The best Beatles album? The rock historians often point to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the moment, in 1967, when rock magically grew up and became a legitimate art form, at least as it was perceived by the mainstream media.
Many fans love the sprawl and variety of the self-titled 1968 double album, popularly known as The White Album. In some quarters there’s a fondness for Abbey Road and its side-long suite of mini-songs, and lovers of the Bob Dylan-influenced folk-rock of the mid-‘60s cherish Rubber Soul above all. They all have merit, but none of them is as consistently brilliant and innovative as Revolver.
Where Revolver began tells us a lot about where it ended up. When recording commenced in April 1966, The Beatles dived into the future with Tomorrow Never Knows. John Lennon conjured a sound in his head, and left it up to producer George Martin and a 20-year-old rookie engineer, Geoff Emerick, to figure out how to get it on tape. They succeeded spectacularly.
Lennon’s voice was filtered through a Leslie speaker cabinet, which gave it a vibrato effect normally associated with a Hammond keyboard. George Harrison brought Eastern drones to the track by playing a long-necked lute called the tamboura as well as a sitar, and Paul McCartney cooked up backward and vari-speed tape loops, including one that evoked the sound of seagulls. Ringo Starr’s drums were pushed to the foreground in the mix, inverting the typical hierarchy of most rock instrumentation.
Ringo’s drums became the lead instrument, a thundering focal point amid the sonic chaos. Lennon’s ‘Tibetan-monk’ vocals urged listeners to "turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”