Here’s a clip of a recently released from Maharishi summer camp fab four with the original version of their single “Revolution”, billed as it was on the The Beatles (The White Album), released 40 years ago in November 1968, as “Revolution 1”.
The clip is a bit of a dodge in that the footage is taken from the promo of the single which was re-recorded and released in August of 1968. That version, as you may know, is a bit louder, faster, and shoutier to suit the times. The clip slows everything down to match the more languid pace of the original.
The White Album version is like a stoned acoustic doo-wop, with Lennon’s voice a little on the sleepy side. Yet, there’s a real groove there, with a somnambulant veneer, a dreamy vibe which draws your ear into the lyrics a bit more than the single version does. And of course there’s the “count me out…in” lyric that still has critics wondering what Lennon was getting at. It was argued that the track was too slow to be a single. So it was re-recorded as a double-A side with “Hey Jude”.
“Revolution” the single remains to be one of the hardest dirtiest statements the Beatles ever released. When the group performed the song on David Frost’s show, featured in the clips, they performed it semi-live, with the record backing their live vocals. Paul and George put the “a-womp, shoo-be-doo-wop” backing vocals back in, even if the single had taken them out.
Nineteen Sixty-Eight was a turbulent year historically, and for the Beatles it was certainly one for contrast. It was a year of both self-contemplation and politicization too by the time the year was over. In many ways, this year was the beginning of a new state of affairs for the Beatles, who since 1963 had lived in the insular world of recording studios, stages, radio stations, movie sets, and hotel rooms. Times were changing, even for the fab four.
They had met with the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, the previous year in Britain, and had attended a number of his seminars. This included a weekend in Bangor, Wales, a kind of spiritual retreat. This served as a means of introducing the group, their wives, and some of their friends, to the world of TM.
While away in Bangor, their manager Brian Epstein died of an accidental drugs overdose. Even in this, they knew that things had shifted from one era to another. Epstein had been the band’s manager in nearly every sense, from logistics, to finances, to publicity (with the help of press officer Derek Taylor). Above all, Epstein had held them together as an entity, as a package. When he was gone, part of the work cut out for them was to redefine who they were as a band, as people within that band, and ultimately what the relationship was between each.
Maybe this is why the group’s interest in TM would inspire them to take some time off and go to Rishikesh in India to take an expanded course in TM under Maharishi’s tutelage. Along with their wives, they were also joined by celebrity friends, and other TM enthusiasts in a sort of spiritual summer camp, even if the span of months stretched from February to April of 1968. And while there, each Beatle wrote songs – lots of them.
But even if the Beatles wrote about various subjects in their India-written songs, they certainly began to write about their times in a more direct way. Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” is a direct reference to civil rights. George Harrison’s “Piggies” discusses the narrow-mindedness of the middle-classes. And of course, it’s Lennon who later pens “Revolution”, in the wake of the Paris student riots after his return from Rishikesh. It seems that the look inward actually produced an opposite effect. And with no Brian Epstein to rein in their political impulses in the songwriting, it was the first overtly political statement from the Beatles.
It was a tough year, particularly for the counterculture. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, the war in Vietnam raged on, and Richard Nixon came to power as President of the United States for the first time. In many ways, the Beatles eponymous next album being something of a darker beast than the colourful Sgt. Pepper the year before was understandable. And “Revolution” captured something of the zeitgeist, a feat which had always been something of a Beatles trait. Yet, it could be argued that this was the beginning of the end of the Beatles, as each member of the band began to realize that there was life outside of the bubble that had been made for them to live in up until then.
[UPDATE, Aug 2, 2012: Check out these rare photos of the Beatles in India.]