"Revolution 9" is a recorded composition that appeared on the Beatles' 1968 self-titled LP release (popularly known as The White Album). The sound collage, credited to Lennon–McCartney, was created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. The composition was influenced by the avant-garde style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
The recording began as an extended ending to the album version of "Revolution." Lennon then combined the unused coda with numerous overdubbed vocals, speech, sound effects, and short tape loops of speech and musical performances, some of which were reversed. These were further manipulated with echo, distortion, stereo panning, and fading.
McCartney argued against including the track on The Beatles. At over eight minutes, it is the longest track that the Beatles officially released.
Background and recording
"Revolution 9" was not the first venture by the Beatles into experimental recordings. In January 1967, McCartney led the group in recording an unreleased piece called "Carnival of Light" during a session for "Penny Lane". McCartney said the work was inspired by composers Stockhausen and John Cage. Stockhausen was also a favourite of Lennon, and was one of the people included on the Sgt. Pepper album cover. Music critic Ian McDonald wrote that "Revolution 9" may have been influenced by Stockhausen's Hymnen in particular.
Another influence on Lennon was his relationship with Ono. Lennon and Ono had recently recorded their own avant-garde album, Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins. Lennon said: "Once I heard her stuff—not just the screeching and howling but her sort of word pieces and talking and breathing and all this strange stuff ... I got intrigued, so I wanted to do one." Ono attended the recording sessions and helped Lennon select which tape loops to use.
"Revolution 9" originated on 30 May 1968 during the first recording session for Lennon's composition "Revolution". Take 20 lasted more than ten minutes and was given additional overdubs over the next two sessions. Mark Lewisohn described the last six minutes as "pure chaos ... with discordant instrumental jamming, feedback, John repeatedly screaming 'alright' and then, simply, repeatedly screaming ... with Yoko talking and saying such off-the-wall phrases as 'you become naked', and with the overlaying of miscellaneous, home-made sound effects tapes."
Lennon soon decided to make the first part of the recording into a conventional Beatles' song, "Revolution 1", while using the last six minutes as the basis for a separate track, "Revolution 9". He began preparing additional sound effects and tape loops: some newly recorded in the studio, at home and from the studio archives. The work culminated on 20 June, with Lennon performing a live mix from tape loops running on machines in all three studios at Abbey Road. Additional prose was overdubbed by Lennon and Harrison.
More overdubs were added on 21 June followed by final mixing in stereo. The stereo master was completed on 25 June when it was shortened by 53 seconds.Although other songs on the album were separately remixed for the mono version, the complexity of "Revolution 9" necessitated making the mono mix a direct reduction of the final stereo master. McCartney had been out of the country when "Revolution 9" was assembled and mixed; he was unimpressed when he first heard the finished track, and later tried to persuade Lennon to drop his insistence that it be included on the album.
Structure and content
The piece begins with a slow piano theme in the key of B minor and a male voice repeating the words "number nine", quickly panning across the stereo channels. The unidentified voice was found on an EMI examination tape in the studio archives. Lennon recalled: "I just liked the way he said 'number nine' so I made a loop ... it was like a joke, bringing number nine in it all the time ..." Both the piano theme and the "number nine" loop recur many times during the piece, serving as a motif.
Much of the track consists of tape loops that are faded in and out, several of which are sampled from performances of classical music. Works that have been specifically identified include the Vaughan Williams motet O Clap Your Hands, the final chord from Sibelius' Symphony No. 7, and the reversed finale of Schumann's Symphonic Studies. Other loops include brief portions of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, "The Streets of Cairo", violins from "A Day in the Life", and George Martin saying "Geoff, put the red light on". There are also loops of unidentified operatic performances, backwards mellotron, violins and sound effects, an oboe/horn duet, a reversed electric guitar in the key of E major, and a reversed string quartet in the key of E-flat major.
Portions of the unused coda of "Revolution 1" can be heard briefly several times during the track, particularly Lennon's screams of "right" and "alright", with a longer portion near the end featuring Ono's discourse about becoming naked. Segments of random prose read by Lennon and Harrison are heard prominently throughout, along with numerous sound effects such as laughter, crowd noise, breaking glass, car horns, and gunfire. Some of the sounds were taken from an Elektra Records album of stock sound effects. The piece ends with a recording of American football chants ("Hold that line! Block that kick!"). In all, the final mix includes at least 45 different sound sources.
Album sequencing and release
During compilation and sequencing of the master tape for the album The Beatles, two unrelated segments were included between the previous song ("Cry Baby Cry") and "Revolution 9". The first was a fragment of a song based on the line "Can you take me back", an improvisation sung by McCartney that was recorded between takes of "I Will". The second was a bit of conversation from the studio control room where Alistair Taylor asked George Martin for forgiveness for not bringing him a bottle of claret.
"Revolution 9" was released on 22 November 1968 as the fifth track on the fourth side of the album The Beatles, four tracks after "Revolution 1". With no gaps in the sequence from "Cry Baby Cry" to "Revolution 9", the point of track division has varied among different re-issues of the album. Some versions place the conversation at the end of "Cry Baby Cry", resulting in a length of 8:13 for "Revolution 9", while others start "Revolution 9" with the conversation, for a track length of 8:22.
... compare Lennon's work with Luigi Nono's similar Non Consumiamo Marx (1969) to see how much more aesthetically and politically acute Lennon was than most of the vaunted avant-garde composers of the time ... Nono's piece entirely lacks the pop-bred sense of texture and proportion manifested in "Revolution 9".
— Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head
"Revolution 9" is an embarrassment that stands like a black hole at the end of the White Album, sucking up whatever energy and interest remain after the preceding ninety minutes of music. It is a track that neither invites nor rewards close attention ...
— Jonathan Gould, Can't Buy Me Love
The unusual nature of "Revolution 9" engendered a wide range of opinions. Lewisohn summarised the public reaction upon its release: "... most listeners loathing it outright, the dedicated fans trying to understand it." Music critics Robert Christgau and John Piccarella called it "an anti-masterpiece" and noted that, in effect, "for eight minutes of an album officially titled The Beatles, there were no Beatles." Jann Wenner was more complimentary, writing that "Revolution 9" was "beautifully organized" and had more political impact than "Revolution 1". Ian MacDonald remarked that "Revolution 9" evoked the era's revolutionary disruptions and their repercussions, and thus was culturally "one of the most significant acts The Beatles ever perpetrated."
Among more recent reviews, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide said it was "justly maligned", but "more fun than 'Honey Pie' or 'Yer Blues'." Pitchfork reviewer Mark Richardson observed that "the biggest pop band in the world exposed millions of fans to a really great and certainly frightening piece of avant-garde art."
Lennon described "Revolution 9" as "an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens, just like a drawing of revolution." He said he was "painting in sound a picture of revolution", but he had mistakenly made it "anti-revolution". In his analysis of the song, MacDonald doubted that Lennon conceptualised the piece as representing a revolution in the usual sense, but rather as "a sensory attack on the citadel of the intellect: a revolution in the head" aimed at each listener. MacDonald also noted that the structure suggests a "half-awake, channel-hopping" mental state, with underlying themes of consciousness and quality of awareness. Others have described the piece as Lennon's attempt at turning "nightmare imagery" into sound, and as "an autobiographical soundscape." The loop of "number nine" featured in the recording fuelled the fallacy of Paul McCartney's death after it was reported that it sounded like "turn me on, dead man" when played backwards.
Based on interviews and testimony, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi asserted that Charles Manson believed that many songs on the album The Beatles contained references confirming his prediction of an impending apocalyptic race war, a scenario dubbed "Helter Skelter". According to Gregg Jakobson, Manson mentioned "Revolution 9" more often than any of the other album tracks, and he interpreted it as a parallel of Chapter 9 of the Book of Revelation. Manson viewed the piece as a portrayal in sound of the coming black-white revolution. He misheard Lennon's distorted screams of "Right!" within "Revolution 9" as a command to "Rise!"
John Lennon - spoken vocals, tape loops, sound effects, piano, reversed mellotron
George Harrison - spoken vocals, tape loops, sound effects, reversed guitar
Yoko Ono - spoken vocals, tape loops, sound effects
George Martin - spoken vocals
Alistair Taylor - spoken vocals
Unidentified voice - spoken vocals
In addition, McCartney and Ringo Starr performed on the extended "Revolution" coda, elements of which were used intermittently in "Revolution 9".
Kurt Hoffman's Band of Weeds performs "Revolution #9" on the 1992 album "Live at the Knitting Factory: Downtown Does the Beatles" (Knitting Factory Records). The jam band Phish performed "Revolution 9" (along with almost all of the songs from The Beatles) at their Halloween 1994 concert that was released in 2002 as Live Phish Volume 13. Australian dance rock band Def FX recorded a version for their 1996 album Majick. Little Fyodor recorded a cover in 1987 and released it as a CD single in 2000. In 2008, the contemporary classical chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound transcribed an orchestral re-creation of "Revolution 9" which they performed on tour. Also in 2008, the contemporary jazz trio The Neil Cowley Trio recorded both "Revolution 9" and "Revolution" for the magazine Mojo. "Revolution 9" has also inspired songs by punk group United Nations ("Resolution 9") and rock band Marilyn Manson ("Revelation #9"). It also inspired White Zombie's "Real Solution #9", which contains samples of a Prime Time Live interview that Diane Sawyer conducted with Manson Family member Patricia Krenwinkel. In the sample used Krenwinkel is heard saying: "Yeah, I remember her saying, I'm already dead."