too much typing—since 2003

11.23.2005

Take this, brother: may it serve you well

I assume everyone reading this has a copy of the Beatles' "white album" on hand. (You cannot possibly hope to understand popular music without a complete Beatles catalog. End of story.) Anyway, if you're like 95% of the population, when you get near the end of the second disc, and you hear someone muttering to George Martin about claret, you probably lunge for your remote and hit "skip track," landing you safely in the arms of Ringo and the enormous string section introducing "Good Night." (Or maybe you're a real rocker and you skip that track, too.) In my occasional role as God King Emperor Dictator of the Galaxy, I hereby command you to actually listen to that skipped track, "Revolution 9," about three or four times (and if you're curious, here are two very detailed analyses of what's going on there: the first from the well-known musicological studies of every Beatles track by Alan W. Pollack; the second an exhaustive (and exhausting - but rewarding) analysis from Ian Hammond). It's okay: "you will not die - it is not poison." For whatever reason, maybe because I've always tended to listen to albums as albums, or maybe just because I sometimes like weird, avant-garde-ish noise, I've always listened to "Revolution 9," and having done so, I'm familiar enough with it that I know its structure, know its musical motifs...in short, it sounds like a song to me now.

And I'm guessing something similar was at work for The Shazam, for how else can you account for this cover of "Revolution 9" which, against all odds, turns the piece from an assemblage of tape fragments, only some of which have traditionally "musical" content, into an actual song...albeit an oddly structured song. Who would have guessed that that jumpy little guitar part about halfway through the original could be reproduced and made the basis for the sort of mod little dance-number part The Shazam make of it? Or that the original's ending could be transformed into a very Who-like finale? And it's important to note that, as far as I can tell, The Shazam played all these parts, rather than sampling them from the Beatles' recording.

I've only somewhat enjoyed other Shazam records - but the EP this is from (titled Rev9) is my favorite, with its leadoff track "On the Airwaves" making the case for theremin as rock'n'roll lead instrument.

The Shazam "Revolution 9"
The Shazam "On the Airwaves"

4 comments:

rgable said...

I'll grant that Revolution No. 9 was probably the first avant-garde music I heard and I liked it then and would probably still like it now. But I seem to have lost my desire to hear the rest of their music these days...

Robert Gable
http://rgable.typepad.com/aworks

rgable said...

Ok, now I've also heard the "cover version." Really interesting. Thanks for pointing this out.

Jens Carstensen said...

The audacity! To call 'bullshit' on Lou Reed's The Raven, while, not two days later, posit that "Revolution #9" has even a shred of merit. "Revolution #9"s mere triumph was to somehow be more non-musically self-indulgent than "I Am the Walrus." If it's noise you seek, "European Son" (Cale and Reed presiding) is closer to actual avant-garde, musical *and* self-indulgent (just in case), and came out well over a year before "Revolution #9" and even before Sgt. Peppers. Even "L.A. Blues" is better than that non-sense. It's the defense of jive like this that makes Beatles fans so insufferable, and i own Abbey Road and Revolver.

2fs said...

Hey Jens - glad you're in a chirpy mood today. Anyway: it's curious that you refer to the "insufferable" nature of Beatles fans...considering that "Revolution 9" is pretty much the most-hated Beatles song. And I'm certainly not one of those folks who think every last thing they did is genius, nor that they were the first to do every little thing (two common attitudes I've run into among Beatle fans that I do think are insufferable.) But anyway: I like "European Son" and "L.A. Blues" (if I'm in the right mood) but they're really in a different universe, more closely related to free jazz than to the more structured, less improvisatory aspects of "Revolution 9." And hey: I'd argue that if you're a fan of a band, "self-indulgence" might be what you want (not all the time, granted). I'm not sure why it's become such a putdown, as if bands have some duty to cater to their preconceptions of what their fans (or what music critics) might want. Anyway, you're free to dislike "Revolution 9" (and I pretty well understand why people would), and also free to like The Raven (although you don't say you actually do) - that doesn't bother me. Sigh...now I just may have to post the four-minute mixdown of Metal Machine Music I made once...