape reel contains six takes, with the one designated as Take 1 marked as “BEST.” Track one has the instrumental backing consisting of Paul on piano, George on bass, John on tambourine and Ringo on drums. The overdubbed vocals and additional instruments were recorded on the remaining three tracks.
The box set contains three outtakes of “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which was originally titled “You Don’t Get Me.” The first version of the song, recorded on April 20, features John on rhythm guitar, George on his 12-string Rickenbacker, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums. The box set contains Take 2, with its instrumental backing and the first set of backing vocals. The song has Byrds-like quality. Anthology 2 has a version of this take during which John and Paul got a case of the giggles when recording their second set of vocals over the backing track. The box set has this same take, but with the straight vocal track mixed out to enable the listener to better hear John and Paul cracking up. The group recorded a re-make of the song on April 26. The early takes consisted of John on rhythm guitar, Paul on bass, George on lead guitar and Ringo on drums. Take 5 was initially considered the best and was given overdubs, including vocals by John and Paul. This performance is included in the box set. John jokingly describes the song’s tempo as “moderato foxtrot.” It has a totally different feel than the earlier version and the finished master, sounding more like a very talented bar band, with Ringo bashing his drums and cymbals. The group wisely recorded additional takes with a different sound before settling on Take 10 as the new “BEST” recording.
The box set contains the instrumental backing of “For No One” prior to the addition of Paul’s vocal and Alan Civil’s French horn solo. This stripped-down version enables the listener to more clearly hear Paul playing clavichord (mixed left).
The box set contains Take 7 of the unedited version of “Doctor Robert,” which clocks in at nearly three minutes. When the instrumental backing for Take 7 was recorded, the group accidently played the middle eight three times instead of two. John realized this mistake and the following notation was made on the tape box: “On remix 3RD 8 to be cut out.” The version appearing on the Revolver album, with the third middle eight edited out, runs slightly over two minutes.
The box set offers very little insight into the recording of “I Want To Tell You,” although we do get to hear the studio banter from the start of the session regarding the name of the song. The track starts with George Martin asking, “What do you call it, George?” John responds with “Granny Smith Part Friggin’ Two” in reference to the initial “Granny Smith” title given to “Love You To.” Engineer Geoff Emerick suggests another brand of apple, “Laxton’s Superb.” This is followed by Take 4, which quickly breaks down.
“Got To Get You Into My Life” is represented by three tracks. The first is the same outtake of the first version of the song selected for Anthology 2 (Take 5), but with studio banter preceding the performance of the song, which fades earlier on the Anthology 2 mix. This is followed by a mono mix of the second version of the song that was made prior to the brass overdubs that were recorded over tracks that contained fuzz guitar riffs (that were replaced by the horn riffs), a second bass part by Paul and falsetto backing vocals by John and George. This fascinating mix enables the listener to hear yet another phase in the evolution of the song. Finally, the box set contains Take 8 with the original horn overdubs over two tracks before they were mixed down to a single track. This instrumental backing also contains a guitar part that was not transferred over during the reduction mix that was made to free up a track for the superimposition of Paul’s vocal.
“Tomorrow Never Knows” is represented in the box set with two tracks. First is Take 1, which was one of the highlights of the Revolver tracks selected for Anthology 2. This fascinating early version of the song appears in a superior mix with the drums in the center. The box set also contains Mono Remix 11 (“MR 11”) of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which appeared only on a limited number of the first pressings of the mono album before George Martin had the master for the album recut with MR 8 of the song. (It has been estimated that only 3,00 to 4,000 copies of the mono LP were pressed with MR 11.) The inclusion of this relatively rare mix is a nice bonus for completists and collectors.
The sessions discs also include outtakes of the single pulled from the sessions. First up is Takes 1 and 2 of the backing track for “Paperback Writer.” After Take 1 breaks down, the boys quickly move on to Take 2, which was used for the finished master. This backing would be given numerous overdubs to form the finished master. Although many fans were aware that the instrumental track for “Rain” was recorded at a fast pace and then slowed down to give it a heavier sound, the box set’s inclusion of the unaltered Take 5 (augmented by Paul’s overdubbed bass at the same speed) lets listeners know what the backing originally sounded like. The song’s rapid tempo is jaw-dropping. While Ringo’s drumming on the single is one of his finest moments, it is even more impressive when one hears how fast and precise he was actually playing. This is followed by Take 5 after the tape was slowed down from 50 kilocycles per second to 42 kilocycles for the superimposition of John’s lead vocal. The unaltered Take 5 of “Rain” runs for 2:35, while the slowed down version is 3:07 long.
This incredible selection of outtakes and demos will, of course, leave many fans and music historians (including me!) wishing even more such tracks were on the discs. While each of the two CDs could have easily accommodated several more tracks, I suspect the reason this was not done was to have the content on the two CDs match the content on the two vinyl discs, which cannot contain as much music as CDs. Unlike the earlier releases in the series, there is no Blu-ray disc. This means that there is no 5.1 mix included in the box set, although an Atmos mix is available for download.
The box sets in the album reissue series have been evolving as those involved find ways to tweak the packaging and the content. Apple seems to have settled on a full album-size box for both the CD version and the vinyl version, with the number of CDs matching the number of vinyl discs. The use of an EP for the related singles also seems here to stay. Kevin Howlett’s notes are getting more comprehensive, which is a good thing.
The super deluxe edition of Revolver is another solid “A” from Apple and all involved. The book is both informative and attractive. It contains a forward by Paul McCartney, an introduction from Giles Martin, a guest essay from Questlove, an extract from cover artist Klaus Voormann’s graphic novel on the creation of the album’s famous cover, and extensive notes from Kevin Howlett on the recording sessions and reception of the album. The illustrations include several studio and time appropriate images, including tape boxes from the sessions. The CD sleeves for the outtake discs feature Robert Freeman’s unused design for the front album cover on the front and alternate Robert Whitaker photographs on the back. Freeman’s cover design is particularly impressive on the full-size album jacket in the vinyl edition of the box set, which is highly recommended for those who appreciate quality vinyl releases. As for the musical content, the 2022 remix, the 2022 mono remaster and the discs of outtakes create both an enjoyable listening experience and a fascinating history lesson on the making of an incredible album.