The Beatles

Revolution

Composed by John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Song Review by

As the B-side of "Hey Jude," "Revolution" formed one-half of a worthy contender for the best rock single of all time. As with another contender, "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever," each side represented one of the best and most characteristic songwriting efforts by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, respectively (even if they were billed to Lennon-McCartney jointly, out of contractual custom). "Revolution" was, of course, quite different in tone from "Hey Jude," one of the group's best ballads. In contrast, "Revolution" was one of their greatest, most furious rockers, also featuring some of Lennon's most challenging, fiery lyrics. It must first be noted that two entirely different arrangements of "Revolution" were recorded and released. A slow one with doo wop-inspired harmonies, officially titled "Revolution 1," appeared on The Beatles (popularly known as the White Album); the faster and, most would agree, superior version appeared on the B-side of the "Hey Jude" single. The song described here will be the single version, simply entitled "Revolution." Leading off with a startling machine-gun fuzz guitar riff and a scream, the heart immediately starts pounding before Lennon goes into the first verse. (Trivia note: An obscure 1954 recording by bluesman Pee Wee Crayton, "Do Unto Others," has an opening riff that sounds almost identical to the riff that opens "Revolution." Coincidence, or not?) Combining one of his throatiest vocals and the consistently buzzing, fuzzy guitars, you have one of the most down-and-dirty Beatles tracks ever. In "Revolution," Lennon seems to be questioning, quite reasonably, the validity of changing the world through violent means. He was setting himself up for criticism from all sides here, particularly in the turbulent year of 1968: the establishment was angered by anyone talking about "Revolution" in any context, while some of the left viewed refusal to overthrow society by any means necessary as a cowardly sellout. Lennon is quite emphatic, however, that when it comes to violence, you can count him out. (Typically, he would sit on the fence on this issue over the years, and in "Revolution 1," qualify his observation by immediately singing the word "in" after declaring that he could be counted out.) Characteristically, optimism prevails in the Beatles' world, even when taking on one of the most explosive subjects possible, as on the uplifting chorus (helped greatly by harmony vocals), when the group urgently and repeatedly reassures listeners that everything's going to be all right. Those reassurances become sing-shouts in the final refrain, though the loud guitar figures in the background imply that everything might not be all right, as does a final near-hysterical repetition of the phrase by Lennon. "Revolution," incidentally, was one of the few Beatles tracks to feature a contribution from an outside rock session musician, Nicky Hopkins, who adds ebullient keyboards to the performance.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Hey Jude 1968 Apple
Hey Jude 1970 Capitol / Universal 3:27
1967-1970 1973 EMI Catalogue 3:25
No Image 1976 Capitol 3:24
No Image 1980 Capitol 3:21
No Image 1984 MGM
Past Masters, Vol. 2 1988 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:24
Past Masters 1988 EMI Catalogue 3:25
Ultra Rare Trax, Vol. 5 1989 3:19
No Image 1991 Yellow Dog Records
No Image 1992 Toshiba EMI
Unsurpassed Demos 1993 Yellow Dog Records
No Image 1994 VigoTone
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol
No Image 199? VigoTone
1 2000
1
Apple Corps
As It Happened: The Classic Interviews 2000 Enlightenment 2:10
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 EMI Catalogue 3:22
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol 3:24
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 3:25
The Singles Box Set 2011 Apple
Tomorrow Never Knows 2012 Apple/Capitol/EMI 3:25
The U.S. Albums 2014 Capitol / Universal 3:27
The Beatles in Mono [Vinyl Box Set] 2014 Capitol
blue highlight denotes editor's pick