Beatles – Revolution

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head

This song was the B side to Hey Jude…a heck of a B side. John Lennon wanted it to be the first A-side released on Apple Records, the label The Beatles started, but Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” got the honor.

This was the first overtly political Beatles song. It was John Lennon’s response to the Vietnam War.

The “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” videos were shot in a studio setting and meant to look like the band was performing it live. They both aired September 8 on Frost On Sunday, a popular UK show hosted by David Frost, who was at the Twickenham shoot to introduce the clip for the segment on his show, making it appear that the band was really there.

*** A little fun here… I always wondered about the Revolution video. Between 10-13 seconds on the video below you see George say something to Paul. It’s either “John’s mic is sh*t” or something else …what do you think? Any lip readers?

The dirty guitar sound was created by plugging the guitars directly into the audio board and overloading it. The guitar sounded so scratchy that many who bought the 45 RPM single tried to return it, thinking it was defective.

There are two very different versions of this song… a slow version that appears on The White Album, and a fast, loud version was released as a single. In the slow version, Lennon says “count me in” as well as “count me out” when referring to violence. This gives the song a dual meaning.

The song peaked at #12 in the Billboard 100 and #1 in Canada

John Lennon: “I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution,”  “I thought it was about time we spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time and we’re not going to just waffle’…That’s why I did it: I wanted to talk. I wanted to say my piece about revolutions. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say, ‘What do you say? This is what I say.'”

Paul McCartney:  “It was a great song, basically John’s…it was an overtly political song about revolution and a great one. I think John later ascribed more political intent to it than he actually felt when he wrote it.”

Continuing, Paul writes: “They were very political times, obviously, with the Vietnam war going on, Chairman Mao and the Little Red Book, and all the demonstrations with people going through the streets shouting ‘Ho, Ho Ho Chi Minh!’ I think he wanted to say you can count me in for a revolution, but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao ‘you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.’ By saying that I think he meant we all want to change the world Maharishi-style, because ‘Across The Universe’ also had the change-the-world theme.”

 

From Songfacts

John Lennon wrote this in India while The Beatles were at a transcendental meditation camp with The Maharishi. Lennon told Rolling Stone: “I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right (even now I’m saying ‘Hold on, John, it’s going to be all right,’ otherwise, I won’t hold on) but that’s why I did it, I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say.'”

Revolutionaries take different approaches to reach their goals. In a 1998 interview with Uncut, Yoko One gave her thoughts on Lennon’s approach and how he expressed it in this song: “John’s idea of revolution was that he did not want to create the situation where when you destroy statues, you become a statue. And also what he means is that there’s too much repercussion in the usual form of revolution. He preferred evolution. So you have to take a peaceful method to get peace rather than you don’t care what method you take to get peace, and he was very, very adamant about that.”

The fast version was released as the B-side of “Hey Jude” in August 1968, three months before the slow version appeared on The White Album.

There are so many versions of this song because Paul McCartney didn’t like it. Lennon really wanted this song to be the “A” side of the single instead of “Hey Jude,” and kept changing it around to come up with something that would make Paul see it his way. He basically wrote the song because he felt like he was being pulled in so many directions by different people, all of whom wanted his backing, politically. It was also him questioning his own belief in the revolution that was going on… whether he was “out” or “in.” In truth, he was writing about a revolution of the mind rather than a physical “in the streets” revolution. He truly believed that revolution comes from inner change rather than social violence. (This is discussed in the DVD Composing the Beatles Songbook)

Nike used this for commercials in 1987. Capitol Records, who owned the performance rights, meaning The Beatles version of the song, was paid $250,000. Michael Jackson, who owned the publishing rights, meaning use of the words and music, also had to agree and was paid for the song (Jackson acquired the rights to 251 Beatles songs in 1985 when he outbid Paul McCartney for them, fracturing their friendship in the process).

The commercials caused a huge backlash from Beatles fans who felt that Nike was disrespecting the legacy of John Lennon, who likely would have objected to its use, but the ad campaign, called “Revolution in Motion,” was successful, helping Nike expand their market by featuring ordinary joggers, gym rats and cyclists. “We’re trying to promote the concept of revolutionary changes in the fitness movement and show how Nike parallels those changes with product development,” the company stated. “Because of this ‘revolution,’ we were able to draw a strong correlation with the music and the lyrics in the Beatles song.”

It wasn’t just fans who had beef with the ads: the surviving Beatles, along with Yoko Ono (representing Lennon’s estate), sued Nike, bringing even more publicity to the campaign. The ads ran for about a year, and eventually a settlement was reached in the lawsuit. As years went by, it became more acceptable to use songs in commercials, but Beatles songs remained off-limits, as any use would result in a lawsuit and hostile reaction by fans. What was “revolutionary” about the Nike commercials were that they were the first to do it.

In 2002, “When I’m 64” was used in a commercial for Allstate insurance. Many Beatles fans were not pleased, but it didn’t get nearly the reaction of the Nike commercials, partly because it was not a political song, but also because it was sung by Julian Lennon, which implied endorsement by his father.

On September 4, 1968, The Beatles made a promotional film for this song and “Hey Jude” at Twickenham Studios in London. These were directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who did the previous Beatles videos: “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.”

Unlike those clips, which were shot outdoors, the “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” videos were shot in a studio setting and meant to look like the band was performing it live. They both aired September 8 on Frost On Sunday, a popular UK show hosted by David Frost, who was at the Twickenham shoot to introduce the clip for the segment on his show, making it appear that the band was really there.

Another edit of the footage was later broadcast on Top Of The Pops, and yet another was shown in America on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. When the Beatles compilation 1+ was released in 2015, a restored version of the video was included in the set.

Before this song was used to shill for Nike, Yoko Ono was fine with using John Lennon’s music in commercials; she authorized “Imagine” for a Japanese ad and said it was “making John’s music accessible to a new generation.” Nike bypassed the living Beatles, but went to her for approval, since the lead vocalist (the “principal performer”) of a song needs to grant permission under certain statutes. Also, as the keeper of Lennon’s legacy, it helped to have her consent for publicity purposes. Nike claimed the song was used “with the active support of Yoko Ono Lennon.”

This is one of the Beatles songs (“Help!” and “In My Life” are other examples) where John Lennon’s falsetto makes an appearance. He takes it up high for the word “be” in the line, “You know it’s gonna be all right.”

Nicky Hopkins played the piano. When The Beatles needed keyboards, they usually used Hopkins, Billy Preston, or their producer, George Martin.

 The word “Revolution” is mentioned just once, in the first line.

John Lennon wanted his vocals to have an unusual sound, so he recorded most of them lying on his back in the studio. The famous scream at the beginning is a double-tracked recording of Lennon. >>

The version on the Hey Jude compilation, released in February 1970 in the US, was the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. The Hey Jude compilation album peaked at #2 in the US and consists of a collection of singles and B-sides that had not previously appeared on US non-soundtrack album releases. The album cover was taken at the final Beatles photo session, at Lennon’s (later Starr’s) country estate in Ascot, England. >>

Thompson Twins performed this song at the Philadelphia stage of Live Aid on July 13, 1985. The concert, which raised money for famine relief in Africa, had a global audience of at least 1.5 billion. Thompson Twins were joined on stage for the performance by Madonna (who contributed backing vocals and tambourine), Steve Stevens (best known as Billy Idol’s guitarist) and Nile Rodgers, who was also on guitar.

Thompson Twins included the song on their album Here’s to Future Days, which was released a few months later and produced by Rodgers.

The Stone Temple Pilots performed this at Madison Square Garden as part of the 2001 special, Come Together: A Night For John Lennon’s Words And Music. Their version was released as a single, with proceeds going to charity.

Revolution

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

22 thoughts on “Beatles – Revolution”

  1. Such a great track. Me and my buddy Tbone back in the late 80s and drove around just cranking Revolution thinking we were cool. People I’m sure though we were knuckleheads lol but at least our song selection was cool!
    Love the guitars on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why does Waynes World pop in my mind! lol. We did the same thing…we were turning up Bohemian Rhapsody before the movie lol…just to see the look on people’s faces.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had thought this video premiered on the Smothers Brothers show, but looked it up and no, it first aired in the UK on Top of the Pops. It was a couple of weeks later that it first aired in the US–on the Smothers show. Tom Smothers’ intro of the song is memorable and worthy of the song, imo. I still remember seeing the Nike commercial in 1987, and then reading later about the turmoil.

    I watched (twice) George’s comment to Paul, and my guess is as good as yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is about the mic…some said that he said John smells like… which I got a chuckle out of…I think it’s about the mic..

      George appeared on that show a few weeks later… one of my favorite appearances by George

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The intro is strong. This song was important to John Lennon – the others didn’t share his enthusiasm at that time … I think we have hier the same question like on “Street Fighting Man”: Are pop stars with their millions committed on something?

    Like

      1. I love overdrive…that is more natural than a processed sound…Keith only used that for the longest…just turn it up with no boxes

        I LOVE that box though.

        man I have to say I hated…it went beyond hate…quadraverbs of the 80s and 90s…do you remember those? I guess they had their uses but man…some of the sounds were too clean.

        Like

  4. One of the true Beatles classics to me, which also feels pretty timely these days!

    I knew and liked the heavy version before I listened to the White Album. When spinning the record (literally, coz I got it on vinyl), I was full of anticipation. When I heard the album version for the first time, it was such a bummer. I almost felt betrayed – but, hey, I was a silly 15 or 16-year-old!

    Nowadays, I dig both versions. In fact, depending on my mood of the day, I might prefer the album version.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. another really good Beatles song, I like that they did the slower and faster versions, like both about equally. They could’ve done without going to “Revolution” #9 for my tastes though! I totally forgot Thompson Twins doing it,,, will have to go look that up. I used to have that album on vinyl, but it was a long time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know I think I remember that version now that you said it.
      I like the white album version just as much Amber doo-wop in the background.

      Like

  6. I couldn’t figure out anything beyond what you did on what Geo was saying. This blows my mind: (Jackson acquired the rights to 251 Beatles songs in 1985 when he outbid Paul McCartney for them, fracturing their friendship in the process). Since when were rights to The Beatles song up for auction??? This is one of their most iconic tunes, imo.

    Liked by 1 person

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