Sean Singer on The Beatles’ Revolver

Many albums are important to me: the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Glenn Gould’s 1981 Goldberg Variations, Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, John Coltrane’s Sun Ship, Horace Tapscott’s The Dark Tree, Elgar’s Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré, and Janet Baker singing Mahler lieder, for example.

But, Revolver was vital to me longer, and for better reasons than my own tastes. When I was in high school, I played it incessantly. It showed me that there was something imaginative and explosive outside the cultural desert (at least at that time) known as South Florida. It allowed me to escape the suffocating and traumatic aspects of my childhood.

Many of The Beatles’ most popular songs are on Revolver-—“Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Good Day Sunshine,” but my favorite is the last, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an early experimental song written by John Lennon with sitar, tape loops, speeded-up guitar, and a modal form. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was an anodyne to all sorts of chaos, pain, and limitation; it let me give myself permission to be “creative,” and that may be a good meaning of the word “psychedelic.” It expanded my consciousness.

On the other hand, “Doctor Robert” is a lousy song, but “Taxman” is an awful song with an awful message. It implies that some of the richest people in the world, The Beatles, should not have to pay taxes, which are the core of social welfare and an egalitarian society. This shows that even something great can be two-fifths terrible.

Revolver is to the sixties what Radiohead’s OK Computer was to the nineties. I don’t know if Revolver is as good as any of the ones I list above, but for my own life, it was purposeful at a time when things were difficult.

Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He has also published two chapbooks, Passport and Keep Right On Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water, both with Beard of Bees Press and is the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is writing his dissertation in American Studies at Rutgers-Newark.

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