Friday, 4 June 2010

The Great Lost Beatles Single

We know that John Lennon wanted 'Revolution' to be a Beatles single in the summer of 1968. That's 'Revolution 1' from the White Album, to be precise. But, as Lennon complained to Jann Wenner in 1970, his fellow Beatles "said it wasn't good enough and we put out, what, 'Hello Goodbye' or some shit. No, we put out 'Hey Jude', sorry, which was worthy. But we could have had both."

It sounds like a classic example of the growing gulf between Lennon's rock'n'roll sensibility, and McCartney's commercialism, with 'Hey Jude' (one of the best-selling singles of the 1960s, after all) taking precedence on good old-fashioned money-making grounds.

But that's not the whole story. Forgive me if you already knew this, but until the other week I had never quite realised the audacity of Lennon's suggestion. It's true that 'Revolution 1' wouldn't have been the most obvious choice for a Beatles single, though it was probably no less radio-friendly than 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'. I reckon, however, that the problem wasn't 'Revolution 1' but Lennon's intended choice of B-side - that all-time fan favourite, 'Revolution 9'.

Lennon confirms his intention in a previously unheard 1972 interview, which comes up for sale at Christie's next auction of pop memorabilia in London on 24 June. "The other Beatles wouldn't let it out," he complains. "They said it wasn't commercial." Mark Lewisohn's investigations into the Beatles' studio activities proved that Lennon devoted the best part of June 1968 to recording, editing and mixing the two 'Revolution' tracks; and that during much of that time, first George and Ringo, and then Paul, were out of the country.

The four men reconvened at Abbey Road on 26 June 1968, and Lennon presumably unveiled his new 'Beatles single' for their approval. You can imagine their reaction: they were confronted with a record that (a) was overtly political; (b) was entirely dominated by Lennon, on both sides; (c) featured an avant-garde sound collage unlike anything else in the Beatles' catalogue; (d) bore the obvious influence of Lennon's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, to whom they had only been introduced a few weeks earlier, and who had loyally appeared at every single recording session since then. It's no wonder that McCartney, Harrison and Starkey said no.

How did Lennon react to their refusal? We don't have a record of the conversation, but consider this: he immediately led the band into an eight-hour session devoted to recording the backing track for a song called 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey'. Were the people with "something to hide" none other than his fellow Beatles?

So there was no Beatles single combining 'Revolution 1' and 'Revolution 9'. One thing is certain, though: the moment they heard that single, the other Beatles knew that John Lennon had changed. And the nature of that change meant that the group's days were numbered.

1 comment:

  1. As much as I love all the songs mentioned in your bit here, I'd have had to throw in with the majority if faced with voting on the commercial release of a double-sided Revolution single. Especially in 1968.

    As you point out, Revolution 9 is indeed a 'fan favourite', but 'favourite', I maintain, only in the sense that fans use the track as a litmus test of Beatle fan-worthiness, that is, in the same sense a connoisseur of hot peppers will judge other pepper lovers based on the hottest specimen they can stomach.

    Thinking back to my own first listen of #9, I remember doubting my even own fandom as the eight plus minute audio artscape dragged on, and finally, years later, getting up the courage to ask the simple question, "Huh?".

    In the end, among my very closest Beatle fan friends, #9 remains not quite a favourite tune, but more a collective pass to our beloved, tortured, lovestruck, favourite Beatle.