By Joe Jamnitzky
Artist: The Beatles
Song Title: “Revolution (Take 20)”
Year: 1968, unreleased
I recently approached my editors with an idea of writing a Lost and Found article on a single song. An odd request, to be sure, but I was ultimately given permission, provided I could make it into a Lost and Found piece. Given the number of circumstances behind this, that actually was not difficult. Sure, most songs have stories behind them, but a full article? Yet here I am, doing it because outside of the more hardcore Beatles fans, this probably slipped by a lot of people. A history lesson on The Beatles is not needed here, that much is obvious, so let’s jump right into it, shall we?
50 years ago this year, The Beatles wrote and recorded their first double album, titled “The Beatles”, but more commonly known as the “White Album”. It was, for them, a reaction to the excess of the previous year’s releases; rather than a million overdubs, they decided to strip down the arrangements and rehearse tracks, with the idea that the rehearsals would then be treated as the basic tracks. They all also came with their own songs/ideas and were arguing more and more almost from the very beginning. Indeed, their problems, and eventual breakup, actually started with the recording of this double album. One of the songs that would end up being at the center of the problems? “Revolution”.
As some (or maybe even most) people know, there are 3 “Revolution” tracks. “Revolution No. 1”, which is a slower, more acoustic take, was used on the album. “Revolution No. 9”, which consisted of tape loops, backward effects, and random noises, was also placed on the album. Finally, “Revolution”, which was an upbeat, electric version of No. 1, was released as the b-side of “Hey Jude”, and is probably the best-known version of the three (despite being the final version recorded; more on that in a bit). Over the years, while there was some curiosity as to the usage of the numbers, it was never really explained. Indeed, #1 and #9 are so completely different from each other, that it was just chalked up to “Lennon being Lennon”. This view, though, would end up changing.
In 1988, Mark Lewisohn, who is considered one of the leading authorities on The Beatles, released, “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”, which was a complete chronicle of every bit of music the band had put to tape during their time in Abbey Road Studios. Indeed, Mr. Lewisohn had access to the entire vault, and the book was presented in a diary format, along with interviews with various studio personnel, covering every session held; who played what, the work that was done that day, how the music, sounds, even overdubs, were recorded. It even chronicled the few unreleased tracks that were there, as well as alternate mixes and versions of songs.
In this book, it’s revealed that “Revolution #1” was the very first track recorded during the “White Album” sessions. All takes went to normal lengths, roughly 4-5 minutes…..that is, until take 18, which not only began immediately after the previous take (resulting in the engineer’s take announcement appearing on the recording) but ended up being over 10 minutes long! Yup. Over 10 minutes of jamming on the same chord sequence, with Lennon yelling “Alright” repeatedly, then just yelling and mumbling. Quite a sudden difference. Further overdubs would be added, including the sound of a radio station changing, Paul and George repeatedly singing, “Mama, Dada”, the band singing “Ahhhhh” in unison, along with horn overdubs, would bring the song up to take 20.
Now, at the time, Lennon was keen on putting this on the album and even wanted to release it as a single. For obvious reasons this wasn’t gonna happen; as it is, even the main body of the song was considered too slow for a single release. This is how we ended up with the single, “rock” version of “Revolution”. As for the 10+ minute album version, Lennon decided (or was persuaded, depending on the story), to chop the final 6 minutes off and fade out the main song, thus creating the version of “Revolution #1” we know on the album.
Not to let anything go to waste, he then took those last 6 minutes, which already contained various loops, and used it as the basis for “Revolution #9” by adding more tape loops with the help of both George Harrison and Yoko Ono. This would also make the album, albeit not without some fighting.
So we now know both “Revolution” #1 and #9 started from the same recording. It was considered one of the holy grails for fans, despite the overall dislike for #9. After all, just how would they actually sound together? A monitor mix, recorded from a studio playback but with Yoko rambling on top of it, leaked on bootlegs in the 90s, but was of poor quality to really listen to.
In 2009, The Beatles announced that they would be releasing brand new remasters of their catalog. This was a huge deal, as their albums were only ever released on CD once, in 1987. For years people were crying out for new remasters; while other artists re-released past albums, using the newest technologies to improve the sound of their albums (or, in some cases, make them worse), The Beatles albums just sort of languished. 2009 changed all of that. We got brand new remasters of all their albums, official releases of the mono versions, and even “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game. It was wonderful. Just a few months prior, though, we got the unexpected. The full, 10+ minute version of “Revolution (Take 20)” suddenly appeared on a bootleg and the internet. Not only that, it was in practically perfect quality, being a mono mix taken straight from tape.
It’s still a mystery as to who leaked it. It’s generally believed that only 2 copies of this mono mix existed; one in the vault of Abbey Road Studios, and a copy that Lennon himself took that day. Along with that, the timing of the leak was interesting, coming at a time when so much focus was on the band due to the impending remasters.
Finally, there was the reaction of those involved; the band, etc. Their reaction was…..nothing. Yup. None of the band, their estates…..nobody said a word about it, and in the research, I’ve done, to this day they still haven’t. The only reaction came from the record label, which was to have it removed from youtube. Too little, too late though. So, an excellent sounding copy of an unreleased version of a Beatles song leaks shortly before the brand new remasters are released, and they don’t have much of a reaction if any. Not only is the source unknown, but the options for such are limited. Could it have been done by them for extra publicity? Perhaps, but they’re not exactly a band that needs it.
Regardless, we finally got one of the holy grails. While it was reported by the press, it wasn’t quite as huge as you’d expect. Maybe it was because part of it involved “Revolution #9”, which a number of fans aren’t fond of due to being overly avant-garde. Maybe it was due to the label trying to stifle it as much as possible. Or maybe, just maybe, many people outside of the super hardcore fans didn’t know there was a story behind it or the importance behind the leak.
If you’ve read this, though, now you do. To think, this was 50 years ago this year, and it took 40 years to get to us. Now, if we can just have “Carnival of Light…..”
The only version on youtube was slowed down, I guess as a way to keep it up there (you know how people do that). However, here’s a link to a Beatles fan site that has the song posted at the correct speed: https://www.beatlesbible.com/
Wow. I had no idea this had been found. Great article and great find!
A fascinating well written and researched article which gave me a window into a specific moment in music history. I want some more of this please!