This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #176: Revolution by The Beatles.
Not everyone is well-suited for standing on the speaker’s box in a town square and publicly stating their opinions on the pressing matters of the day. Of course, there are some who love the spotlight and the sound of their own words but, for some, there is a discomfort in making one’s political views known. Despite how big The Beatles had become by the time 1968 had rolled around, they had managed to have a career in which they hadn’t really managed to offend anyone. Naturally, some folks may have preferred their “Mop-top” phase over their “Sgt. Pepper” garishness but, aside from that, the vibe given off by The Beatles was basically, “Let’s all just get along, shall we?” *That one of their greatest closing hits was, “All You Need is Love” speaks to this somewhat.
In any case, 1968 was a year in which much unrest was evident throughout the world. Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, putting an end to the “Prague Spring” there. In the US, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations were erupting on University campuses across the country; including a deadly protest at Kent State University that ended in the deaths of four protestors. In the UK, student-led protests were an on-going thing there, too. In China, “The Great Leap Forward” under Chairman Mao was transpiring. Everywhere, it seemed, social change was being sought or being repressed and, in the middle of it all, were four lads from Liverpool who were being constantly pressed to take a stand on the events of the world, to use their platform for leadership. To add to the pressure being placed on The Beatles, The Rolling Stones responded to the UK riots by recording the song, “Street Fighting Man”. With Mick and Keef having taken a firm stance, it fell to The Beatles. Paul McCartney wanted nothing to do with politics but John Lennon, who was just starting to become involved with an avant-garde artist known as Yoko Ono, felt obligated to issue a response of his own. That response was, “Revolution”, from the double album that has become known as simply, “The White Album”.
“Revolution” is known, musically, for the use of “fuzzy” guitars all throughout the song. As Beatles songs go, “Revolution” rocks harder than most. But, when it came to the lyrics, the lack of firm resolve to take a direct stand, which seemed to emanate directly from each of their hearts, came through, loud and clear, in lyrics that people viewed as indifferent, lacking a clear vision and, in some cases, as being cowardly. John Lennon was stung by the criticism he and the band received. For him, “Revolution” was the most political The Beatles had ever been. The lyrics point to the necessity for change but, the need to accompany that change with a pre-made plan for how best to move forward. To Lennon, mere destruction of a society was not a positive goal, in and of itself, if it wasn’t part of a bigger plan to rebuild a better world. Consequently, “Revolution” pleased no one when it was released. It angered those already in positions of power because they said it advocated for an overthrow of the government. Radicals within the student movement felt Lennon’s reluctance to agree to a violent takedown of the ruling elites, was a cop-out and a bitter disappointment. In the end, Lennon flip-flopped on this issue several times before his death. I think it is safe to say that his true feelings may have been best revealed with his song, “Imagine”. Like I said off of the top, not everyone is comfortable being the one to lead the political charge in times of trouble….even folks like The Beatles.
So, for what it is worth, here are The Beatles with “Revolution” which, despite how it was received, in a political sense, is still a pretty good rock song so, in that light, well done, John and The Beatles. In the spirit of how The Beatles seem to have truly felt, let’s all enjoy this song and then task ourselves with the goal of doing something to make the world a better place today. After all, shouldn’t we all just get along?
The link to the video for the song, “Revolution” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.