The 10-Minute, Never-Released, Experimental Demo of The Beatles’ “Revolution” (1968)

What is a “Revolution”? The question might precede a lengthy disquisition on political philosophy; it might presage a manifesto redefining an old, worn-out term; it might open up a vinyl-era flight of theoretical fancy over the qualitative dimension of Revolutions Per Minute. As an opening gambit to a discussion of The Beatles’ “Revolution” (and “Revolution 9”), perhaps the question ventures on the truth of versions, alternates, “takes,” as much a part of history as toppling regimes and mass movements.

How does all of this heaviness get into pop music? Ask John Lennon. Well, no, ask his music. Ask the history of his music, the alternates, the hidden intentions, false starts, discarded revolutionary movements. Ask, “Revolution Take 20,” the alternate take of “Revolution” that you hear above. “Revolution 20” has a lot to say. It tells us about how a noisy, upbeat shooby-doo-wop blues proclaiming the power of love over violence did not originally do so with such starry-eyed optimism and comforting pop brevity (the kind of thing that sells Nikes, for instance). “Revolution” had other intentions, which we only glimpse in the song’s severed vestigial tail “Revolution 9,” and which we may have had quite enough of, thank you, in the arty weirdness of Yoko Ono’s most experimental work.

You see, “Revolution” and non-Nike-worthy “Revolution 9” once belonged to the same animal, a creature that evolved from Lennon’s (and Ono’s) fascination with musique concrète, and with deconstructing rock music into something unrecognizable. The kind of revolution “Revolution 20” stages isn’t the dichotomous option between peace & love theatrics or reactionary violence—it’s a revolution of form, which is what Lennon seems to be after here, a new way of being that dissolves contradictions in the silly Freudian shtick of Paul McCartney and George Harrison singing “Mama… Dada…” over and over as the classical tropes of rock and roll warp and wobble around them in disintegrating pitch shifts, radio noise, and spoken word non-sequiturs.

At over ten minutes in length, “Revolution Take 20”—which appeared as a mono mix on a 2009 bootleg CD called Revolution: Take… Your Knickers Off (after a piece of Lennon humor at the intro)—is more than an alternate take. It’s an alternate history, one in which Lennon doesn’t just lay in bed for peace; he lays down on the studio floor to record his vocals, and all the while his mind actively disassembles rock and roll. As the recording engineer Brian Gibson remembers the session: “John decided he would feel more comfortable on the floor so I had to rig up a microphone which would be suspended on a boom above his mouth. It struck me as somewhat odd, a little eccentric, but they were always looking for a different sound; something new.”

That Lennon ultimately decided to divide this monster into Revolutions 1 & 9 does not mean that he’d given up on making “something new.” Perhaps it was a marketing decision; maybe he realized that he had a hit on his hands. Less, cynically, perhaps he felt that pop music could not contain the weight of his desire to move beyond, or to dissolve, the seeming false choices on offer.

Related Content:

The Beatles: Unplugged Collects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)

Deconstructing The Master Track of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Meet the Dr. Who Composer Who Almost Turned The Beatles’ “Yesterday” Into Early Electronica

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (26)
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  • Mrs. Orlando of Ohio County, USA says:

    “shticky” paul introduced musique concrète to the beatles. he was the main one experimenting with this stuff, not lennon, not yoko. paul may not be the cool one but please don’t rewrite history here for the sake of perpetuating the ‘john was the real artist’ storyline. they’re all worthy of our admiration.

  • Mr Keep Calm says:

    Like Mr Orlando says, it was Paul who was the avante grade one, John was at home with the kids when Paul was in the alternative bookshops and although Yoko unleashed a new creativity in John, never think that Paul was the safe one just because he got old and boring (arguably)

  • Luis Eduardo Alcántara says:

    In the past, Brian Epstein advised them not to talk about politics, but after his death, it was impossible that they did not give their opinion about political issues in his songs, especially John Lennon.

  • John says:

    Never have heard this long version. However an edited differently produced version of this same take appears on The Beatles (the so-called White Album). And some of the audio edited out of this version appears in Revolution #9 on that album.

  • Barry Lyons says:

    Yes, it’s accurate to say that McCartney was the more adventurous Beatle (I know, this is still heresy in 2013 but history will eventually rule in McCartney’s favor), but for this article Jones seems to be only referencing the background vocals that McCartney and Harrison provided on this track.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks, Barry. Yes, that’s all I meant to say. I’ve written about McCartney’s adventurousness elsewhere (see the Delia Derbyshire piece), and I’m a huge fan. But “Revolution” is Lennon’s (and Yoko’s) composition, and so it’s not relevant here.

  • Anthony says:

    All that said, is that Mama.. Dada.. thing shticky? Maybe creative and unique and silly are better words.

  • Josh Jones says:

    You can use whatever words you like, Anthony.

  • Bryan says:

    This rocks my face off. If (willful suspension of disbelief, please) I had never heard the Beatles, and this was played for me as a current release, I would immediately want to buy more of the artist’s records.

  • James Mandolare says:

    Is it really important to separate the Beatles into labels? As with all of us we are influenced by the people we admire. It was the same with the Beatles. Paul was a huge fan of John. He looked up to him. Paul influenced John giving him musicality and Paul absorbed John’s lyrical genius. We all do that with the people we admire. We soak up some of their attributes. That’s why these lads had such an effect on people. We all liked and admired them and they changed us. This was really great to listen to. Thank you so much!

  • Ken Hays says:

    I fail to understand the need for people to continue to quantify and compare the personalities, contributions and foibles of the individual members of The Beatles. I think too much emphasis on the divisiveness and trivia detracts from the legendary greatness and fresh originality that they engendered with their music. Let’s all enjoy the musical result of their collaboration and the gifts they gave to the world of music and just “Let It Be”.

  • Ed Kociela says:

    The Beatles were a very complex group of individuals who were often misrepresented in the media. There was a level of unmatched creativity and power in each of the four men who ignited our souls and challenged our minds. Was Paul truly ‘Mr. Pop?’ Ringo the ‘lovable oaf?’ John ‘The Artiste?’ George ‘The Quiet Beatle?’ Not really.For some insight, pick up ‘It Rocked! (Recollections of a reclusive rock critic)’ which has a lengthy chapter about George that includes his former bandmates. It includes this introduction by Gavin de Becker, who served as the security liaison for the Harrison family during George’s final years: “I was impressed by the warmth and deft touch of the chapter on George Harrison. I can understand why the misnamed ‘Quiet Beatle’ was always willing to talk with Ed, and trust him.”
    —Gavin de Becker, bestselling author, “The Gift of Fear”

  • Grim says:

    Jeez, I wish he hadn’t been shot dead

  • Barry King says:

    All this talk about who was more creative and avant-garde than John. I’d rather make a comment about the song featured here, “Revolution.” First, whoever decided to fade this take down and out for inclusion on “The White Album” did us all a service. All that added extra time in the song after the White Album’s fade is pointless, in my opinion. It adds nothing to the song, and is just another example of the excessive playing they often did in the studio. Second, I have a nice shuffle version of Revolution that I got originally from The Lost Lennon Tapes, the syndicated radio program that had also been bootlegged extensively and issued to a certain degree legitimately. I like that version much more than the so-called experimentation here. Third, you can see that John used snippets of this full track in Revolution No. 9 on The White Album, particularly Yoko’s “naked” non sequitur at the song’s conclusion. A lot of fans never thought much of Revolution No. 9, no matter how you slice it. I’m not so sure that we all would have wanted to sit through the 10-plus minutes of this version of the song that opens Side 3 of the double vinyl LP. It was not so easy to just skip to the next song in those days.

  • Grim says:

    It was a WFMU post. The best radio station in the world:

  • Grim says:

    >Barry King

    Well obviously the decisions were made, rightly or wrongly, but this gem has to be of value to anybody with even a passing interest in the Beatles… its a glimpse at their creative process and of historic value surely?

  • Barry King says:

    I can’t edit my comment, unfortunately, have probably figured out that what I meant to say in my opening remark was that there was a lot of talk here about who was more creative and avant-garde, John or Paul. I would like to hear more also about this complete version of Revolution No.1.

  • Barry King says:

    > Grim

    I agree that there is some value to all of us in being able get a glimpse into The Beatles’ creative process by hearing this full version of Revolution No. 1. However, there is no shortage of behind-the-scenes material available to us. We have access to many alternate takes, outtakes and their recording sessions on countless bootlegs, the Anthology series, the Let It Be film and more. It all has some historical value and I enjoy having the opportunity to hear it. I just wish this 10-minute version of Revolution lived up to the mythical status it’s often been accorded over the years.

  • Henrik Heckmann says:

    Thanks. Lovely. I like the shorter version better. Seems to have more zest. Nonetheless: intriguing, never mind the end bit. Keep up the good work folks

  • Michael Slajchert says:

    The Facebook page was Love and Social Justice.

  • Jesseray says:

    Just a lot on Ono Nonsense.

  • Ray Savage says:

    The fade just reinforces how great the first four minutes or so turned out to be. Personally, I loved the hard-rocking “B-side” Revolution, which marked a comeback of the sharp-edged Lennon, for a while.

  • mckendrick says:

    It’s been around for years and years, along with the other twelve versions. There’s a good quality boot with them all on somewhere.

  • mckendrick says:

    It’s been around for years and years, along with the other twelve versions. There’s a good quality boot with them all on somewhere.

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