By Chris Scapelliti
Even though most of the Beatles’ music is no longer readily available on YouTube, you can still find the odd nugget or two.
Like this one, for instance: the isolated guitar track from “Revolution,” the John Lennon-penned B-side of “Hey Jude,” which was released as a single August 26, 1968.
At the time this track was recorded, distortion was well established as an electronic effect for guitarists, but no one had ever used it to the extreme that the Beatles did here.
According to Geoff Emerick, Lennon had been attempting to create distortion by cranking up his amp during sessions for “Revolution 1,” the slower version of the song, which the Beatles recorded that May and June. Emerick had abetted his efforts by overloading the preamp on the microphone used to record Lennon’s guitar, but even this wasn’t enough for Lennon, who told the engineer, “ ‘No, no, I want that guitar to sound dirtier!”
By the July recording of “Revolution,” Emerick determined that he could distort the signal even more by patching Lennon and George Harrison’s guitars directly into the mixing console via direct boxes, overloading the input preamp and sending the signal into a second overloaded preamp.
“I remember walking into the control room when they were cutting that,” recalls Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott, “and there was John, Paul and George, all in the control room, all plugged in—just playing straight through the board. All of the guitar distortion was gotten just by overloading the mic amps in the desk.” As Emerick himself notes in his 2006 memoir Here, There and Everywhere, it was no mean feat: the overloaded preamps could have caused the studio’s tube-powered mixer to overheat. “I couldn’t help but think: If I was the studio manager and saw this going on, I’d fire myself.”
Below, check out the song’s isolated guitar track, followed by the official promotional video for the song. In the clip, Lennon is playing his Epiphone Casino, and Harrison is playing his 1957 Gibson Les Paul, also known as “Lucy.”