On October 28th, The Beatles Revolver Special Edition sets will be released worldwide through Apple/Universal. With this album, The Beatles pushed the recording studio, and songwriting, to their limits, with incredibly inventive songs recorded in an entirely different way, and generating sounds never before heard in a studio or captured on tape. In fact, manipulation of that tape was a key element of the sound of Revolver.
This special edition follows the similar format of most of the previous four SE releases: a remixed album by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios, a mono mix of the album, and several discs of outtakes, demos, and rough mixes, available on CD, vinyl or digital. The only difference is, this time, there’s no DVD/Blu-ray included with the deluxe set. A stellar 100+ page book is also included, with many rare photos of the band in the studio, of master tape boxes and track sheets, a new Klaus Voorman graphic novel telling the story of the making of the album’s cover, and in-depth descriptions of the songs on the set.
As my second favorite album of all time, after The Beatles (White Album), Revolver was a set I was really looking forward to hearing. This was the album that expanded my musical horizons like no other did, and the thought of hearing outtakes, demos and early mixes of the songs I hold so dear was very exciting.
When I hosted “Breakfast With The Beatles Sunday,” which I ended back in January, I used to love playing and talking about tracks from the Let It Be, Abbey Road, The Beatles (White Album), and Sgt. Pepper box sets weeks before release, so you were one of the first in the world to hear them. In lieu of that, I thought I’d share my thoughts on this special set, which I have literally been listening to nonstop since I first received it.
Two bits of caution: there are several spoilers in this review, so read at your own risk! Also, this review represents my opinion and mine alone. Your mileage may vary.
I’ll look at the set disc by disc:
CD ONE – REVOLVER New Stereo Mix
Once again, the team of Giles Martin and Sam Okell were tasked with the job of remixing a Beatles album. In the case of Revolver, though, the job was a bit more problematic than it was for the other box sets. The reason was the album was recorded on a four-track tape machine and, in the cases of many of the songs, multiple instruments were recorded onto one single track. Until recently, it would have been impossible to separate those instruments and do a remix “from scratch” but, now, thanks to cutting edge technology developed by Get Back director Peter Jackson’s team, it can be done.
The result, to my ears, is certainly a better balanced and clearer mix of the album, no question, but at what cost? Yes it’s true some Beatles fans have scoffed over the rather dramatic nature of the 1966 stereo mixes, but that was the way we’ve heard them for over 55 years. The sounds on the ’66 mix are tight, harsh in spots, heavily compressed, reversed, slowed down, sped up, and treated to heaps of the Ken Townshend-Abbey Road invention, artificial double-tracking, but it is PERFECT that way to me. I LIKE hearing the sound of the amplifier hum at the beginning of “Taxman.” On this 2022 mix, the hum is gone. I LIKE hearing the first syllable of Paul’s “Eleanor Rigby” vocal in two channels, before it shifts to just one. I know that was a mixing error by young Geoff Emerick, but that is planted in my musical DNA forever. The 2022 mix, though, has perfectly balanced stereo vocals throughout. Yes it sounds great, but is it BETTER? It depends who you ask.
On “Yellow Submarine,” Martin and Okell saw fit to model the stereo mix after the original MONO mix, a practice they have followed in their previous works. Having said that, for the first time, the guitar strum on the first note of the new stereo mix is now there, as is John’s “a life of ease” line, which had only previously been reserved for the mono mix. This was the highlight of the remix disc for me.
The vocals on “She Said She Said” are just too flippin’ loud, I’m sorry.
On “Got To Get You Into My Life,” there is a keyboard bit at the end fade that gets faded out and faded back in on the original 1966 stereo mix, as the chords played didn’t exactly match what was going on with the rest of the song. On this new 2022 version, the keyboard part plays throughout the end fade and, to me, it sounds clunky.
Overall, while it is a ‘cleaner’ stereo mix of the album, it lacks the punch and raw aggression of the original, is flat in spots and, dare I say, seems poorly mixed in a number of places, particularly in some of the vocals. To me, Revolver spotlighted The Beatles’ harmonies like no other album, and spreading the voices out in the stereo picture takes a little away from my listening experience.
I will end the review of CD ONE on an up note: on a few songs, Giles and Sam let the fades go on just a wee bit longer. Love that!
CD TWO – Sessions One
NOW we’re getting to the gold. There was some early concern there wouldn’t be enough outtake material to warrant a standalone version of Revolver, that maybe Rubber Soul and Revolver would be combined into one set but, thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. There are lots of incredible alternate versions on this set to keep fans interested for sure and, like the previous editions, the outtakes are arranged chronologically by the date they were recorded.
Every one of these sessions tracks are special, though several have appeared before as part of The Beatles Anthology series in the mid-90s. The nice part about the previously-released versions is, with a few exceptions, there is extra audio at the beginning, end, or both on the tracks.
Kicking off the outtakes discs is the first take of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” take 1. It’s the same take as previously released on The Beatles Anthology 2, but with more audio and Lennon silliness at the end. For the second “TNK” outtake we get a first-ever digital copy of remix mono 11. That was the mono mix released for a day before George Martin ordered a different mix be put in its place. It’s fun to hear in such clarity, with the sound effects appearing at different spots and in different order, than the commonly-known mono mix.
There are three outtakes of “Got To Get You Into My Life” featured. The first one is the same take 5 as was on Anthology 2, except it’s in stereo and there’s a great conversation between John and Paul before the take starts regarding the organ intro. The second outtake called “(Second version) – Unnumbered mix – mono” is SO good! It’s the basic track with a different Paul vocal, and features what sounds like a fuzzed guitar playing the parts the horns would later play. The third outtake is the backing track, take 8, without vocal, and it sounds absolutely marvelous!
One of the real highlights of the set for me is the “Love You To” sequences. The original take 1 is featured, a lovely outtake with just George on acoustic guitar and vocal, and Paul singing the high parts on the last word of the end of the verses. Next is a rehearsal of the song with George working on his sitar licks, and the third outtake, take 7 is just wonderful. It’s the released version, but with Paul singing the high part of the entire last line of the verses, rather than just the last word, over top the other harmony vocals. This was mixed out of the final version but does sound really nice here. The version also has a great slate by engineer Geoff Emerick, and the song dies out when the tape is shut off, which makes me very, very happy to hear.
The two takes of “Paperback Writer,” the only two takes they did of the song, are very similar to the bootleg versions we all know and love except, with take 2, there are no vocals.
The “Rain” outtakes are a real gem. With the first outtake we get to hear the backing track just as The Beatles recorded it – at a frantic pace! It makes me respect their tightness as a band even more after hearing it this way. I do wonder, though, if the bass was added after they slowed down the tape. The second “Rain” outtake is the slowed down version with a full ending.
Take 7 of “Doctor Robert” was exactly what I’d hoped for – the unedited version of the song. The longer version contains an extra verse, a repeat of the second verse with the chorus. It also ends clean, so you hear John’s “OK Herb,” or whatever he was saying, very clearly before the master tape cuts him off mid-sentence.
The disc ends with two outtakes of the first pass at “And Your Bird Can Sing,” one of which has the “giggling” vocal, and is basically the same as the one heard on both Anthology 2 and various bootlegs. The only difference is there’s more talk before and after the takes.
CD THREE – Sessions Two
The disc opens with another “And Your Bird Can Sing” outtake, the re-make take 5, a much heavier-sounding rendition. They still didn’t know how to end the song, but that would be figured out on take 6. This version is positively delightful.
Fans of “I’m Only Sleeping” will delight in four versions of the song on this set, three of which have never been heard before. Only the rehearsal take included has been previously released, and it’s fantastic to hear how the song developed over time.
Next up are two simply stellar outtakes of “Eleanor Rigby.” The first features a conversation between George Martin, the string players, and Paul discussing whether or not to use vibrato on the strings during the verses. This exchange was captured so beautifully by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn in his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions At Abbey Road,” but it still brought me to tears hearing this behind-the-scenes conversation going on as a true masterpiece was being recorded. The next outtake of “Eleanor Rigby” is the complete take 2, strings only. It’s nice to hear the strings so clean, too, as the outtake featured on The Beatles Anthology 2 was treated to additional reverb through Abbey Road Studios’ “ambiophonc” speaker system.
The sweet take 10 of Paul’s melancholy “For No One” is next, just the backing track before Paul put his vocal down. It starts with Ringo asking Paul how to play the drum part and Paul advising him. The take ends with Ringo asking, “what do you think?”
Some of the most mind-blowing outtakes on the set are the “Yellow Submarine” outtakes. The first two come from what’s being called a “Songwriting Work Tape.” On the first outtake, John accompanies himself on guitar and while he has the melody of the verse down, the lyrics are totally different and quite sad. It was only when he and Paul got together to work on the song (as heard in the second work tape outtake) that you hear the song take shape. The only thing they didn’t have finished was the last verse (Donovan would help with that later!) The third “Yellow Submarine” outtake was the finished version, without the sound effects and shouting added. The whole tape is sped up, including Ringo’s vocal. The final outtake of the song is very similar to the one released on the “Real Love” CD single, except for a few extra seconds of audio at the end.
The next outtake is of George’s phenomenal “I Want To Tell You.” The take opens with George Martin asking George Harrison what the song is called and when George responds that he doesn’t know, John makes a hilarious suggestion to call it “Granny Smith, Part Friggin’ Two. You’ve never had a title for anything except ‘Don’t Bother Me.” “Granny Smith” was George’s working title of “Love You To.” You hear engineer Geoff Emerick call it “Laxton’s Superb,” another apple variety, and Ringo also chimes in and suggests titling it “Tell You,” which turned out to be a good one. This is the most disappointing outtake on the set for me because, for reasons known only to Giles Martin and Sam Okell, the decision was made to include only 39 seconds of the actual song! There’s a brief bit of chat with Paul and George Martin at the end when someone walks into the studio while the red recording light is on, and I’m glad they kept that in, but couldn’t the whole take 4 have been included? It would easily have fit onto the CD.
A positively gorgeous outtake of “Here, There And Everywhere” is featured next, take 6 in this case. It’s a different take than the one featured on the “Real Love” CD single (that was a combo of take 7 and vocals from take 13), with just Paul’s beautiful guide vocal and the backing instrumentation.
Rounding out the outtakes are a demo and rehearsal outtake of “She Said She Said.” The John demo has been bootlegged for decades, but it is nice they included it on this set. The second outtake is a rehearsal of the song, preceded by some funny chatter captured during the actual takes two and three. This would put to bed the long-held belief that, after an argument, Paul left and the three recorded the song without him, as he is clearly heard on that opening chatter. The rehearsal take, incidentally, is KILLER, and possibly my favorite of all the outtakes.
Interestingly, there are no outtakes of “Good Day Sunshine” featured on this set, and only Giles and Sam know why. Lack of space on the disc was clearly not the reason. I’d have settled for the basic track with no vocals.
CD FOUR – Original mono master
This disc features the original 1966 mono mix of the album by Geoff Emerick, mastered beautifully by Thomas Hall. According to the technical notes found in the deluxe book, this was mastered from the digital mono master. I know some Beatles audiophiles aren’t thrilled with the mono mix of Revolver but I just love it!
CD FIVE – Revolver EP
Just four tracks on this disc, both the stereo and mono versions of the two songs recorded during Revolver that weren’t on the album but, instead, were released on a single, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” The stereo tracks are new mixes by the Martin/Okell team and, like the rest of the remixed album, suffers from a lack of sonic ‘excitement’ to these ears,
Remixing warts aside, I still give this set a 5/5. It’s bloody REVOLVER, after all!
Listen for my special one hour “unboxing” of the new Revolver Special Edition set, airing in late October on 102.9 MGK! Details to follow.