Monday, August 19, 2013

"Revolution 20"

From The Onion's A.V. Club:
In 1968, The Beatles released three versions of "Revolution." "Revolution 1" is the mellow, mostly acoustic version that leads off side four of The White Album. "Revolution 2," released as the flip side of "Hey Jude," is the anthemic, guitar-driven version you're most familiar with. "Revolution 9" is the self-indulgent marathon of found sounds and tape loops, also from The White Album.
Still, rumors have abounded for years that the group recorded as many as 22 different takes on the song, each as different to each other as the three we're familiar with. But, as none were included on The Beatles Anthology, it was assumed they would never see the light of day, if they existed at all.
But yesterday, Open Culture posted almost completely unheard—albeit, uploaded to YouTube in 2009—material from 45-year-old sessions by the most scrutinized band of all time. "Revolution 20" is a 10-minute long alternate take on the song. After some chatter from the band (a snippet of which you'll recognized from "Revolution 2"), the song starts off in a similar vein to The White Album version, but gets progressively stranger as it goes, with a few clips also used in "Revolution 9" making an appearance. It may not replace the single version in anyone's iPod, but it's a fascinating glimpse at The Beatles' process as they attacked the song from all angles before settling on the versions they wanted to release.
What I find so interesting about "Revolution 20" is that it represents a rather unlikely bridge between "Revolution 1" and "Revolution 9" - a pair of songs situated on opposite ends of the musical style and accessibility spectrum. "Revolution 20" doesn't exactly make sense of the radical disparity, but it links the two "White Album" entries in a way that we likely couldn't have imagined on our own.
There's a subtle sense of balance about the recording that caught my ear. The first four minutes or so hew somewhat closely to "Revolution 1," with one major exception being the squealing Mellotron line inserted at many points. It plays like a cautionary intimation of the madness to come. But when the chaotic experimental jam does kick in, it's leavened to a certain degree by the background "shoo-bi-doo-wahs" that recur throughout the entire track. Amidst a heated avant-garde digression, these classic rock 'n' roll garnishes stand out, almost as if they're waving the flag for familiarity and conventionality.
To be sure, "Revolution 20" is still a very first-half vs. second-half kind of construction, but the break isn't perfectly clean. The pop side and the experimental side interact with one another for the full running time, creating symmetry where it doesn't seem to belong.
A shorter description: "Revolution 20" is weird, serious, playful, and indulgent all at once (sounds like John, no?). Have a listen below. If nothing else, what a fertile and creative period for The Beatles, despite the friction and infighting. Somehow, their art was still soaring.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

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