To begin with, this article includes information about The Beatles’ “Revolution 1” song. Of course, this is the softer, bluesy track from their “White Album” and not the heavy rock version which is the B-side of “Hey Jude“. Previously, The Beatles never put over a political message in their songs apart from “Taxman“.
Released: 22nd November, 1968 (UK), 25th November, 1968 (US)
Recorded: 30th – 31st May, 4th and 21st June, 1968
Genre: Blues rock
Track Duration: 4:17
Record Label: Apple
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Peter Bown
John Lennon: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, also the tape loops
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, piano, organ, also the backing vocals
George Harrison: lead guitar, also the backing vocals
Ringo Starr: drums
Francie Schwartz: backing vocals
Derek Watkins and Freddy Clayton: trumpets
Don Lang, Rex Morris, J. Power and Bill Povey: trombones
As with quite a few Beatles’ songs, John Lennon began writing “Revolution” in 1968 while he was in India. The Beatles were at the Maharishi’s Ashram to learn Transcendental Meditation at the time. Lennon finished the song when he came back to the UK.
His inspiration for the song was because of political unrest at the time, particularly the protests in opposition to the Vietnam War.
“I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, and we’re not going to just waffle.’
I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India, I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right. That’s why I did it: I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say.'”
Rolling Stone, 1970
The Vietnam War wasn’t the only trigger for the song because there was so many other political stories in the media during the late 1960’s. For example, there was the March, 1968 protests in Poland against their communist government. Then there was the civil unrest in France during May.
Since Lennon finished the song in May, it is likely that the events in France spurred him on further. However, Leninist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups also applied some pressure on the band to support the revolutionary cause too.
The Beatles commercially released three songs with “Revolution” in the title. There is the fast, heavy rock version which is on the B-side of “Hey Jude” with the simple title “Revolution”. Then there is the slower version which is what we are highlighting on this page.
This track was over 10 minutes long with the last six minutes being an instrumental jam. During the long coda John Lennon repeatedly screams “All right” while Yoko Ono moans along with him. Lennon would soon cut off the last six minutes which become the basis for his “Revolution 9“. That left the slow song that we hear on the self-titled “White Album” which Lennon wanted to use on a single.
Paul McCartney thought that “Revolution 1” was too slow for a single and he didn’t want to invite controversy.
“When George and Paul and all of them were on holiday, I made Revolution , which is on the LP and Revolution 9. I wanted to put it out as a single, I had it all prepared, but they came by, and said it wasn’t good enough. And we put out what? Hello, Goodbye or some shit like that? No, we put out Hey Jude, which was worth it – I’m sorry – but we could have had both.”
Rolling Stone, 1970
Obviously, John Lennon spruced up the song to create a rock version in order to get it out on a single.
The Beatles began recording “Revolution 1” on the 20th May, 1968 in Studio Two at the EMI Studios in London (2.30pm-2.40am session). This was over three months since their last recording session in the studios. There were 18 takes in total on that day. Further recording took place for the song on the next day in Studio Three during the 2.30pm-12.00pm session.
Still not happy with the vocals, Lennon began re-recording on the 4th June in Studio Three (2.30pm-1.00am session). However, this time he lay on the floor while singing. This was in order to make himself sound differently.
Further overdubbing and adjustments occurred on the 21st June, 1968 to complete the track suitable for The Beatles (album). “Revolution 1” kicks off side 4 of the double LP release in late 1968.