Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band marked the Beatles’ cultural apex, effectively re-tuning the zeitgeist of Western society in 1967’s Summer of Love, but its predecessor – Revolver, released August 5th, 1966 – was the band’s biggest musical watershed. Never had the Beatles emerged with such a brace of high-quality songs. Never had Paul McCartney written so well. John Lennon wasn’t far behind. Never had a band enmeshed itself so thoroughly with studio wizardry. Never, simply, had a musical collective done so much to change the very concept of how sound could be produced, at the level of sheer fun, and the level of full-on art.
Sgt. Pepper yielded a number of legends about how it was made and what it wrought, while Revolver has always lagged behind in that department, a fact that deserves redressing as this immortal LP turns 50. In that spirit, here are 15 things you might not know about this still-stunning classic.
1. “Yellow Submarine” almost killed John Lennon.
On Wednesday, June 1st, 1966, the Beatles, with a coterie of fellow madcaps including Marianne Faithful, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and George Harrison’s wife, Pattie, gathered in Abbey Road’s Studio Two to outfit “Yellow Submarine” with sound effects.
Zaniness had always been a special interest of John Lennon’s, going back to his passion for The Goon Show. Getting into nautical mode, Lennon pressed Revolver engineer Geoff Emerick to record him singing underwater, after having first attempted to sing while gargling.
“While George Martin worked at dissuading him,” Emerick later wrote, “I began thinking of an alternative. Might we have John sing into a mic that was immersed in water?”
A mic was duly wrapped in a condom for protection, prompting the Lennon wisecrack, “We don’t want the microphone getting in the family way,” and dropped in a milk carton.
The signal was distant and the gambit was abandoned, but no one at the time was aware how lucky Lennon had been. “It wasn’t until many years later,” Emerick concluded, “that I realized with horror that the microphone we were using was phantom-powered – meaning that it actually was a live electrical object. In conjunction with the 240-volt system used in England, any of us, including Lennon, could easily have been electrocuted, and I would have gone down in history as the first recording engineer to kill a client in the studio.”