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(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
The Beatles have personally sited many influences that have contributed to individual songs they have written. Smokey Robinson is high on their list (inspiring "All I've Got To Do"), while nods have also been given to Bob Dylan ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away"), The Byrds, ("If I Needed Someone"), Elvis Presley ("Run For Your Life"), Little Richard ("I'm Down") and Chuck Berry ("Back In The U.S.S.R.") as well as many, many others. It appears that The Beatles would draw from any and every musical inspiration that would come their way.
But how about non-musical inspirations? Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German avant-garde composer who did much in spearheading the use of recordings comprised of aleatory (controlled chance) sounds, described by many as “musique concrete.” Paul, and then John, became enamored with his work, which began to quench their thirst for being as creative in the recording studio as possible. This led to Stockhausen's face being among the crowd on the front cover of their “Sgt. Pepper” album as well as the McCartney instigated “Carnival Of Light” recording The Beatles made on January 5th, 1967 (which as yet has never been released). In 1968, with avant-garde artist Yoko Ono by his side, Lennon decided to up the ante and create what he considered the ultimate experiment in random electronic sound; namely “Revolution 9.”
Never before or since has there been this extensive of an audience for such an experimental and controversial genre of music. Over 9.5 million American record buyers have a copy of this song in their music collection as part of The Beatles' “White Album,” whether they like it or not. And many do!
"Well, the slow version of 'Revolution' on the album went on and on and on," John related in his Playboy interview from 1980, his song reference here regarding "Revolution 1" as heard on the "White Album." He continues: "I took the fade-out part, which is what they sometimes do with disco records now, and just layered all this stuff over it. It has the basic rhythm of the original 'Revolution' going on with some twenty loops we put on, things from the archives of EMI."
From this quote it can easily be surmised that “Revolution 9” was written, you might say, in the recording studio by compiling tapes to use for tape loops as well as recording additional pieces to be mixed along with the last six minutes of the previously recorded “Revolution 1.” Therefore, the true history of the song's writing will be contained in the subheading “Recording History.”
However, John had indicated in interviews that he previously did have the intention to assemble a montage such as “Revolution 9” and that it wasn't just an afterthought once “Revolution 1” was recorded. “It was somewhat under her influence, I suppose,” Lennon stated in reference to Yoko Ono. “Once I heard her stuff – not just the screeching and the howling but her sort of word pieces and talking and breathing and all this strange stuff, I thought, 'My God.' I got intrigued, so I wanted to do one.” Yoko had performed various times with composer and artist John Cage, who was known for his unconventional experimentation with musical sounds. So this influence, along with the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (his recording “Hymnen” is sited by some as a direct influence), appears to have been the motivation for “Revolution 9.”
However, John's idea for creating such a montage may have come from yet another source, although he never admitted it publicly. “'Revolution 9' was quite similar to some stuff I'd been doing myself for fun,” relates Paul in the book “Beatles Anthology,” adding: “I didn't think that mine was suitable for release, but John always encouraged me.” Paul had become intrigued with the works of Stockhausen, as well as others of the experimental genre, as far back as 1965, this leading him to create home-made recordings put together with various tape loops. These “little symphonies” (as they are referred to in McCartney's book “Many Years From Now”) were the primary catalyst for Paul's studio ideas used on “Tomorrow Never Knows” from The Beatles' “Revolver” album, which was the first time The Beatles used tape loops on a recording. “People tend to credit John with the backwards recordings, the loops and the weird sound effects, but the tape loops were my thing,” Paul explains. “It was nice for this to leak into the Beatle stuff as it did.”
Paul, as it turned out, was not involved at all in the writing, of “Revolution 9,” he being in New York during much of its conception and assemblage. However, it could be said that, other than John, the other two Beatles did contribute to its writing. “Ringo and I compiled that,” George explains. “We went into the tape library and looked through the entire room and pulled main selections and gave the tapes to John, and he cut them together...The whole thing, 'Number nine, number nine,' is because I pulled the box number nine...John sat there and decided which bits to cross-fade together but, if Ringo and I hadn't gone there in the first place, he wouldn't have had anything.” George also contributed some spoken ad-libs which made it onto the finished product, so this too could substantiate George as a co-writer of the song. Of course, John's wife-to-be can easily be included as a writer as well. “Yoko was there for the whole thing and she made decisions about which loops to use,” Lennon explains.
As indicated above, the recording of "Revolution 9" stems directly from their recording of "Revolution 1," which transpired on May 30th and 31st, as well as June 4th, 1968. (The brass and lead guitar overdub for "Revolution 1" on June 21st did not play a part in "Revolution 9.")
While the majority of what made up “Revolution 9” consisted of tape loops, certain elements of the underlying last six minutes of the original “Revolution 1” did surface on the finished product. These include John's repeated shouting of the words “Right” and “Alright” along with his moaning during his initial lead vocal performance, as well as his and Yoko's banter that include her off-the-wall phrase “you become naked,” these being recorded on 'take 18' of the initial rhythm track on May 30th, 1968. (For the full documentation of how “Revolution 1” was recorded, Click Here.)
The first day that attention was given to what we know as “Revolution 9” was June 6th, 1968. The Beatles had assembled in EMI Studio Two on this day at 2:30 pm for work on Ringo's song “Don't Pass Me By,” this rather extensive work taking until approximately midnight. Before they left for the evening, however, sound effects had begun being acquired for future use in “Revolution 9.” Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” describes the effects John assembled as “some of his own making, others culled from his own and the Abbey Road collections.”
There were twelve of such sound effects compiled on this day, some of which, we can easily assume, were taken directly from the “trusty green cabinet” of the EMI tape library, although some may have been made by Lennon in his home studio beforehand. The ones taken from the EMI library were presumably retrieved by George and Ringo as George had indicated in interviews since they were both present on this day and were out of the country when the remaining sound effects were collected. This means that the “number nine, number nine” tape was acquired on this day. Engineer Richard Lush remembers: “The 'number nine' voice came off an examination tape. John thought that was a real hoot! He made a loop of just that bit and had it playing constantly on one machine, fading it in or out when he wanted it, along with the backwards orchestral stuff and everything else.” Engineer Stuart Eltham relates: “Abbey Road used to do taped examinations for the Royal Academy of Music. The tapes aren't around now.” Therefore, the identity of the voice is apparently lost forever.
John had this to say about that particular tape loop: “The 'number nine...' was an engineer's voice. They have test tapes to see that the tapes are all right, and the voice was saying: 'This is number nine megacycles...' I just liked the way he said 'number nine' so I made a loop and brought it in whenever I felt like it...It was just so funny, the voice saying 'number nine,' it was like a joke, bringing 'number nine' in it all the time, that's all it was. There are many symbolic things about it, but it just happened.”
John elaborated further on the personal significance of this number. “In June 1952, I drew four guys playing football and 'number nine' is the number on the guy's back, and that was pure coincidence. I was born on 9th October. I lived at 9 Newcastle Road. Nine seems to be my number so I've stuck with it, and it's the highest number in the universe, after that you go back to one...It's just a number that follows me around, but numerologically, apparently I'm a number six or a three or something, but it's all part of nine.”
As for the twelve sound effects that were collected on this day, five of them were simply labeled as “Various,” the “number nine” recording undoubtedly being one of them. The other six were labeled as follows: “Vicars Poems,” “Queen's Mess,” “Come Dancing Combo,” "Organ Last Will Test," “Neville Club,” “Theatre Outing” and “Applause/TV Jingle.” Note must be taken, though, that not all of these sound effects were necessarily used for “Revolution 9” since some of these became part of the stage adaptation of Lennon's book “In His Own Write,” the London premier of which was at the Old Vic theatre in London on June 18th, 1968, directed by actor/friend Victor Spinetti. On this day, however the session ended after the sound effects were recorded and labeled, the EMI doors apparently closing at 2:45 am the following morning.
The next session concerning “Revolution 9” was June 10th, 1968. With both George and Ringo absent on this day, they both flying out to America from June 7th to the 18th, John utilized this studio time by himself (with Yoko undoubtedly by his side) to assemble yet more sound effects for his brainchild “sound collage” masterpiece. He arrived in EMI Studio Three at 2:30 pm to capture three more sound effects onto tape for eventual use on the finished product, although none of these were apparently named at the time. It also appears that none of the effects yet recorded for this track were cut into loops yet, only committed to tape to be cut and spliced together at a future session. This session was over early, John and Yoko documented to have left the studio at 5:45 pm.
The next day, June 11th, 1968, with George and Ringo still out of the country, both John and Paul assembled in EMI Studios for more work on what became the “White Album.” However, Paul arrived at 6:30 pm and worked alone in EMI Studio Two working on a new composition of his entitled “Blackbird” while John arrived at 7 pm and worked alone (along with Yoko) in EMI Studio Three compiling yet more sound effects for “Revolution 9.”
Producer George Martin had recently acquired a new assistant, the young Chris Thomas, who ultimately got his feet wet by becoming a producer for certain Beatles sessions during the making of the “White Album.” Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” explains: “One by-product of Chris's being there as surrogate producer was that The Beatles – who clearly didn't like being in one another's company anymore – were able to split up into small groups, working simultaneously in two or even all three of the studios in the Abbey Road complex. This soon became standard operating procedure for much of the rest of the 'White Album.' It was as if the four band members were so much in separate spaces personally, they wanted to make their record in separate spaces physically. On those evenings, I would normally work with Paul because I had the best rapport with him...That was the situation on the night that we worked on...'Blackbird.'”
Emerick continues: “Neither Ringo nor George was present on that particular evening, and John wanted to (continue) compiling sound effects for what would ultimately become 'Revolution 9,' so as soon (as) he learned that another studio was available, he decided to head off with Chris Thomas and Phil (McDonald) – accompanied, as usual, by Yoko. That left George Martin and me alone with Paul, which came as a blessed relief to me after all the stress of the preceding sessions; it always was a lot easier to deal with one Beatle.”
The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” mentions how surrogate producer Chris Thomas recalls “going with John to find sound effects tapes and helping him make up loops,” so it appears that actual tape loops were now being created for use during the mixing stage of “Revolution 9.” The sound effects assembled on this day, however, were unnumbered and undocumented, so there is no telling which effects were decided upon during this session. It did end rather early though, John and Yoko leaving the studio at around 10:15 pm.
The next session for “Revolution 9” was on June 20th, 1968, the session beginning at 7 pm. George and Ringo were finally back in the country and George (but not Ringo) was present on this day, but Paul had flown out to New York at 6 pm, an hour before the session began, and therefore was not present. There was almost no recording session in Beatles history that Paul wasn't present for, but this was one of them. However, this wasn't the only reason why this session was especially unique for EMI Studios.
Geoff Emerick recalls: “George Martin had booked all three Abbey Road studios for the complicated mix of the sound pastiche known as 'Revolution 9.'...It was just John and a rather unenthusiastic George Harrison working on the track. The two of them, accompanied by Yoko, would occasionally venture out into the studio to whisper a few random words into a microphone. Just as we had done when we mixed 'Tomorrow Never Knows' two years previously, every tape machine in the facility was required for the playback of tape loops, with every available maintenance engineer once again standing around in his white coat holding pencils in place. The big difference was that on this night there was a good deal of resentment among the staff because the session was running quite late – well past midnight – and they wanted to go home. I didn't blame them; many of them had been there since nine in the morning – they didn't turn up in mid afternoon like we did. Plus the session had to be dead boring for them because they couldn't even hear any sound; they were just standing in the various control rooms, holding pencils while the tape went round and round. Occasionally one of the loops would break and they'd have to get on the phone and let us know, which, of course, annoyed John no end.”
John himself recounted this session in 1980: “There were about ten machines with people holding pencils on the loops – some only inches long and some a yard long. I fed them all in and mixed them live. I did a few mixes until I got one I liked...I spent more time on 'Revolutoin 9' than I did on half the other songs I ever wrote.”
Concerning John's involvement with the mixing stage of this track, Geoff Emerick relates: “By the time of the 'White Album,' it was not uncommon for various Beatles to sit behind the mixing board alongside me; they were no longer afraid to touch the equipment. On this night John sat with me behind the console like a kid with a new toy. He was the composer and he knew what he wanted, so he manned the faders instead of me, although I served as an extra pair of hands, doing bits of panning and looking after the overall level so things didn't get out of hand and distort.”
“The whole thing was extremely haphazard,” Emreick continues. “If he'd raise a fader and there was no sound, he'd say, 'Where's it gone?' A curse word might escape his lips from time to time, but that was about it. He never really lost his temper that night, though you could tell from his tone of voice that he was getting irritated. Yoko, as always, was by his side, whispering in John's ear and lifting the odd fader on occasion. Every once in a while, Lennon would shoot a glance at George Martin and me to see if we approved of what he was doing. Personally, I thought the track was interesting, but it seemed as though it was as much Yoko's as it was John's. Certainly it wasn't Beatles music.”
To identify and/or categorize all of the sound effects that appear in “Revolution 9” is a true Herculean task. Author and historian Mark Lewisohn, in preparation for writing his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” was treated to the experience of actually hearing the source tapes for all of the Beatles recording sessions including this track. He reveals the following from what he observed:
“A close study of the four-track tape reveals the loops and effects to include: George Martin saying 'Geoff...put the red light on,' heavily echoed and played repeatedly. A choir, supplemented by backwards violins. A symphonic piece, chopped up and played backwards. A brief extract of the 10 February 1967 'A Day In The Life' orchestral overdub, repeated over and over. Backwards mellotron (played by John), miscellaneous symphonies and operas.”
Of the classical music pieces heard therein, sources have sited the following as their sources: Beethoven's Choral Fantasy “The Streets Of Ciaro,” Schumann's “Symphonic Studies” (backwards tape), Vaughan Williams motet “O Clap Your Hands,” and the final chord of Sibelius' “Symphony No. 7.” Also included are Farid al-Atrash's Arabic song “Awal Hamsha” (just after the seven minute mark), a French horn/Oboe duet, a backward electric guitar, and a tape loop that was previously used in the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Various straightforward sound effects are also heard, such as gunfire, loud crashing cymbals, crowd laughter, breaking glass, car horns, and a crowd of American football fans chanting “Hold that line / Block that kick!,”some sources siting that they come from an Elektra Records Sound Effects album. All in all, at least 45 different sound sources have been identified.
One interesting element of “Revolution 9” that was recorded on this day involved John, Yoko and George. Mark Lewisohn relates: “The original tape does indeed show that John and George went on the studio floor to read out bizarre lines of prose – in voices sometimes equally bizarre – into a couple of microphones, abbetted by Yoko Ono humming at a very high pitch. These ran for the duration of 'Revolution 9,' being faded in and out of the master at John's whim. Among John's random pieces were 'personality complex,' 'onion soup,' 'economically viable,' 'industrial output,' financial imbalance,' 'the watusi,' 'the twist' and 'take this brother, may it serve you well.' George's contributions included 'Eldorado' and shared with John Lennon and whispered six times over, 'There ain't no rule for the company freaks!' At the end of their long overdub, still whispering, John said to George, 'We'd better listen to it then, hadn't we?”
Upon listening, it's of interest to hear that after several minutes of fading in and out the large variety of sound effects, John opted to hone in on individual sounds to finish off the track. After isolating his voice saying “Take this, brother, may it serve you well,” he cut directly to the final section of “Revolution 1” with his and Yoko muttering somewhat incoherent phrases. Then, just after Yoko's words “you become naked,” he cuts directly into the isolated football crowd chant of “Hold that line / Block that kick” and then fades out the track with this extensive tape loop being the final thing heard.
Engineer Alan Brown explains yet another unintentional effect heard prominently on the finished recording. “In 'Revolution 9' we had the STEED system of tape echo fed via a tape delay system. The track ran for so long that there is one point where the delay runs out and you can hear the tape being re-wound, live. Even that impromptu thing, an accident, contributed to the finished result.”
All in all, this unique recording session was complete at 3:30 am the following morning. What was actually accomplished on this day was viewed as assembling the “master version” of “Revolution 9,” not the actual mixing of the track which was to happen the following day (actually later that day).
There were actually two recording sessions on June 21st, 1968 in EMI Studio Two. The earlier session was primarily for adding brass to John's “Revolution 1” while the second was to mix “Revolution 9” into stereo. John and George were the only Beatles present on this day and, after an hour break from the end of the first session, they returned for their second session at 10 pm that evening. Documentation indicates that an additional overdub to “Revolution 9” was recorded at this session, but the identity of the overdub is not known.
John, along with George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush, made two attempts at creating this stereo mix in the control room of EMI Studio Two, the second attempt being the keeper. Mark Lewisohn writes that John “had a marvelous time” working on this stereo mix, “pushing different images through on both channels and panning the words 'number nine' across the stereo in fractions of a second.” John also thought to pan the final “Hold that line / Drop that kick” chanting back and forth repeatedly during most of the closing seconds. The track clocked in at 9:05, the longest Beatles track ever. With this complete, as well as creating a stereo mix of “Revolution 1,” this session ended at 3:30 am the following morning.
One final thing needed to be done to get “Revolution 9” to its releasable state, and that was accomplished on June 25th, 1968 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by John and the engineering team of Martin, Emerick and Lush. A decision was made to edit the previously made stereo master from 9:05 to 8:15, reducing the length to a good degree but still managing to be the longest Beatles track in their released catalog. This having been done, as well as creating yet another stereo mix of “Revolution 1,” a tape copy of “Revolution 9” was made for John's listening pleasure. By 8 pm, this session was complete for the day.
Since Paul was not involved in the creating of this recording, most of the time being out of the country, the question remained of what his reaction to the finished “Revolution 9” would be. Geoff Emerick relates: “A few days later, all four Beatles reunited in the studio, and John proudly played the two tracks that he had completed while the rest were away. I could see from the dark cloud that came over Paul's face that he was totally underwhelmed with 'Revolution 9' when he first head it, and there was an awkward silence after the track faded out. John looked at Paul expectantly, but Paul's only comment was 'Not bad,' which I knew was a diplomatic way of saying that he didn't like it. Ringo and George Harrison had nothing to say about the track at all. They looked distinctly embarrassed, and you could tell that neither one of them wanted to get caught in the middle of this.”
“'Not bad?' Lennon said derisively to Paul. 'You have no idea what you're talking about. It fact, this should be our next bloody single! This is the direction The Beatles should be going in from now on.' Yoko, with an appalling lack of tact, managed to aggravate things further still by blurting out, 'I agree with John. I think it's great.'...Judging from his look of disdain, I was quite sure Paul was thinking, 'You've got to be kidding,' but, to his credit, he didn't rise to the bait and didn't argue...he simply didn't see it as Beatles music, and he certainly didn't agree that it was the direction that The Beatles should go in.” One can only imagine what would have transpired if John got his way in releasing “Revolution 9” as the next single instead of “Hey Jude”!
The usual custom of the time was to create both a stereo and mono mix for release of each Beatles recording. The mono mix of “Revolution 9” was made on August 20th, 1968 in the control room of EMI Studio Three by engineers Ken Scott and John Smith, but not in the usual way. Since the complicated stereo mix could in no way be duplicated for a separate mono mix, a decision was made to create a straightforward dub of the stereo mix that combined both channels into one. This was improved upon, though, on August 26th, 1968, by the same engineering team to ready it for release on the mono pressings of the album.
One final process was needed before the final release of the “White Album” was prepared, and that was the track selection and final sequencing of the album. This was done during a record-breaking 24 hour session at EMI that stretched from 5 pm, October 16th to 5 pm October 17th, 1968. Decisions were made on this day to omit songs from the album, these turning out to be George's “Not Guilty” and John's “What's The New Mary Jane.” However, there was also strong consideration for one more omission. Geoff Emerick writes: “When they were sequencing the 'White Album,' I heard through the grapevine that John and Paul ultimately had a huge row over 'Revolution 9.' Paul absolutely did not want it on the album, and John was just as adamant that it would be on there. In the end, of course, he got his way.”
During this sequencing session, however, a decision was made to infuse a quiet introduction to “Revolution 9.” An interesting recording of a conversation between George Martin and Apple office manager Alistair Taylor was added to the track, this being chosen as the opening segment to the entire recording. Alistair is heard begging forgiveness from George for forgetting to bring a “bottle of Claret” for him. “Well, do it next time,” George instructs. “Will you forgive me?” Alistair asks. After George says “Yes,” Alistair then proceeds to call him a “cheeky bitch!” The actual date of this spoken word recording has never been documented.
"Revolution 9" ended up in the flattering position of the next-to-last track on the double album "The Beatles," popularly known as the "White Album," this position meant to leave the listener awestruck and in a jaw-dropped condition. The album was first released in the U.S. on November 25th, 1968. It was released on compact disc for the first time on August 24th, 1987, then was re-released as a 30th Anniversary limited edition on November 23rd, 1998, then as a remastered CD on September 9th, 2009. It's original vinyl release in 1968 was only in stereo since mono albums were practically phased out in the U.S. by that time. However, the vinyl album did finally get an individual mono vinyl album release in America on September 9th, 2014.
The entire mono Beatles catalog was first released on September 9th, 2009 in compact disc form in the box set entitled “The Beatles In Mono,” which included the first official U.S. release of the mono “White Album,” the stereo fold-down version of “Revolution 9” being included therein.
Neither The Beatles nor any of the individual Beatles have ever attempted to perform “Revolution 9” on any stage, since it would be impossible to do so.
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, music is defined as "a pattern of sounds made by instruments or by singing or by a combination of both, or the written symbols representing these sounds." Merriam Webster defines musique concrete as "a recorded montage of natural sounds often electronically modified and presented as a musical composition." (italics ours)
With these definitions in mind, “Revolution 9,” as innovative and complex as it is, falls under the category of “musique concrete” and not, in its strictest sense, music. Lennon acknowledged as such himself many times. “It was just abstract, musique concrete, loops, people screaming.” (1970) “It's like an action painting.” (1974) “It was a montage.” (1980)
More specifically, John explained in 1970, possibly under the guise of his then-current political stand, what his intentions were in creating this “action painting.” He stated: “'Revolution 9' was an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens...I thought I was painting in sound a picture of revolution – but I made a mistake. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution.”
Nonetheless, “Revolution 9” has become the most widely known example of musique concrete in the history of recorded sound. “I don't know what influence 'Revolution No. 9' had on the teeny-bopper fans, but most of them didn't dig it; so what am I supposed to do?,” stated John in 1969.
The general public may still not understand what Lennon was trying to portray with the sound recording “Revolution 9,” but for those who take the time to appreciate the spirit of experimentation and adventure in recording that The Beatles were spearheading at the time, this track is breathtaking. Author David Quantick, in his book “Revolution: The Making Of The Beatles' White Album,” describes it as “one of the most exciting recordings ever made...the most radical and innovative track ever to bring a rock record to its climax.”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Track Written: May 30 and 31, June 4, 6, 10, 11, 20 and 21, October 16 and 17, 1968
- Track Recorded: May 30 and 31, June 4, 6, 10, 11, 20 and 21, October 16 and 17, 1968
- First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
- First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles”
- Length: 8:15
- Key: n/a
- Producer: George Martin, Chris Thomas
- Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, Peter Bown, Richard Lush, Ken Scott, John Smith
Instrumentation (most likely):
- John Lennon - Tape loops, Voices, Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand), Mellotron (Mark II), Guitar? (1965 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino?)
- George Harrison - Tape loops, Voices, Guitar? (1964 Gibson SG Standard?)
- Ringo Starr - Tape loops
- Yoko Ono - Tape loops, Voice
- Chris Thomas - Tape loops
- George Martin - Voices
- Alistair Taylor - Voices
- Unknown - Voices, classical instruments and sound effects
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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