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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