When was it recorded? May 30-Jun. 21, 1968 / Jul. 9-13, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles” / Aug. 26, 1968 as the B-side to “Hey Jude”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Yep yep
What my research dug up:
So you say you want a revolution, do ya? Let’s see if I can get your heads to spin like mine is right now. Let’s see if I got everything straight below.
According to Wikipedia, “In early 1968, media coverage in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive spurred increased protests in opposition to the Vietnam War, especially among university students.” While primarily American, a violent demonstration did occur Mar. 17, 1968 in London’s Grosvenor Square. This combined with student riots in Paris, the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King spurred John to write “Revolution” while in India.
“I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, and we’re not going to just waffle.’ I wanted to say what I thought about revolution. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right. That’s why I did it: I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say.’” — John Lennon (Rolling Stone, 1970)
Like most White Album tracks, the Beatles recorded a demo at Kinfauns of “Revolution” in May 1968.
“Revolution 1” (then called just “Revolution”) was the first song to be recorded for the White Album. The Beatles began work May 30, using Take 16 of the rhythm track for the final product. Lasting over 10 minutes, the ending of this track eventually became “Revolution 9,” which we’ll talk about tomorrow.
On Jun. 1, John, Paul, and George added vocals to “Revolution 1.” Three days later, John re-recorded his vocals while lying on the floor of the studio for a unique effect.
“Revolution 1” was completed June 21, with George Harrison adding a lead guitar part and two trumpets and four trombones added.
John wanted “Revolution 1” to be the Beatles’ next single, but Paul dug his heels in. Quoth Wikipedia, he “was reluctant to invite controversy, and argued along with Harrison that the track was too slow for a single. Lennon persisted, and rehearsals for a faster and louder re-make began on 9 July; recording started the following day.” While “Revolution 1” is in A Major, “Revolution” is in B Major, though distortion made it closer to B Flat. Other changes include the omission of the doo-wop backing vocals and the addition of an instrumental break.
Despite being recorded second, “Revolution” was released before “Revolution 1.”
As the “Hey Jude” B-side, “Revolution” reached #12 on the US charts and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. The track was certified Gold.
Alongside “Hey Jude,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed a promotional video for “Revolution” on Sept. 4, 1968. He produced two versions, which differ only slightly. The “Revolution” video premiered on BBC1’s “Top of the Pops” Sept. 19, 1968.
Alan Pollack wrote, “I have a very tough time thinking of ‘Revolution’ (the single) as anything but the ‘true’ version of the song, and the album cut as not just a remake, but a veritable parody of the single version. For my money, the madman-on-a-street-corner raving of the single resonates more sympathetically with the sense of the lyrics than the night-club-cool-and-brassy treatment of the album cut.” I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call “Revolution 1” ‘a veritable parody,’ but I similarly prefer “Revolution.” Its instrumentation and energy is a much-needed kick in the pants to the lyrics.