To begin with, “Revolution 9” is the longest track that The Beatles ever released at over eight minutes in length. Moreover, it is largely an instrumental track with a scattering of tape loops, sound effects and speech. This track is on their self-titled “White Album”, of course.
Recorded: 30th May & 6th, 10th, 11th, 20th, 21st June, 1968
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Sound collage experimental, avant-garde, musique concrète
Track Duration: 8:22
Record Label: Apple
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
John Lennon: spoken vocals, tape loops, sound effects, piano, mellotron, cymbals, electric guitar, screaming, mumbling
George Harrison: spoken vocals, tape loops, sound effects, electric guitar
George Martin: spoken vocals
Yoko Ono: spoken vocals, tape loops, also some sound effects
Alistair Taylor: spoken vocals
Unidentified EMI engineer: spoken vocals
** Although the track was a John Lennon “work of art”, he did allow a small input by others at the studios. In fact, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr performed on the extended “Revolution” coda and some of their input appears intermittently.
In short, this track is a John Lennon creation with a little help from George Harrison, George Martin, Yoko Ono and a couple of others. The musical/sound collage is a masterpiece in itself where John Lennon was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using only sounds.
John Lennon insisted that the unused, extended “Revolution 1” coda was not going to waste. So, on this, he overdubbed various sound effects, vocals, short tape loops of speech and other musical performances. Many of the sounds implanted on the coda were further manipulations themselves. For example, some sounds had an echo effect while others underwent distortion, stereo panning and even fading etc.
The slow version of Revolution on the album went on and on and on and 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 was the basic rhythm of the original Revolution going on with some 20 loops we put on, things from the archives of EMI.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Although it might seem that John Lennon’s Revolution 9 is a unique Beatles track, it wasn’t. Indeed, over a year before, Paul McCartney’s “Carnival of Light” was also a musical collage. At the time of writing, this 14 minute piece remains unreleased.
While Paul McCartney was away from the EMI Studios, John Lennon began putting together his “work of art”. However, this could not happen until Revolution 1 (recorded 30th May, 1968) became a conventional song first. This is because that song lasted for ten minutes with the last six minutes being Lennon screaming “alright” and Yoko Ono talking gibberish together with pure musical chaos.
Once Revolution become a conventional Beatles’ song, Lennon was able to go to work on the coda part. So, on the 6th June, 1968, Lennon began his preparation by gathering together the necessary sound effects. He continued to work with the tapes on the 10th and 11th June.
On the 20th June, Lennon, using tape machines from all three studios began mixing the sound.
“We were cutting up classical music and making different-size loops, and then I got and engineer tape on which some test engineer was saying, ‘Number nine, number nine, number nine’. All those different bits of sound and noises are all compiled. 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.”
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Further overdubbing occurred on the 21st of June to finalise the track. But, around the 5:11 mark, listen out for the tape machine rewinding when the tape system failed. Obviously that didn’t matter too much as it was just another unique sound to the collage!
Without doubt, everyone hearing “Revolution 9” will recall the repetitive “Number 9” panning from left to right most. However, there is so much going on that individual people notice some sounds more pronounced than others. Indeed, there’s always someone who remembers something from the musical collage that other’s don’t!
You can also hear other random speech quotes such as Yoko Ono’s “You become naked”. But other words become clear as well like, “Eldorado” (Harrison), “Industrial output, financial imbalance”, “The Watusi” and “The Twist” all from Lennon. Then there is the memorable “take this brother, may it serve you well”, also from Lennon.
In the 1960’s, there was a rumour that Paul McCartney died. The repetitive “Number 9” poured more fuel on the fire because, when played backwards, it sounds like “turn me on, dead man”.
Obviously, there was much debate when Revolution 9 found it’s way onto the Beatles “White Album”. While some band members disagreed with the track’s inclusion on the double album, John Lennon insisted that the track should be part of it.
Critics from both sides had a lot to say when they heard it, of course. After all, this was The Beatles, the best band on Earth, and here was a mishmash of sound that made no sense to most people. The Cavern Club remains impartial and always leaves it up to the members to have their say. So, what do you think about this track?