A Beatles Journey: Rodriguez on Revolver
Author Robert Rodriguez book “Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a brilliant magnifying glass focused on The Beatles Revolver album, and, as Rodriguez states early in the book’s introduction, makes an almost indisputable argument that Revolver is The Beatles “artistic high water mark”. If I didn’t believe it before reading the book, I’m 99% sold after having read it.
Since beginning my ongoing Beatles study/journey in 2009, I’ve read a score of books on the subject, and “reviewed” just over a dozen of them. I should preface “reviewed” with “I’m not a book critic, or professional reviewer, but merely a reader who gets excited and wants to share that excitement with whomever might be listening (reading)”. Regardless, Rodriguez book not only captured my attention for all 238 pages (less the timeline and bibliography), Robert Rodriguez – the author – was able to suck me in to his perspective to the point that I was no longer reading, I was absorbing.
Rodriguez excels as a storyteller, and with each page turned I was sucked in deeper and deeper to what would make an A+ persuasive speech in any Public Speaking 101 course. As a matter of fact, Rodriguez writing style is more akin to a captivating orator than written word, seldom (if more than once) distracting or detracting with endless footnotes, but instead weaving citations and sources into the story itself. I can’t say enough about the author’s ability to convey ideas, concepts and even opinion without losing the reader in endless gobbledygook. Additionally, Rodriguez research is impeccable, and at times illuminating.
Yes hardcore Beatle fans – there is something in this book for you.
Regarding the concept of Revolver being the high water mark, this theory obviously supplants Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, more commonly regarded (or perceived) as the Beatles pinnacle body of work. For those in the know, this is no new notion. As Rodriguez points out, Revolver was plagued with many obstacles which inevitably shrouded its greatness, from Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” statements gimping U.S. sales, to Capitol Records butchered U.S. version of the album and, of course, its eventually being eclipsed by the Sgt. Pepper album.
So is Revolver the superior album to the legendary Sgt. Pepper’s? Well I suppose that’s for the reader to decide, but the author does a remarkable job of presenting and re-presenting his argument solidly from virtually every possible perspective. I’d even recommend reading the book with an open mind, although there is no need for such advice – the author does a stellar job of opening it for the reader.
Being that I’ve already prefaced with my lack of reviewing credentials, and I’m bursting out of the seams to inject my personal opinions into this review, let me now warn that reading further may reveal spoilers, and be tainted with personal opinion irrelevant to a traditional review.
Three reasons why Robert Rodriguez rocks, IMHO.
1. Unlike other “Beatle Historians” and authors, Rodriguez does not accuse Paul McCartney of re-writing Beatles lore, but instead eloquently and respectfully acknowledges that years have passed since events in question, and Paul’s memory – as anyone’s – is not infallible over the span of forty decades. Instead, the author researches deeper, finding recorded clips to substantiate facts, delving where others may not have simply to confirm a McCartney claim – which he does.
2. While many Beatle authors point to “Rain” as Ringo Starr’s best work, until Rodriguez I had yet to find any who acknowledged his contribution on “Strawberry Fields Forever” as being as great as it is. The analogy Rodriguez uses to illustrate the artistic evolution of Ringo Starr apparent on that track is “as a filmmaker segueing from silent to sound pictures”, something I’ve believed for a long time. Thank you Robert for giving Ringo props where props were due.
3. Rodriguez refers to the song “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band as idiotic. It is.
Whether or not Revolver is Robert Rodriguez favorite Beatles album is unclear, and I don’t dare assume. What I can assess is that his research is thorough and concise, and this book is almost the micro to Elijah Wald’s macro “How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Rodriguez’s book is focused and packed with facts and theories to back up his claim, which, in the end, is made fairly elementary in this outstanding contribution to Beatledom.
As for me, I’m a Rubber Soul man.
P.S. Robert, if you’re reading this, you already corrected Ian McDonald’s work in your book, so might I suggest going all the way and writing your own “Revolution In The Head”? You’ve already got one albums worth down, and you one-upped McDonald with better detail (particularly “She Said, She Said”.
More Pontifications on The Beatles
Indeed. Mr. Rodriguez gives us a stellar “tour de force” presenting Revolver not only as a creative musical masterpiece but as a repository that focused the musical, cultural, political and, er, chemical influences contemporaneous with the recording, production and release of the album.
The Beatles were not only leaders in the world of musical presentation/experimentation but they were also ravenous consumers of musical presentation/experimentation. That’s something that they’re rarely given credit for (or at least it’s rarely acknowledged). Toss in fashion (but you can’t toss in fashion without giving a “shout out” to Brian Epstein) and social revolution (both political and cultural) and the Beatles seemingly became the publicly acknowledged (and tacitly agreed upon) leaders of a revolution. Sure it was partially “smoke and mirrors” but without the chops to back it up they would have eventually faded into obscurity.
Yet here we are forty-six years after its release discussing Revolver.
Nice review, Craig. I look forward to reading more from you.
And giving a “shout out” to Mr. Epstein on his birthday might I add.
Thank you for your kind words Blaine. Robert Rodriguez book was/is a glimmering streetlamp on my personal journey to learn all I can about The Beatles… which seemingly has no end.
I completed the book yesterday, and I have had a night to think about it. A couple of thoughts:
1. Rodriguez’s analysis is incredibly well-reasoned. It is also quite nuanced and deep – much more profound than the idea that Sgt. Pepper benefited from being the right record at the perfect time.
2. The idea that Sgt. Pepper is a period piece is not a sufficient argument against its superiority, and Rodriguez recognizes this. In fact, every Beatles album between Help! and Let It Be could validly be called a period piece. Revolver is great, because the songs are great, the performances are exceptional, and the increased involvement of Harrison created a balanced project.
3. The analysis of the musicianship is outstanding. As Craig notes, the call-outs to Ringo’s drumming are long-overdue, and the recognition of Paul’s instrumental genius was an education in itself.
4. Musings on the influences of the Beatles’ contemporaries were strong, but perhaps incomplete. I think that the Kinks were probably worthy of equal mention to the Stones, Dylan, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys.
5. The side comments about individual Beatles were fantastic. It is common knowledge that John was insecure, but it is still great to hear it in context – the greatest tenor in rock history felt the need to double-track his voice to give it fullness, and he frequently felt uncomfortable with his takes.
6. Craig sees himself as a Rubber Soul guy, and he is right. Rubber Soul is great. In the book, Rodriguez mentioned that several of the Beatles saw Rubber Soul and Revolver as parts 1 and 2 of a monumental effort. Together they are the Beatles’ best efforts.
You honor me with your comment, and I’m flattered and grateful. I really did love this book, and the authors perspective. That my review inspired you to run out, buy it, and – based on the time since posting this – devour the book, makes me smile…
For two reasons:
1. You love The Beatles.
2. It suggests that I may actually know what I’m talking about.