The Beatles Perform ‘Revolution 1’ From the White Album

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.

George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Donovan, and Patti Boyd.  Wheres Ringo?  He left early.  He was allergic to Maharishis cooking.
The Beatles in Rishikesh India. From Left: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Donovan, and Patti Boyd. Where’s Ringo? He left early. He was allergic to Maharishi’s cooking.

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.

Enjoy!

[UPDATE, Aug 2, 2012: Check out these rare photos of the Beatles in India.]

60s British Folk-Pop Singer Donovan Talks About Music and the Creative Process

Here’s a link to a page which contains a short flash movie clip of 60s British folk-pop singer Donovan talking about songwriting, myth, and the creative process. Once you get to the page, click the play button to view. Filmmaker David Lynch is also interviewed on the same subject in an attached clip, so be sure to watch that one too, good people. Thanks to The Atlantic.com for directing me to this clip.

DonovanDonovan had a several hits in Britain in the mid-to-late 60s – “Sunshine Superman”, “Mellow Yellow”, and “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, among others. He welcomed Bob Dylan during Bob’s 1965 UK tour (captured for posterity in D.A Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan – Don’t Look Back), and went to the same “summer camp” as the Beatles when the Fabs went to India to learn how to meditate with the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi in 1968.

Before then, Donovan was hailed as Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan. Donovan’s initial interest in Woody Guthrie, the Beat poets, and the itinerant lifestyle they led is an obvious parallel to Dylan. And like Dylan, he took a stylistic turn for more commercial music when he teamed with producer Mickey Most in 1966. But otherwise, the two artists were world’s apart in terms of approach, attitude, and range. Donovan’s oeuvre isn’t quite as ambiguous in its subject matter, and a bit more on the side of tweeness by which the hippy counterculture is often characterized.

His fascination with nature, and with mythical tales are revealed both in his songs (‘Atlantis’, for instance) and in this interview. In this, he was an important figure in the celebration of British folk traditions as presented in the popular culture of the 60s, and one of the artists which can be credited for burgeoning interest in Britain’s mythical past. His optimism tied him inextricably to the decade, meaning that the next few decades were a little rough going for him. By the 90s, he’d mounted somewhat of a comeback, putting out a new record and touring the folk festival circuit for the benefit of a new audience who had come to be fascinated with the era out of which Donovan had come.

All of this aside, if Donovan can be credited for only one thing in his long career, it might be his instruction to John Lennon in the art of the clawhammer fingerpicking style, which Donovan taught John while both men were in India. This allowed Lennon to write “Julia”, so that’s no small accomplishment. Thanks, Donovan!

Enjoy the clip!