The Best Alternate Takes From The Beatles Revolver

There are many treasures in The Beatles Revolver box, but fewer rare gems. Here are the roughest diamonds.

The Beatles Revolver album cover
Photo: The Beatles

Albums revolve at 33-and-a-third spins a minute. The BeatlesRevolver seemed to bend time when it was first released, putting more into the grooves than any rock and roll band had done up to that point. This was by design, as the group tried to put a world of musical education into one record in a class all its own. 

While many fans are rightfully content with the official release, the castoffs and early attempts at the songs are jewels for the more avid Beatlemaniacs who collected bootlegs. The alternate takes were fascinating, the flubbed ones hysterical, and the few songs which got out that had never been released officially became part of an ever-expanding regular rotation. As a fan, these are treasures, to musicians they are an education. Giles Martin’s remastering of the 2022 Revolver: Special Edition is a crash course in elation.

In his liner notes section, Paul McCartney explains how incorporating the sounds each member was discovering expanded the potentials of pop music. The group enjoyed the challenges, and the joy comes through in the new mixes. The Beatles began working on Revolver after touring the U.S., and soaking up top 40 radio on the way. The Motown influence is as prominent on the bottom end as the jangling Byrd-influenced guitars and melodic Beach Boys-infused harmonies at the top. Personal experiments with musique concrète, educational immersions into Indian tonalities, and more complicated timings further expanded the songs into a versatile unified sound which is uniquely The Beatles.

After releasing two albums a year, touring, and making movies, the band took an almost leisurely approach to Revolver, recording it over two-and-a-half months. Even 1965’s Rubber Soul, a major move forward for the band, was finished in a month.

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The Revolver Super Deluxe edition highlights certain songs’ journeys, sometimes starting from demos, others in rehearsals. The middle two discs present progressions to final product, but with varying depth.  Some pieces get a multi-rendition dive, others merely get the best final mixes of instrumental backing tracks. Here we can get lost in the fingerings of many instruments, and the attention to sonic detail the Beatles, and their ever-encouraging producer George Martin, exemplified. From timing to audio dynamic, each note is perfectly pitched and placed. Some of these, and other takes which have already been released on Anthology 2, could have been cut for crucial rare alternatives. 

You can listen to the playlist here while you read on to get our rationale for choosing these particular versions of each song.

“Paperback Writer” Takes 1 & 2 / Backing Track

“Paperback Writer” is best known for its intricate harmony vocals and counterpoint, so hearing the introductory pickup chords at the start of the track is educational. It was probably done so the opening round had keys to tune to, and were pulled from the final mix, so it’s just a rare gem. The first take is a false start, making it through half of the first verse before George notices it is picking up speed, a sin in Ringo’s eyes, the best timekeeper in rock. But it’s Paul who likes the extra energy, and the new tempo is perfect. This track was recorded before the bass was added, so the live guitar interchange is featured. Paul’s distorted lead riff is made more wondrous by Harrison’s impeccably ragged rhythmic responses, occasionally perfectly mimicking Lennon’s style of attack. This highlights what a great trio of guitarists make up this band. Even if Lennon is on tambourine, his presence is felt in the lower strings. As the piece goes on, we hear Harrison getting some kind of non-distortion effect on his chord sustain. It grows into a perfectly novel fade.

“Rain” Take 5, Actual Speed

Before we get to the album, however, one of the singles is of singular importance.

If you think Ringo Starr’s drumming is wild on the original “Rain,” wait until you hear him and Paul play it at normal speed. In Revolver Super Deluxe’s extra added version, John Lennon and George Harrison’s rhythmic interplay is somehow more playful and inclusive of each other’s lines. Ultimately, this backing track would be slowed down for the record, making it a trippy escape from a drizzling reality. To further cascade into proto-psychedelia, Lennon’s vocals were later recorded at a slightly slower speed than the final key, and his voice was brought up to further enhance the ethereal effect. The final backwards vocal tracks reinforced the otherworldly intrusion, but it all began with this ripping instrumental run-through.

“Taxman” (Take 11)

Coming in as the second song on Disc 3, this is a crystal-clear mix of the version of “Taxman” which appeared on Anthology 2. The major difference between this and the final version comes with Harrison’s non-double-tracked lead vocal, and the background vocals. During the third verse, Lennon and McCartney harmonize “Anybody got a bitta money.” This is a tongue-twister, which was correctly judged a little too busy, and clever as it is, equally corny. It was exchanged for the far more relevant callouts to Messrs. Wilson and Heath (“ah-ahhhh…”), then sitting uncomfortably in Parliament. This version also includes some interesting, but distracting, lead-guitar bursts which were cut from the final mix. The Beatles and Martin always had a keen sense for less-is-more decisions.

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“Eleanor Rigby,” Take 2

“Eleanor Rigby” is a lonely song. It is the first of only two Beatles songs (“She’s Leaving Home” is the other) where none of the band are playing any of the instruments. The backing is done by a double string quartet, four violins, two violas, and two cellos, and exemplifies the genius of George Martin as an arranger and interpreter of the band’s musical intent. The Beatle-free backing is cleanly rendered as the only full run-through to appear on the Special Edition. We don’t get the acoustic demo McCartney recorded in March 1966, and we can already hear an instrumental take on Anthology 2.

“’Eleanor Rigby,’ Speech Before Take Two,” the studio banter track, is actually more interesting than the instrumental backing, but you can’t dance to it. Martin asks McCartney whether the double quartet should use vibrato on their attack or whether they should play it dry. When the ensemble fiddles with examples of each, McCartney admits he can’t hear a difference, but the string players can. They agree with Martin. The fullness of a vibrato is too crowded for a song about lonely people, and in one of the first attempts, a violinist goes slightly off. It sounds like isolation gone sociopathic, recalling the shower scene in Psycho, which was precisely the effect McCartney was initially looking to capture.

“I’m Only Sleeping” Take 2

It is interesting to hear the evolution of “I’m Only Sleeping” over the four attempts and rehearsal fragments included in the collection. The band’s experiments with instrumentation, key, and tempo are all revelatory, but Take 2 is the most unique on the collection. Lennon’s vocals are sleep deprived, and Harrison and McCartney’s alternate offerings of harmony and unison capture the lazy atmosphere of the song’s intent. Too lazy, perhaps, because it is not a full run through. The full up-tempo instrumental take is a fascinating listen as a still evolving track, but the alternate mono mix (RM1) is noteworthy for the different placements of the backwards guitar accents.

“Love You To” Take 7

“Granny Smith, Take Seven,” as we hear engineer Geoff Emerick dub “’Love You To’ Take 7” after his favorite apple, is satisfying but not quite perfected, and illustrates how McCartney’s routinely perfect melodic harmonies aren’t birthed fully formed. They come from trial and error, and can be cut mercilessly if not the perfect ingredient. This is also evident in Peter Jackson’s Get Back, when an entire vocal section is cut from “Don’t Let Me Down.” The variation on the ending, however, is what makes this the best alternative version of the song for a playlist.

Although he’d played sitar as a featured lead on Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” and made a serious study of it under Ravi Shankar, the eastern stringed instrument was still new to Harrison during Revolver. “’Love You To’ Unnumbered Rehearsal,” the first full take, is a more interesting study. It finds the guitarist nailing the intricate fingerings, semitones, and drones of the sitar. It is a revealing insight into Harrison’s academic approach to the art of sound, and how important single takes are at EMI studios. It is also fun to hear a fragment of Paul rehearsing the tamboura.

The first take of “Love You To” is intimate, haunting, and halting; a live demo with just George on acoustic guitar and vocal, and Paul holding the harmony to the last word of the verses. The droning vocal projects the direction it will go, while all the emotional drive of the finished song is anticipated, but darkened, in the acoustic guitar attack.

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“Here, There, and Everywhere” Take 6

There’s only one take of what Lennon called his favorite McCartney composition. “Here, There, and Everywhere” was inspired by Brian Wilson’s production of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and would ultimately be blanketed by ornate harmonies, deceptively fingered guitar runs, and double-tracked pop vocal perfection. The band only recorded completed takes of the song. Take 6 has no overdubs or harmonies. It is recorded intimately, and Paul’s guide vocal has an endearingly ragged delivery.

“Yellow Submarine” Songwriting Work Tape Part 2

“Yellow Submarine” is the box set’s most fun dive. Lennon’s original tape snippet, “In the place where I was born, no one cared, no one cared,” is positively haunting, and pre-figures some of his later, darker biographical works. The standout, however, is the second working take, where Lennon and McCartney break it down into structure. The song has always been associated with Paul, because he is the one who mentions a dream about a yellow submarine in his interview in the Anthology video series. But here, he asks John to take the lead vocals as he is more familiar with it. Paul’s call-and-response singing –  “We all live in a yellow submarine/Look out, yellow submarine/get down” – sets the tone for what will morph into the friends who live onboard the song’s aquatic anti-flotation device, and come in from next door to play on the final released version.

“She Said, She Said” Take 15 Backing Track Rehearsal

Besides Easy Rider, the most historically notable thing Peter Fonda ever did was inspire Lennon to write “She Said, She Said.” The last track recorded for the album, it was laid down in just one session on June 21, 1966. The song captures a good trip gone bad, and the studio chatter turns that around into larger context. “Come on, come on. Last track, last track, last track,” we hear, because the band was set to embark on their final tour as a live performing act. It would be the first time in front of audiences since John made the “more popular than Jesus” remark. Although it is only an instrumental track, it showcases the rehearsals which went into the intricate time changes the song contains, and proves what a force the four players were as a live unit.

Rushed as it may have been, the instrumental track captures each member doing what they do best, and Ringo doing casual calisthenics which make it all sound better. John’s original demo is worth it for the subtle venom he puts into the original lyrics, culminating with him laughing at his own line “and it’s making me feel like my trousers are torn.”

“Good Day Sunshine,” Mono

There is no evolutionary progress noted for “Good Day Sunshine,” only the fully realized mono and refurbished stereo mixes. The song was inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream,” and was reportedly perfected quickly in the studio after six takes with Paul on piano and vocals, George playing a Burns Nu-Sonic bass, Ringo on drums, and John on tambourine. Martin’s piano lead and other overdubs came later. It would have been nice to hear any of the preliminary takes, or at least a guide vocal.

“And Your Bird Can Sing”- First Version/Take 2

“And Your Bird Can Sing”- First Version/Take 2” is probably the better rendition from the Special Edition for a playlist, but only by small degrees, and only because of its fuller mix. The giggle version of “And Your Bird Can Sing,” while always a favorite, is already available on Anthology 2, with the backing instrumentals more prominent in the mix. “Take 2” has all the elements presented in a fully realized take. Without the distractions, “Take 2” showcases the Byrds’ influence so clearly that the title, “And Your Bird Can Sing,” can be taken as a note of appreciation to the “American Beatles.” The musicians at Abbey Road Studios actually heard the similarities so clearly, they completely reconfigured the approach.

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“And Your Bird Can Sing” is a complicated song in so many ways. It was the last song played on The Beatles Cartoon TV series, and yet is one of the great spiteful Lennon songs, in the vein of “You Can’t Do That” and “Sexy Sadie,” and his post-Beatle-bashings “How Do You Sleep” and “Steel and Glass.” This is most prominent in “Take 5.” The free phrasing of Lennon’s lead vocals captures the vitriol, betrayal, and class-conscious effrontery with a far more acidic delivery.

“For No One” Take 10 Backing Tack

Paul McCartney’s “For No One” only gets one bonus offering, which is more notable for the snippet of conversation between the rhythm section before it kicks in. Ringo asks how he should approach the rhythm change when the song moves into the triplet section, debating whether he should keep it straight or do something. McCartney enthusiastically encourages him: “Oh, yeah, yeah, do.” And he does. Ringo lets his floor tom have all the fun in a deceptively simple bit of unconventional bottom accents, but his hi-hat attacks change accents with far more varied intuitive attention than mere beats. They sometimes cut sharp like a wound, sustain like a pain, and even occasionally swing. It is a marvel. Hearing the backing track also brings the classical elements to life before the later addition of the clavichord, and Alan Civil’s French horn.

“Doctor Robert” Take 7

“Doctor Robert” is an interesting study of McCartney’s bass, Ringo’s hi-hat work, and how they power Lennon’s unadorned single vocals, which leave much to interpretation. Like the drug-dispensing doctor in the song, the new mix gives a little extra taste: a third middle-eight, and second verse with the chorus, which were all cut from the final release. “Take 7” would be a more satisfying listen if there were more volume on the drums and rhythm guitar. This would also balance Harrison’s guitar bursts, which fit better with the cascading organ flourishes than as a bracing isolated counterpoint. The sound is very clean throughout, the attack dirty. The dosage needs adjustment.

“I Want to Tell You,” Speech and Take Four

There isn’t enough song on this take for it to warrant a place in a playlist. We get less than 40 seconds of actual play. It is mainly interesting because John suggests calling it “Granny Smith, Part Friggin’ Two.” As previous chatter made clear, titles were the last thing on Harrison’s mind when he brought his songs to the studio. “You’ve never had a title for anything except ‘Don’t Bother Me,’” Lennon’s blues continue. Emerick marks it “Laxton’s Superb,” his second favorite apple variety, before spinning the reel, and before you know it, the excerpt is done.

“Got to Get You Into My Life” Second Version/Unnumbered Mix

The biggest revelation, and an instant addition to any alternative Beatles playlists is the hornless arrangement of McCartney’s love song to pot. “Got to Get You Into My Life” is a mindblower. What an amazing guitar arrangement. George and John weave through each other’s lines in a dance of rhythm, melody, and fuzz overload. At one point Lennon’s insistent stabbing jabs have the same attack as his chopped rhythm guitar line on “Getting Better” from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fans have always known this version existed, because all the books on the sessions say there was a final mix before every electric stringed instrument was pulled out in favor of bass, drums, and horns. It is the right choice on the final version because it accentuates the vast difference between the horns and the electric instruments. Until experiencing this release, it was impossible to have imagined the thrill of hearing how much the guitar interplay informed the horns. They should have done this version live.

“Tomorrow Never Knows,” Take 1

“Tomorrow Never Knows,” Take 1 can be found as “Mark I” on Anthology 2, but is much clearer here, and with greater separation. We can hear how the band wanted to get away from recognizable musical sounds in the backing on this two-chord song. There are no backwards guitars, but a crunching electronic drone, probably the first attempt at capturing the chanting monks Lennon heard in his head-arrangement. The rhythm section lays down an insistent midtempo pulse, sounding only slightly more free than the tape loop pioneering of the final song. The band is looking to move in a new direction, and it is evident here how calculated a choice this was. There is a feeling they want to break through the capabilities of the machines capturing the noise.

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