By Allen Callaci
How does one even begin to write about The Beatles? How does one measure, appraise and critically dissect the largest socio-political pop culture tidal wave of the modern age? One might as well try to position a sunset beneath a microscopic lens for further clinical observation. Like the sun, moon, stars and the Fourth of July Scfy channel Twilight Zone marathons, the Beatles seem like part of the natural landscape.
Each passing year further cements the mythologizing of the band as we observe another Beatles cultural milestone. 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America. Last year was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles at Shea Stadium. Next year Sgt. Pepper hits 50.
Before Sgt. Pepper grabs the lion’s share of Fab Four newspaper taxi headlines, we bask in another remembrance. This year, The Beatles’ Revolver — an album now widely regarded as a superior work to eponymous Pepper — turns a half-century. Mojo magazine ranked Revolver #3 on its list of 100 best rock albums of all time while Pepper placed a surprisingly low #51.
On closer listen, maybe not so surprising at all. Pepper, with its iconic Technicolor cover art and psychedelic imagery of girls with kaleidoscope eyes and horses named Henry dancing a waltz remains frozen and inseparable from its time. Revolver with its stark black-and-white cover and lyrics that spotlight such ordinary concerns as the contempt for the tax man, lonely people who “keep their face in a jar” and loves that “should have lasted years” remains timeless. It is The Beatles “gray” album.
Revolver is that rare piece of art that ages and matures right alongside the listener. Half of my pre-teen record collection, which could barely fill a single red hard plastic milk crate, consisted of Beatles’ records. I would sit cross-legged with a bowl of Trix getting lost in the cover art and whittling the grooves down on those records as they spun their spell from the Montgomery Ward lightweight plastic turntable in the center of the bedroom floor and the milk in the cereal bowl turned the color of pink eye.
Revolver was my favorite then.
It is my favorite now.
Although not a single note on Revolver classics such as “Taxman” and “Eleanor Rigby” changed over time, their meaning evolved as I did. As a Beatles-loving barefoot child dancing across Trump-orange shag carpeting as Revolver spun, I thought “Taxman” with lines such as “If you drive a car I’ll tax the street/if you try to sit I’ll tax your seat” was snortingly hilarious (even though I didn’t have the faintest clue at that age as to what a 1040A form was, the idea of taxing someone’s butt was comedy gold).
As an adult those same lines still raise a wicked smile but for different reasons as I picture the song’s narrator as a disgruntled beer-bellied libertarian bellowing along with Fox News from a Doritos stained, overstuffed La-Z-Boy (although, admittedly, the line about taxing someone’s butt is something my inner Beavis and Butthead still finds endlessly amusing.)
While listening to “Taxman” as a child brought as many guffaws as a Don Martin-illustrated cartoon in MAD magazine, listening to “Eleanor Rigby” as a child and as an adult is an entirely different affair. Too young to comprehend the helpless melancholy at the song’s core, my point of reference for the song was the black-and-white Peter Max collages from the Yellow Submarine animated film. As an adult, the disconnectedness and debilitating loneliness expressed in the song’s despairing refrain of “all the lonely people where do they all come from, where do they all belong” remains unanswered and resonates now more than ever in the age of match.com.
In totality, Revolver is an album of questions, answers, and contrasts. The penny-pinching and miserly sentiments of “Taxman” are counterbalanced by “And Your Bird Can Sing” a deceptive sunny sing-a-long takedown of a materialistic lover: “You say you’ve got everything you want/And your bird can sing/But you don’t get me.” The soul-infused joyous puppy love bop of “Got to Get You into My Life”, which perfectly captures the adrenaline rush of early romantic infatuation is tempered by “For No One” a song that gently walks the listener through the ruins of a relationship that slowly burned to the ground. The sonic ray of light found in McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” is rebuked by Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping”, a dreamlike hymn about the temporary bliss of giving into the temptation of staying beneath the covers rather than waking to face the day.
With Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles created a work whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. With Revolver they created an intricately balanced, ageless, and timeless waking dream of the human condition.