Saturday, March 07, 2009

Don't You Know that You Can Count Me Out

This is fairly exciting...

In late May and early June of 1968, the Beatles recorded the White Album version (that is, the slow, more acoustic version, not the crackling, electric single) of "Revolution 1." On May 30, they did eighteen basic takes, with the last being considered best. Unlike the other surviving takes, Take 18 was just over ten minutes long -- the others being about five minutes -- and went on rather obsessively repeating the "Bowm, shoo-be-doo-wah"s. On May 31, they took Take 18, overdubbed vocals and bass, and made a reduction mix, now called Take 19.

On Tuesday, June 4, Take 19 received a lot of overdubs, some rather mundane sweetening, and some extremely strange. The latter part of the song, which would be faded out of the final track, featured obstreperous tone-pedal guitar squeals, spooky Yoko Ono utterances ("you become naked") dropped-in piano tinkles, screaming, and an obsessively repeated "mama, dada" chorus. Clearly, Lennon had already begun to conceive of the piece as a portrait of revolution in sound -- no doubt highly influenced by the extreme world events that were happening at exactly the same time: That March had seen the My Lai Massacre, April the assassination of Martin Luther King, subsequent riots and the student takeover of Columbia University, and May the événements in Paris that nearly toppled the French government. The day after the making of Take 20, as the newly dubbed version was known, Robert Kennedy was murdered.

(Quite a year, that 1968.)

Knowing full well that a ten-minute tune that dissolves into musique concrète couldn't possibly serve as the Beatles' next single (although Lennon argued mightily in favor of it), the compromise was that the song faded at about five minutes, and Lennon lopped off the "weird" second half of the take, flounced into another studio, wiped anything musical that remained, and used it as the starting point for "Revolution 9."

Until now, Take 20 has been a chimera to the Beatle-obsessed world. According to Mark Lewisohn, the band's most authoritative chronicler, a single taped copy was made of it and taken away by Lennon.

But now it has resurfaced, and you can hear it here.

(N.B.: Another site that hosted it was hit by a cease-and-desist and had to take it down. So I don't know how long it will survive at the linked site. I was able to snag a copy using Audio Hijack, so if it does disappear again, hit me at my email address and we'll see what we can make happen.)

I've A/B'd the album version and this new Take 20, and I do believe it to be genuine. A few edits were made on the final version, that nasty tone-pedal guitar wiped and replaced with languid horns, but the bones of the piece are there. Likewise, quite a bit of the second half made it into Revolution 9.

One of the more fascinating documents I've come across in a while.

(Many thanks to John and Simon for hipping me to this.)


The Viscount LaCarte said...

Sounds authentic to me. Thanks for sharing.

RobotSlave said...

For those interested in, erm, obtaining a copy without troubling Our Neddie, it's easily found on the file-stealing sites as part of a bootleg called "The Beatles Revolution take your knickers off!"

And I don't see why everyone is saying Yoko sounds creepy at the end, to me she honestly came across as campy at first and downright cute by the time it was over. (I hope I haven't broken Standard Yoko Vilification Protocol...)

Sunny Jim said...

'Can't Buy Me Love' by Jonathan Gould was so well done and engrossing for anyone who loved Beatle music or who is old enough to remember how exciting it was whenever new songs were being released.

Also Gould knows his shit, musically speaking. He has some definitive answers to the questions I raised a few weeks back regarding the White Album. Namely: Are many of those White Album songs fresher-sounding today because there was so much substance and quality to them
or because the White Album songs were not killed by overexposure on Top 40 radio? For Gould it was definitely the latter.

By way of some explanation I will summarize what Gould is saying.

Sorry for the long-winded post and thanks, Neddie (and his readers) for this forum!

Here's Gould's take on the matter: The best work to ever come out of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration was definitely NOT found on the White Album. The disjointed White Album songs lacked the collaboration that was a trademark of earlier songs. By the time of the White Album, he says, "pop music's most remarkable and resilient songwriting partnership had fallen apart."

Gould does not go easy on Yoko, whose constant presence by that time prevented Paul to continue working with John in the intense yet informal back-and-forth which they had known in the years prior.

Previously, when the Lennon-McCartney team partnered up, they would serve as each other's private audience, impressing, criticizing and responding to each other. This private give and take was no longer possible with Yoko's constant presence (although to be fair, there were hints of breakup before her arrival on the scene).

That collaboration in the eight years prior had come up with songs that reached new heights and brought new complexities to pop music. Lennon and McCartney continually found ways to rock the world with each new release, culminating with Sgt. Pepper. Here are ten examples which Gould analyzes chronologically in the book:

- Things We Said Today

- A Hard Day's Night

- We Can Work It Out

- For No One

- Eleanor Rigby

- Strawberry Fields Forever

- Penny Lane

- With A Little Help From My Friends

- She's Leaving Home

- A Day in the Life

In each of these, Gould describes the major/minor changes, contrapuntal surprises, different orchestrations (e.g. strings only on Eleanor Rigby), baroque and neo-classical elements (even though none of the Beatles had formal training in music), and/or studio embellishments.

I know that 'engrossing' and 'engaging' are cliches when it comes to book review blurbs, but Gould's attention to such details make for exactly that.

Thank you again for this forum.

HomefrontRadio said...

Regarding 'Freshness':

When I was seven my Dad bought this vinyl box set for my older sister.

My sister, experiencing Beatlemania a good 15 years after the fact, played these albums obsessively, so they've been pretty much drilled into my skull.

However, if you actually look at the box set, you'll see it's everything the Beatles recorded, with some major exceptions.

- No 'Magical Mystery Tour'

- None of the non-album singles

There was a disc of Rarities, such a 'Yes It Is', 'Rain' and the original 'Across the Universe', but it still means there were huge holes in the Beatles canon I've only really heard as an adult, which means they still sound brand new whenever I hear them, and they're probably some of the most popular single A-Sides ever.

(The other side effect was that I always sing "Oh du bist so schon, komm gibt me deine hand" and the English version sounds completely wrong to my ears).

Anonymous said...

You CAN get the FLAC & 320 download at the link you've got to Never Get Out Of The Boat. It's been disguised as The Knickerbockers - Lies.

Neddie said...

Thanks very much, Nonny! I though the blogger had moved on to different topics -- not that the Knickerbockers were not a worthy subject!

You have your marching orders, everybody....

HomefrontRadio said...

Props to that blog. 10 minutes of 'Revolution'; a vocal-free version of 'Spilt Milk' by Jellyfish AND the full album of Trip Shakespeare's 'Lulu', a record i've been trying to track down since '91?


Will Divide said...

No way would #20 have fit between "Long, Long, Long" and "Goodnight" as, yes, beautifully as #9. (Listened to all three, coincidentally enough, yesterday, whilst learning the chords to LLL.)

I think #9 is a radio drama, Lennon's own Nighttown in the studio. I'm not sure how or why, but it remains utterly fascinating.

Will Divide said...

Hrm. . . it's Cry, Baby, Cry right before #9, innit? Though my point about #9's awesomeness stands, I'll go stand in the studio corner for a while.

jdmack said...

The most interesting edit in the final version of "Revolution #1" happens at 3:24. I always thought that it was ultra cool that The Beatles added a measure of 4/8 into the overall 12/8 feel at this point. In fact, this measure was created by editing and was not played that way, as Take 20 will reveal. Apparently, Geoff Emerick has stated somewhere that this was a flubbed edit which The Beatles liked, so he didn't fix it.

jdmack said...

And another cool and interesting thing I noticed. At 4:13 and 4:31 of Take 20, Ringo plays eighth note drum fills which are missing from the final mix.