Up until last week I’d only ever owned two albums by The Beatles, CD copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band and The White Album. The Beatles still got consistent play on the radio in the 1980s, even on the rock stations, so I certainly knew a ton of their songs – they were the one band almost everyone could seem to agree on. I guess I was appreciative but ambivalent about them – it was fine if they came on, but were nothing I’d go out of my way to listen to.
So it’s a bit odd that I came home from Hong Kong last weekend with an original 1966 Japanese red vinyl pressing of Revolver. But after doing our listening experiments with the one and only Sam the Record Man, I was intrigued by the Japanese red vinyl, which is considered by many to be superior from both a material (though a bit softer and more prone to wear) and sound quality standpoint than the later black pressings. And James (aka Sam) had some for sale. Since the prices were fairly similar across the titles on offer, I wanted to find something I figured I’d like, and some of the Beatles records seemed to fit the bill. Revolver had a nice jacket and the record itself was pristine, so tonight I sat down to listen to this album all he way through for the very first time.
It also happens to be #3 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and #1 on Colin Larkin’s more UK-weighted All Time Top 1000 Albums. It’s a classic, and everyone seems to be able to agree on that. But you know what? Looking at the track list for the first time, I figure I’ve only heard maybe half the songs before. So much the better, actually, since it’s not there are any new Beatles songs coming out.
It could very well be the placebo effect of me wanting this pressing to sound amazing, but I have to say my first thought about 10 seconds into Revolver‘s opening track “Taxman” was, “holy crap this sounds fantastic.” The harmonies! An absolutely brilliant pop song. I’m pretty sure that “I’m Only Sleeping” was new to me, and though it was decent, it wasn’t even half as good as “Love To You,” which I found to be fantastic… but then that rich harmonizing on “Here, There And Everywhere”… damn, I can’t believe I’ve never listened to this record before! There were a couple of parts that sounded a bit hot in the recording to me, especially in the upper registers and most notably on “Elanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine,” but it wasn’t the case throughout these and simply turning down the volume made this effect much less noticeable. Perhaps a light cleaning will help future playings.
The B side also impressed me from the very start, as this was the first time I’d ever noticed just how good the piano sounds on “Good Day Sunshine.” As would be expected, I didn’t recognize as many songs in this side. One observation, though, is that if there’s one thing the songs on Revolver sound like – other songs on Revolver. (♠) The richness of the music and the harmonies create a certain homogenous style, with the possible exceptions of the eastern-influenced “Love To You” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I don’t mean that as an insult – when your pop music is this good, maybe your style is simply that damn good as well.
Look, Revolver isn’t going to make my personal Top 10 list or anything, but that says more about me than it does about the album. It’s awfully, awfully good, and this 50 year old copy (!) still sounds fresh on my turntable despite being a bit rough on the high end. I’m not sure how this version stacks up against other original pressings, but it certainly would be fun to compare some day.
(♠) One of my friends, who shall remain nameless for his own protection, was the first person who I ever heard make an observation like this. I believe the quote was something to the effect of, “You know what Foo Fighters songs sound like? Other Foo Fighters songs.”