When the Beatles‘ Revolver was released in 1966, the album was heralded for breaking new ground. Using only a four-track tape machine, the band, with the help of producer George Martin and others, deviated from the usual recording techniques of the day, creating a record that changed the way artists worked in the studio.Revolver is now breaking ground again.
An upcoming box set due on Oct. 28 includes 28 early takes from the LP’s sessions plus three home demos. There’s also a new remix of the album sourced from the original four-track master tapes created by Giles Martin (son of original producer George Martin) and Sam Okell. With the assistance of the sound team at Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films Productions Ltd., the Revolver tracks were broken down using some of the most up-to-date technology available.
Giles Martin is somewhat averse to speaking at great lengths about the technology used for the project. “I kind of hate the idea of anyone listening to music, thinking about technology,” he said at a Revolver listening event in New York City earlier this week. “Because that’s not the point — we should listen to songs and enjoy them.” But he’ll occasionally indulge. Martin, who has worked on several Beatles reissues, as well as 2021’s Get Back: The Beatles film, is striving to make the band as accessible as possible to fans, not only with their music but through their creative process, too.
He wants listeners to feel as though they are in the room with the band, acting as a fly on the wall. “I [was] given the keys to Abbey Road and the Beatles’ vault and was allowed to go into the tapes,” Martin said. “And it’s just amazing. It’s such an amazing body of work. There’s such energy that comes out of all of the tapes. My kind of role is like: Everyone should be able to hear that energy.”
When Jackson’s audio team was at work on Get Back‘s dialogue, audio editor Emile de la Rey had been tasked with cleaning up the sound from the original tapes to make it suitable for the movie. He worked with a forensic police department, as well as artificial intelligence software, developing methods for separating individual tracks as well as individual instruments and voices. Martin wondered if the same process would be possible with Revolver‘s four-track tapes.
Martin offered an example of this detailed de-mixing system at the event, playing a mono version of “Taxman” that included guitar, bass and drums, separating each instrument and then further separating it so that only Ringo Starr‘s snare hit could be heard. That precision, Martin said, is “what unlocks the door to this whole process.”
He had previously experimented with this idea in Ron Howard‘s 2016 film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, but it wasn’t until now that the technology has been fully available and useful. Martin described it as being something “like an autopsy,” a slightly unsettling analogy that nonetheless emphasizes the importance of each of Revolver‘s moving parts. “You open it out, and it’s really healthy,” he said, adding that it was still crucial to not go overboard with new technology, using it to only enhance what was already present. “We never do things for the sake of it.”
Listen to the 2022 Mix of the Beatles’ ‘Taxman’
After spending so much time working on Get Back, Revolver was a welcome change for Martin. “It was a lot like hearing a completely different band,” he said. “We didn’t ‘Disney-fy’ Get Back, but it was a band that was much more cohesive than people thought at that stage. Revolver‘s very different. Revolver‘s a bit like finding four guys unwrapping their presents.” As Paul McCartney told Martin, Revolver was “us becoming individuals.” There are several songs in the upcoming box that exemplify this. There’s an exceptionally jangly version of “And Your Bird Can Sing,” filled with so much Rickenbacker guitar that you might mistake it for a Byrds song. (“That was it, wasn’t it?” John Lennon says at the end of the take.)
There’s also a revealing version of “Eleanor Rigby (Take 2).” Before the take, the string octet heard in the song had played its part only once before. A brief discussion about the vibrato can be heard on the tape before George Martin conducts the group, which plays with gusto throughout the section. It’s a powerful moment within the context of the recording sessions. “Ten minutes before you heard that, that day, no one would have heard ‘Eleanor Rigby’ at all,” Giles Martin noted. “It was just a piece of paper with dots.”
Martin said he was most surprised by one of the demos found in the new set. For a long time, Martin, like many others, thought “Yellow Submarine” was mainly a McCartney composition with contributions by Lennon to construct something Starr could sing on the album. It turned out to be the opposite. In the demo, Lennon sings a sad verse — “In the town where I was born / No one cared, no one cared” — over his acoustic guitar, making for something that sounds like an old Woody Guthrie tune. Then McCartney joins in, helping to figure out the song’s path. Completely stripped of its spectacle, this early version of “Yellow Submarine” sounds, as Martin described it, as “if it was sung a long time ago.”
The producer hopes the new technology doesn’t intrude too much on the art. He prefers to make decisions based on what works best for each song, not on what tools he has at his disposal. “Sometimes it works technically but not emotionally,” he explained.
For Martin, the painstaking process of de-mixing and remixing is worth it in the end; just knowing that the Beatles’ legacy is living on in new ways for future generations to enjoy is a reward. He joked that he doesn’t sit at home listening to Beatles albums – he does enough of that at work – but he recognizes the importance of his role. “When I work on an album, there’s huge weight,” he said. “A lot of you guys, as well as myself, really care about this stuff. In fact, it’s almost like you own it to a certain extent. It’s yours. And there’s huge responsibility in that, and there’s a huge amount of passion and care that has to go into that process.”
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