But there was ambiguity in Revolution’s lyric. John’s particular strain of revolt was to be purely humanitarian and strictly non-violent. Or was it? As he delivered Revolution’s pivotal ‘But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out’ lyric, he immediately followed it up with an entirely contradictory ‘in’. Conflicted? Perhaps. Mischievous by instinct? Definitely.
The first version of Revolution to hit record stores was faster and more aggressive compared to its bluesy, almost non-committal, White Album incarnation (titled Revolution 1). Re-recorded as an A-side, but demoted at Paul’s insistence to the B-side of the non-album Hey Jude single, this primal scream-propelled invitation to insurrection, replete with distorted guitar riff, managed to Trojan-horse its way into eight million homes. Heavy rock had barely been invented, but The Beatles, having nailed its key components, casually disseminated its message into every corner of the planet.
While John and Yoko were orbiting each other, McCartney was busy in his own world. A one-man Tin Pan Alley, McCartney has long been regarded as the soft pop cheese to Lennon’s hard rock chalk. But he could be just as hard, if not harder, than John. During the course of a particularly unguarded interview, ostensibly to promote Hey Jude in August ’68, McCartney flatly stated that: “Starvation in India doesn’t worry me one bit. Not one iota. It doesn’t, man.” He concluded: “The truth about me is that I’m pleasantly insincere.”
Never prepared to alienate the mainstream audience that had always formed The Beatles’ core constituency, McCartney’s stance in ’68 appeared counter-revolutionary next to Lennon’s. “People seem to think that all we say and do and sing is a political statement,” he said, “but it isn’t. In the end it’s always only a song.”
The final chapter in the Revolution saga, Revolution 9, was never “only a song”. It remains the White Album’s most ‘difficult’ moment. Eight minutes and 22 seconds of tape loops, sound effects and musique concrète, it was John and Yoko’s arty indulgence, and Paul argued against its inclusion.
John and Yoko’s relationship found its genesis in a shared fascination for the avant garde. In early May 1968, while Cynthia was holidaying in Italy, John invited Yoko over to his house. He played her tapes of his experimental home recordings, and over the course of the night the pair contrived to concoct an entire album’s worth of material. By morning they were a couple, and the commercially suicidal Two Virgins awaited its controversial release (it would emerge a week after the White Album, wrapped in the most unflattering nude cover in the history of sleeve art).
Enthused by their efforts, John and Yoko were keen to repeat the exercise, this time under The Beatles’ name. Two weeks later, with George Harrison along for the ride, they set to work on Revolution 9.
So why did McCartney take issue with what could have been construed as the most brave, progressive and genuinely revolutionary statement on the White Album? Surprisingly, it wasn’t down to the kind of musical conservatism one might expect of the man responsible for When I’m Sixty-Four. “I didn’t find that interesting,” he had shrugged of Two Virgins. “The music wasn’t shocking to me, because I’d made a lot like that myself.”