The Beatles were on top of their game in 1966. They had just released Rubber Soul in December of 1965, and were riding high with accolades. Rubber Soul had effectively changed how pop albums would be created moving forward, with The Beatles making an effort to make an entire artistic album from start to finish, rather than one or two singles with some filler thrown in. The band’s business manager, Brian Epstein, wanted to capitalize on the Rubber Soul high by making another movie, but the band decided against it, and instead took the next three months off. The band had never taken that much time off before, and the ability for the band to breathe and relax is an easy explanation for the musical shift that occurs between Rubber Soul and Revolver.
I’ve heard George Harrison say in an interview before that he viewed Rubber Soul and Revolver as close together, almost like Album 1A and 1B. Not to be heretical, but I’ve got to disagree with George on this one. There are many elements that are similar to the two records, but while Rubber Soul more or less changed how albums are constructed, Revolver changed how albums are recorded, and how a pop song should sound. During the Revolver sessions, many studio effects that have become standard today were invented, such as automatic track doubling. While the band was still touring at this time, they never performed any songs from Revolver. It was also the album where the group decided to really test out what the studio could create, rather than just using it to simply record the music. They experimented with playing the tracks backwards, they changed the speed of the tracks, they purposely tried to make instruments sound like different instruments. As far as I know, “Eleanor Rigby” is the first Beatles song to not feature any traditional rock instruments (as “Yesterday” still has guitar in it), as well as the first song where none of the Beatles actually play an instrument on. While the sitar made its first appearance in Rubber Soul’s “Norweigan Wood”, Revolver’s “Love You To” is the first time an entire song had been composed around the sitar, as well as composed in a classically Indian structure. In my humble brewer opinion, Revolver is when The Beatles stop being the cute British pop-song experts and become masterful studio artists. Although all but one of the Beatles’ albums were released in the ‘60’s (1970’s Let It Be), for me, Revolver just feels and sounds more like the 60’s than any of their other releases (although I suppose Magical Mystery Tour comes close).
Side one starts off with Harrison’s “Tax Man”, which has an attitude that we’ve never really seen in the group before. Complete with McCartney’s intense guitar solo, it starts to paint a picture that shows that these Beatles have grown, and they are going to make an album unlike anything that anyone has ever heard before. Perhaps not fairly, but up until this point, I still kind of see The Beatles in the first phase of their career, where they were making hit teenage love songs, and weren’t taking political stances or touching on abstract subjects. It’s not entirely true, as there are a few exceptions, but here’s a member of The Beatles complaining (very publicly, at that) about how high taxes were, and calling out two members of opposing political groups! A stark change for sure.
To continue the point of “these aren’t the same Beatles”, here comes “Eleanor Rigby”, a song about loneliness. As previously mentioned, it’s the first song without any of the Beatles playing an instrument, but does feature some of the finest melody work between Lennon and Harrison that you’ll hear. The two first songs of this album are remarkably darker than previous releases, and I’d say for all future releases taboot. Paul originally stated that he came up with the names “Eleanor Rigby” and “Father McKenzie” from varied locations he visited, but in the 80’s, it was discovered that there was a tombstone in a graveyard in Liverpool that had the name “Eleanor Rigby” on it, not far from another one that had “McKenzie”. Paul admitted that perhaps he was influenced by his subconscious, but the song wasn’t meant to be about real events or people. In fact, originally the priest’s name was “McCartney”, but it was changed after Paul worried that listeners might think the song was about his Dad. Regardless of the name’s inspiration, the song is extremely significant in The Beatles’ catalogue. The band that wanted to hold our hand is now singing a bleak song about depression.
George had the opener, Paul got the 2nd song, and John keeps the album ever-changing with “I’m Only Sleeping.” Using various studio techniques, you actually feel as though you’re somewhere in between slumber and the real life when listening to this song. The tape is played at a slower tempo than how it was recorded, and also uses ADT. Harrison’s guitar solo, which sounds incredibly trippy, get it’s character from being played backwards. John was known to be a bit lazy, and this song most likely is about staying in bed a bit longer. I don’t think it’s a drug song, although the “float upstream” lyric is similar to the “float downstream” that we later hear in “Tomorrow Never Knows”, a song about LSD. A fantastic Lennon song, if you ask me.
“Love You To”, another Harrison song, is next. As previously mentioned, this was the first true “Indian” song that The Beatles released. There is a bit of guitar in there, but it is mostly Harrison on the sitar, and other local musicians playing instruments such as the tabla, which is like an Indian bongo. When I mentioned that this album sounded very “60’s” to me, this one of the examples. Lyrics like “There’s people standing round/Who screw you in the ground/They’ll fill you in with all their sins you’ll see” connected with members of the counterculture movement. Themes such as free love are also abundant in the song, as well as living life to the fullest. The song is mostly about sex, for sure, but also reflects some of Harrison’s philosophies during his LSD phase.
We return somewhat to normalcy with McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere”, a beautiful love song that Paul has said was inspired by the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Interestingly, Paul has previously said that “God Only Knows” is his favorite song of all time. Anyways, I say somewhat to normalcy because the song shifts between 3 different time signatures in the first couple of lines, which is highly unusual. But once we get past that, it’s a gorgeous composition that reminds us that we’re still listening to a Beatles album. It’s appropriately placed after “Love You To” as this romantic song is also about loving in the moment. Additionally, it’s also appropriate that it’s after “I’m Only Sleeping” as Paul wrote this song at John’s house while he was waiting for John to wake up. John, who would later become very critical of Paul’s works, loved this song, later saying in a 1980’s interview that it is one of his all time favorite Beatles tunes.
The return to normalcy doesn’t last long, as we dive into the ocean with “Yellow Submarine.” This is another McCartney song, but was written specifically for Ringo. In fact, sales wise, “Yellow Submarine” is the most successful Ringo song in The Beatles’ catalogue. Paul has said he was trying to write a children’s song about being in a happy place. As Paul had until this point resisted his fellow bandmates’ urging to try LSD, it is highly unlikely that “Yellow Submarine” is a drug song, but that didn’t stop many from believing that it was. If you really want to dive deep into it, you could make a point that the song is about how isolated the band was at this point due to their fame, and the submarine represents how they don’t have contact with the real world, as the singer Donovan suggests. He could be onto something, as he helped out with the lyrics. But McCartney has said it’s a nonsense song and doesn’t need to be dissected (although this is coming from the same person who wrote “Eleanor Rigby”, a song also about isolation and where McCartney let his subconscious direct his songwriting. Hmm…).
I’ve mentioned that Revolver was an LSD album, and “She Said She Said”, which ends the first side, adds to that narrative, as it’s a song about the events of an acid trip. The lyrics are a conversation between Lennon and an unidentified female, but in reality, it was a conversation between the band, The Byrds, and actor Peter Fonda during an acid trip. Apparently, Harrison was freaking out, and Fonda was trying to console him by saying “I know what it’s like to be dead,” showing him a bullet wound he suffered as a small child. This freaked the band out even more, with Lennon shouting something along the lines of “Shut up, you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born!” Fonda recalls the experience rather positively, speaking especially high of Lennon, but the band recalls that Fonda’s exploits with the bullet wound were “uncool.” The “she said” narrative could be explained by the fact that despite police protection, girls were sneaking into the house to meet the band during this trip, and John may have chosen to give them the dialogue in the song. This trip of a song is a terrific end to the first side.
Side two opens with the positively uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. It’s a great song to wake up to, and is perhaps appropriately placed as the first song on the 2nd side after the acid-trip conflict of “She Said She Said” to close out the first. I don’t think there’s a lot to dive into here, just a McCartney jingle about being in love in the sunshine.
A more interesting and rocking number follows with Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Many different theories are out there about Lennon’s meaning in this song, but later in life John called it “fancy paper around an empty box.” Some have theorized that the song is dismissive toward the wealthy, who claim they’ve “got everything they want,” seen “seven wonders,” and “heard every sound,” but still don’t understand Lennon. It slightly makes me think of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which I wrote about in my blog post for our Dylan series beer, Highway 61 Black French Saison. Some think the song was written about McCartney, who was the last unmarried Beatle and was more involved in the art scene in London, and wasn’t hanging around as much. Lennon wanted his old pal to know that he’ll be around when he wants to hang out again.
A huge contrast from “Good Day Sunshine” and “Here, There and Everywhere” is Paul’s “For No One,” a song about the end of a relationship. Paul laments about “a love that should have lasted years”, “she no longer needs you”, and “no sign of love behind the tears.” I think the french horn in this song is particularly striking and wonderful. I’ve mentioned before that this is the album where I think Paul really blossoms as a creative force in the band, and with this song, as well as “Eleanor Rigby”, he steps outside of his comfort zone by writing songs other than romantic ballads.
Keeping the drug references going is Lennon’s “Doctor Robert”, a song about a real life Dr. Feelgood. The lyrics make this pretty clear. “If you’re down he’ll pick you up”, “Take a drink from his special cup”, and “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine.” But who is the real Dr. Robert? Some have theorized that it is a doctor from New York who used to put speed in B-12 shots. This makes me think of the TV show Mad Men’s Episode 8 of Season 6 called “The Crash”, where the agency gets a “pick me up.” Another theory is that the Doctor is Bob Dylan, who famously introduced The Beatles to pot for the first time. Regardless of the identity of the real Dr. Robert, the band has not been shy to say that song is about pills.
We’re coming into the second of a quartet of drug songs with Harrison’s “I Want to Tell You.” The fact that George finally got 3 songs onto an album was a first for the band, and his use of dissonance in the song is regarded by many music critics to be revolutionary for the time. The song is mostly about the “avalanche of thoughts” that you want to put down on paper or through other communication but can’t because they’re coming too fast and are too complex. This was written during heavy LSD use by Harrison. Aside from being about the surreal thoughts during an acid trip, the song also touches more on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy that Harrison was rapidly adopting.
Number 3 on our drug quartet is McCartney’s “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Wait, wait, wait. How is this a drug song? Well, Paul has said the song is “an ode to pot.” Remember, Paul hadn’t done LSD like the rest of the band at this point. But yes, this ditty that you thought was a cute little love song is a love song about marijuana. You’d expect that type of thing from John or even George, but not Paul! He was the good one! (end of my imaginary Paul fanboy/girl imitation) Anyways. He sings “I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there / Another road where maybe I could see some other kind of mind there.” The horns in the song are easily one of the Beatles’ best whistling parts.
The finale of our quartet also ends the album, and like Sgt. Pepper still to come, they may have saved the best for the very last. Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” has been described as the best audio interpretation of an acid trip to have ever been made. However, Harrison has said the song is more about meditation and transcending to another level of consciousness. That is probably true, although Lennon’s meditation and LSD use probably went hand-in-hand for at least a time. It famously starts with “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. It is not dying.” These lyrics give a brief callback to the end of the first side, with Peter Fonda trying to calm Harrison. The song then tells us surrender to the shining void, that being is the meaning of within, love is all, leave behind ignorance and hate, believe in our dreams, and to “play the game ‘Existence’ to the end/Of the beginning, of the beginning.” Musically, the band perfectly matched the tone of the vocals with a steady, almost tribal C note, made by a tamboura played by Harrison. Ringo is great in this song, helping with a recurring, almost heartbeat like feel that makes the song feel so natural. To add effect, the song also includes reverse guitar, like in “I’m Only Sleeping”, as well as reverse cymbals. ADT (automatic double tracking) was invented for this song, as Lennon hated recording the same track twice in order to create two vocal tracks. When I listen to this song now, it makes me think of another Mad Men episode, this time episode 8 of season 5. In that one, the main character, Don Draper, is given a copy of Revolver by his young wife, Megan. She tells him to listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which he does for a time, before turning it off and returning to his bedroom, symbolizing that he doesn’t understand youth culture anymore. It was a powerful scene in a fantastic episode, but to Don’s credit, The Beatles were doing things that nobody had ever done before and were driving the progression of music so fast, that nobody could really keep up. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was ahead of it’s time and still sounds groundbreaking today.
I think we nailed this beer as far as what we were attempting to create and what came out of the tank. As I’ve mentioned, I think this album sounds the most “60’s” to me and I wanted to beer to look beautiful and psychedelic. To achieve this, we used a relatively small amount of blueberry purée. I really don’t taste the blueberries in it at all, in part because the yeast strains ate just about every last drop of residual sugar in this batch, but also because blueberries are a very difficult fruit to work with in the brewing world. Blueberries are a pretty delicate fruit, and I’ve only used them once before, in last year’s So Fresh and So Cream with Blueberries (blog post can be found here: http://joyridebrewing.com/so-fresh-and-so-cream-with-blueberries/). In that beer, we used 1.5 pounds of blueberries per gallon of beer, and the berry flavor was still subtle. For this beer, we used just a little over a half pound per gallon, so it was mostly just for color. And the color is gorgeous, evoking the same swirling imagery that the album does for me.
I also chose to make this be our first Brettanomyces fermented beer based off how many firsts the Beatles were doing on this album and the risks they were taking. If you don’t know about Brettanomyces (or Brett as it will be referred to from here on out), it is essentially another category of yeast outside of typical ales and lagers. Some people refer to it as a wild yeast, which makes it easier to understand for the beginning beer drinker, but calling it wild isn’t really a factual statement. Some people lump it into the bacteria group with Pediococcus and Lactobacillus, but despite the fact that the 3 are commonly used in conjunction with each other, Brett is a form of yeast, not a form of bacteria. It’s best to think of it just as another category of yeast along with ale strains and lager strains. Of the three categories, we know the fewest about Brett, and in many ways, it is still mystifying. It produces flavors and aromas that aren’t common amongst the traditional yeasts and sometimes behaves a little erratically, much like the music on the album. Most breweries and especially wineries won’t go anywhere near Brett, because once it gets into “clean” beer or wine, that batch is contaminated and usually must be dumped. I’ve even heard stories of wineries who freak out when people come into their tasting rooms after previously visiting a brewery that uses Brett. There’s certainly cause for concern, but also some overreaction about this as well. When you make beer (or wine for that matter), there is wild yeast and bacteria all around you. When you brew, you try to minimize contact with contaminants, but it is impossible in our situation to work in a sterilized environment. The best we can do is working in a sanitized environment. The difference? Sterilization is 100% clean and is used for hospital instruments, for instance. Sanitization is essentially 99.99%. So we’re always going to have that .01% where a wild yeast could potentially be present. However, that would probably only be a few cells here or there, whereas we add so many cells of yeast, it’s hard to actually comprehend the amount. In general, for an average batch of beer, we’re probably adding somewhere around 1 million cells per mL per degree Plato. For us, that normally comes somewhere around 1,400,000,000,000,000 cells of brewers yeast. That’s 1.4 quadrillion. Those couple of miscellaneous cells aren’t going to do much, as they’ve severely outnumbered. That being said, we replaced all the plastic fittings on our fermenter after the Brett fermentation was complete and gave the tank a good rinse in a strong acid solution to make sure everything was dead. The point I’m trying to make I guess is that using Brett is our style of brewery is certainly a risk. You don’t want to get Brett in beer that you don’t intend to get Brett in. You have to be careful with your processes and don’t want a piece of equipment to become a breeding ground for future contamination. The Beatles were also taking risks, and pushing the boundaries of music. Brett is currently one of the ingredients of beer that is helping to push our boundaries. I thought there was a lot of overlap there.
For the yeast in this beer, we used four different strains, 2 of which were Brett. The yeasts contribute classic farmhouse ale characteristics, with notes of barnyard funk as well as pineapple. Yes, when used correctly, the term barnyard funk can be a positive flavor description in beer. Brett, as well as the other yeasts used, are known for finishing extremely dry, and this is the dryest beer we have ever made, finishing at .25 degree Plato. The lack of sweetness allows the yeast flavors to really shine through without being covered up.
As a nod to the Indian influence that really got started on Revolver, we also added minced fresh ginger root to the boil for a light flavor contribution. I don’t advertise this as a blueberry, ginger, Brett Farmhouse Ale, because I think that would be deceiving. I mention the Brett because I do feel that the character more than shines through, while the blueberries and ginger are pretty subtle. Some patrons at the bar pick up the ginger right away in the nose, others only after drinking it, while some don’t get it at all. I normally strive to not have any spice overtake a beer and believe their place is more for adding complexity, just as the Indian influence spiced up the album without dominating it.
In keeping with the theme of the number “four”, Revolver was brewed with four different malts and four different types of hops. The different malts are more for textural contributions and head retention, while the hops are mostly for bittering. We really wanted the yeasts to be the star for this beer. Overall, this beer is 6.4% ABV, 30 IBU and a purple SRM.
Revolver just might be the Beatles at their absolute best. There isn’t a bad song on the entire album, and the band was still collaborating closely at this point. No matter who your favorite Beatle is or was, it is hard to make the argument that they were better as a solo artists as opposed to when they were all in the Beatles. This is the album that saw George emerge as a force. It changed popular music as we know it with it’s blend of artistry, studio experimentation, clever songwriting, and magic. As you can imagine, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles over the past several months as research for the series. I try to listen to each song and every album and try to match what I’m hearing with flavors I could create. It has been enjoyable to revisit some songs that I haven’t heard in awhile and listen to albums that I don’t always put on. What I’ve learned recently is that Sgt. Pepper may be the most important album in their catalog, musically and culturally, but at this moment in time, I think Revolver is their best.
I am extremely proud of this beer as I feel it matches the album in it’s tone, practice of experimentation, and having the mind wander to different places. For some of you, perhaps this is your first Brett beer and it is as strange and far out as an LSD trip. For others, maybe you know Brett very well and this is a beautiful example of what Brett can do. I guess what I’m trying to say is even though Revolver was an LSD album, it isn’t just about LSD. It’s about meditation, finding the meaning of life, happiness, loneliness, fear, joy, love, silliness, and perhaps most of all, where your mind goes when you hear the songs. While I’ll never compare myself to The Beatles in that aspect that my beer is as complex, the beer isn’t just about the Brett, it’s about where the mind goes when you drink the beer. For me, I go to a very tranquil and contemplative place that reminds me of the good times I’ve had and keeps me hopeful for more good times in the future. If I’m fortunate, you’ll have that experience too. So relax, turn off your mind and float downstream.