While the influence, ambition, and importance of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is still unquestioned, it has become fashionable the past few years to declare Revolver one’s favourite Beatles album. Part of this must come down to that relative lack of ambition; every song on Sgt Pepper’s is bleeding with ideas, as the band finds the most interesting way to do literally everything on every part of the album, while Revolver is a good-ass rock and/or roll album with a few sparks of inspiration. If Sgt Pepper’s is a life-changing experience, Revolver is a good night out that unexpectedly turns into a great night out, and that’s less intimidating, especially to revisit. For me personally, I also find it one of the best expressions of the band’s particular creative impulses and the many things I deeply about them as artists. Something I’ve come to recognise about The Beatles is that in terms of skill, they’re all middle-of-the-road – in terms of their instruments, they’re all competent and even eventually great but not geniuses; in terms of their songwriting, they hit a universality while rarely reaching the poetry of your Dylans or your Cohens or your Radioheads. Their appeal – their continuing appeal, even through my expanding interest in music – is in a particularly Beatles-esque ethos that they committed to from their earliest singles to “Free As A Bird”. Revolver catches them long after they’ve let that ethos imprint into their brains and right at the point where they’re realising where it can take them.
Chiefly, it’s a sense of discipline. Everyone can complain about Paul McCartney’s control freak tendencies, all the way up to McCartney himself, but that sense that every chord, every line, and every sound is in its rightful place is one of the things that most attracts me to the music of The Beatles. I’ve tried listening to Anthology and the various bootlegs, but while they often add some positive interpretive value to the song, I always feel like the final version has complete authority, because they always went to the effort of sweating out the little details; one tiny expression of that is the tasteful use of handclaps and/or tambourines, which always added a little extra weight to their songs while not drawing attention to themselves. This discipline was connected to a deep creativity; not only could the band come up with genuinely offbeat ideas, they could make those ideas work to their greatest potential by using the same rules and techniques they used for their fun, catchy pop songs. Those ideas come from the fact that The Beatles are also a tight community; everyone can joke about Ringo Starr being superfluous to the band, all the way up to Starr himself, but the fact of the matter is that the dynamic of four men (plus the people supporting them, like George Martin and Geoff Emerick) was the source of both the potpourri of ideas and the general atmosphere of the band’s music.
“Yellow Submarine” has always been the example I point to as the apotheosis of this ethos. On a conceptual level, it’s the biggest rock & roll band in the world throwing a children’s song inbetween a gentle love song and a psychedelic rock number; on top of that, it’s Paul working on Ringo’s next song. The song has a chord progression that’s simple enough for a child to sing, but complex enough to not be boring, and the various sound effects are layered with the same care as any of the instruments on their earlier pop numbers (compare the increasing intensity and shifting changes with the shifting drumming, guitar solos, and backing voices on “Michelle” from Rubber Soul). Most subtle but most important to me is that, with the exception of the marching band, all of the sound effects were created in the studio by the Beatles themselves. One could argue that the appeal of The Beatles isn’t just in the music itself but the story and idea behind it, and in this case, all the different aspects of their ethos come together to create a single image. This is a group of artists who got together to take a single clever idea, worked very hard to make it as entertaining as possible, and had enormous fun doing it.
Revolver reflects that on a macro level, too. They always had the sense to open their albums with a blistering rock number, but this is the first Beatles album that feels like a genuinely logical sequence of songs that starts where it should start and ends where it should end and properly gets from one point to the other with peaks and valleys. There are recurring themes and styles and moods, but no two similar songs are placed right next to each other; the detached angst and elegant string quartet of “Eleanor Rigby” is followed up by the laidback muddiness of “I’m Only Sleeping”, while the psychedelic hard rock of “And Your Bird Can Sing” is followed by the classical moodiness of “For No One”. The overall structure actually reminds of a season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in how it’s 65% classic Beatles rock & roll intermixed with elaborate but still well-crafted weirdness. Ending on the audaciousness of “Tomorrow Never Knows” is absolutely the right call, because even trying to finish with a deliberately quiet coda (the way Lennon would on his solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with “My Mummy’s Dead”) would simply undermine its effect.
I would sum up the band’s appeal to me as admiring their creative professionalism. If Bob Dylan sees a hundred ideas and tries every single one of them, The Beatles saw fifty ideas, chose the best five, and then executed and arranged them perfectly. Sure, they are literally the most famous band in the entire world, but I’ve always been frustrated to find how few bands live up to their ethos; people chose to copy the suits and the haircuts, and when those fell out of fashion they kept writing their own songs and playing in a four-piece band with guitars and a bass and a drumkit, but aside from writing their own songs, these are all just images. So rarely have I felt the senses of craft, creativity, and community individually, let alone all at once. Oddly enough, the only works I’ve found that gave me the exact same pleasure weren’t music at all – beloved Soluter Ruck Cohlchez has drawn comparisons between The Beatles and The Simpsons before in how both started as straightforward genre works and took the basic craft to somewhere utterly alien to everything before, and I believe we can layer that craft/creativity/community ethos on as another similarity. And the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems that Always Sunny picked up the Beatles’ baton.
Just like the band, the Always Sunny crew have a clear sense of craft that draws on sitcom history while taking it somewhere new; they have a perfect sense of creativity where they can grab onto a single idea and push it all the way; they have an internal dynamic that feeds the show in ways both specific and atmospheric (also, you could draw a connection between McCartney’s drive to keep the band going and Rob McElhenny’s role as the group’s face in development). What this tells me is that it’s possible to become a Beatle without necessarily picking up a guitar; anywhere a group of people are working together to create something to a high standard and having fun doing it together, they are living out the spirit of the Beatles (and in fact, it’s possible to be better at it than the original flavour were, seeing as how nobody has ever referred to McElhenny as a control freak and the crew have held together nearly twice as long). Listening to Revolver is what instills that drive into me best.