When the Beatles started work on their masterpiece Revolver, in April 1966, they knew they were after the sound of the future. And they got there on the very first day of the sessions, with the wildly experimental buzz of “Tomorrow Never Knows (Take 1).” The psychedelic outtake was released on Friday and it’s a taste of the new Super Deluxe Edition of Revolver, which arrives on October 28. The new edition tells the story of how the Beatles took their gigantic creative leap into the unknown. As producer Giles Martin says, “It’s the Beatles punching their way out of a bag. They’re saying, ‘We’re no longer going to be constrained by anything.’”
The new Revolver is full of revelations, newly mixed by Martin and engineer Sam Okell in stereo and Dolby Atmos. The audio features the “de-mixing” technology developed by Peter Jackson’s sound team for the Get Back documentary, led by Emile de la Ray at WingNut Films Productions. The Super Deluxe collection has 31 outtakes from the sessions, including three home demos; it’s also got the original mono mix and a four-track EP with “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.”
John, Paul, George, and Ringo came into Abbey Road ready to cut loose. Incredibly, they cut “Tomorrow Never Knows (Take 1)” the first day of the sessions. They already knew this album was going to be different. The last time they’d been in the studio, they were crashing out Rubber Soul, sweating to make their Christmas 1965 deadline. They bashed out two of the highlights the night before the album was due: John’s “Girl” and Paul’s “You Won’t See Me.” (You can hear the weariness in their voices.)
But on day one of Revolver, they were a world away from these songs. John came in with a psychedelic drone that became Revolver’s avant-garde finale, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” They finished most of the album version in the first two days. In “Take 1,” you can hear that playful, experimental spirit. They didn’t ease into the sessions and build up to “Tomorrow Never Knows” — they jumped right into the deep end.
The song began with Paul McCartney taking John Lennon to visit the Indica Bookshop and Art Gallery —for John, stuck in his suburban mansion, it was a rare chance to explore the London underground counterculture, with Paul as his insider guide. John curled up on a settee reading The Psychedelic Experience, a manual for acid trips based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. On page 14, he read the words, “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” That became the starting point for the song—and for Revolver.
John told producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, “I want to sound like the Dalai Lama singing from a hilltop.” For “Take 1,” they filtered his voice through a rotating Leslie speaker, over a tape loop of fuzztone guitar and Ringo Starr’s monster drums. You can hear George Harrison’s influence — his immersion in Indian music — as well as Paul’s discovery of modern composers like Berio and Stockhausen.
Right from the start, they knew “Tomorrow Never Knows” was their map to the new territory they wanted to explore on Revolver. This was the song Paul took to play for Bob Dylan, when the American rock poet visited in London in April. They sat in Dylan’s hotel room all night, playing each other their new music — Dylan was about to release his classic Blonde on Blonde. (It’s mind-boggling to imagine these two rock legends trying not to look too shocked at each other’s work.)
As Giles Martin says, “There’s that line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that Douglas Adams uses about flying. He says the secret behind flying is ‘learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.’ The Beatles were doing that on Revolver. They were so heavily influenced by different styles of music, not just Elvis and Lonnie Donegan. They’d try to copy this music they loved, but they’d get it wrong, and everything they did then became Beatles. That often happened in the Beatles’ world, and never so much as on Revolver. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s do this, but when we get it wrong, it’s going to be completely different.’” That’s the spirit you can hear in “Tomorrow Never Knows (Take 1).”