Revolution 9 – The Tower
The Beatles (White Album), 1968
It is the strangest song the Beatles ever released. And it’s probably the weirdest recording that ever appeared on an album for a mainstream audience. Often ranking at the very bottom of fans’ favorite Beatles songs lists, “Revolution 9” is, in its own way, legendary. It’s the Beatles’ longest song, clocking in at over eight minutes. That is, if it can even be called a “song”; it has no discernable structure, melody, or lyrics. It could be described more accurately as a sound collage of tape loops, snippets of random audio effects, and haphazardly arranged clips of spoken dialogue. To the uninitiated, nothing can really prepare you for it. Beatles fans and critics at the time were completely dumbfounded.
In composing “Revolution 9”, John was influenced by the avant-garde music of Yoko Ono, along with composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. These composers pioneered a style of music made by piecing together strange sounds and recordings; a style known as “musique concrete”. Always embracing new genres that they could make their own, the Beatles were impressed enough by this revolutionary style that they included Stockhausen on the cover of Sgt. Pepper.
“Revolution 9” was initially an extended jam that appeared at the end of the song “Revolution 1”. Those interested should certainly listen to the fascinating and freaky “Revolution 1, Take 20”, made just before the song had been split into two. Once John made the split, George Harrison and Ringo Starr raided the EMI recording studio’s library for sound effects to add to the recording. Among them was a snippet of an engineer saying the words “Number 9”, which John used to create a tape loop that served as the song’s primary motif. John, George, and Yoko Ono also recorded additional spoken dialogue to throw into the mix. The result is a dizzying and chaotic fever dream of psychedelic feedback and noise.
Not surprisingly, there was debate whether it should be included on the White Album. Paul, who was out of town when the song was constructed, argued against it, making the reasonable claim that it was not really a Beatles type of song. John, going in the opposite direction, stated “this should be our next bloody single! This is the direction The Beatles should be going in from now on.”
Certainly “Revolution 9” was a shocking, revolutionary new direction for the band. That makes the tarot’s Tower card an excellent fit for this song. To understand what this card symbolizes, consider the nature of an actual tower. It is a tall structure that makes those inside feel safe and protected. But if a tower grows too tall it eventually becomes due for collapse. (Think of Jenga). The Tower is often known as the ultimate “scary tarot card” because it warns of destruction, upheaval, chaos, and the stress related to being thrown from the comforts we’ve taken for granted. Consider these themes when you draw the Tower and examine the tower-type of structures in your life that may have gotten too high for their own good.
As with every card in the tarot deck, the Tower has its positive and negative sides. So while it indicates the potential for mayhem and havoc, it is also the opportunity for liberation from a situation that has outlived its expiration date. Undergoing a Tower situation is likely going to hurt – maybe a little and maybe a lot – but what comes next is the freedom and peace to start anew. In the case of the Beatles in 1968, the band’s legacy itself was the Tower. John especially was starting to feel trapped; he wanted to be free of the pressures of Beatledom and explore new artistic frontiers with his new love, Yoko. With “Revolution 9”, he took a big step toward toppling the outworn expectations from the fans and critics of the Beatles, and perhaps toward destroying the band itself.
Beatles fans who sit down to listen to the White Album the entire way through can’t help but prepare themselves for that big, weird thing awaiting them at the end. It’s like a looming Leviathan that we know is coming. And frankly, the album’s greatness would be significantly diminished without it. Some may find “Revolution 9” unlistenable and choose to skip it, and I can’t blame them. Others may be turned off by the “turn me on dead man” conspiracy rumors. Yet the song unquestionably adds an element of profound mystery and freakishness to the album that could be characterized as the Beatles’ Magnum Opus. (And is redeemed by the sweet lullaby that concludes the album.)
Most of us know and love the Beatles as the charismatic and fun moptops spreading the message of peace and love. But with “Revolution 9”, they went in the opposite direction. They created the ultimate outlier to their canon, something as dark as most of their music is light. John Lennon said he wanted to create the sound and feeling of a revolution with this song, and he succeeded brilliantly. He brought forth the Tower. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the White Album represents the beginning of the end of The Beatles.
This is song #75 of the Beatles Song Tarot Project. Click here to learn more about this magical, mystical trip through the Beatles catalogue.