"Revolution" is a song by the Beatles, written primarily by John Lennon and attributed to Lennon-McCartney.
The song appeared in two distinctly different incarnations, a raucous electric "Revolution", and a slowed acoustic "Revolution 1". A third connected piece, the heavily experimental "Revolution 9", appeared on the same album side (i.e., side 4) as "Revolution 1" on The White Album.
The first version of "Revolution" to be released (though the last to be recorded) was the B-side of the "Hey Jude" single, released in early September 1968.
A product of the recording sessions for The Beatles (aka The White Album), "Revolution" featured distorted guitars and an electric piano solo by session musician Nicky Hopkins. This track is said to be one of the loudest and most aggressive Beatles songs; it begins abruptly with a loud, overdriven electric guitar played by Lennon, a thundering, compressed drum beat from Ringo Starr and a wailing scream from Lennon. (The scream was an overdub added when Lennon double tracked his vocal. McCartney performed the scream on the 'David Frost Show' semi-live television performance, because Lennon could not deliver the scream and catch his breath again in time to launch into the first verse.)
The musical form is a simple rock and roll chord progression, but the highly processed elements and hyperbolic approach distinguished the track from nearly anything that had come before; the sound of "Revolution" is often cited as presaging heavy metal. "Revolution" later appeared on the 1970 Hey Jude compilation album created for the U.S. market and other compilations.
The Beatles performed the song semi-live (with live vocals set against a recorded instrument track) in a specially produced promotional film shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg at the same time as the Hey Jude promotional film. The film received its world premiere in Britain on David Frost's ITV television programme, 4 September 1968. As the Beatles were singing the vocals live on the film, they elected to incorporate part of the vocal arrangement from the slower Revolution 1 version of the track. McCartney and Harrison added the "shoop-doo-wop" backing vocals unique to that version behind Lennon's lead vocal - thus making the vocals on the film performance a hybrid of the two versions of the song.
"Revolution 1" is the same song as "Revolution" but is performed in a distinctly different style: slower, with less distortion and more emphasis on acoustic instruments (though electric guitar remains a primary component of the track's sound). Lennon performed most of the vocal take lying on his back in the studio, typifying his ongoing search for new ways of recording his vocals.
"Revolution 1" was recorded between 30 May and 4 June 1968, about 6 weeks before "Revolution", but released nearly three months later than the single. Lennon wanted the initial version to be released as a single but the other band members said it was too slow for a single.
Lennon, slightly irritated, resolved to remake the song in a version as loud and raucous as anything the Beatles had released, and he led the band through the faster recording which ended up backing "Hey Jude". "Revolution" was the first Beatles single to feature Lennon on lead guitar (although several earlier album tracks had done so). Searching for a highly distorted and 'dirty'-sounding guitar sound, Lennon asked producer George Martin for advice, and Martin suggested routing the guitar output through a highly-overloaded piano amplifier. The resulting highly distorted tone satisfied Lennon and became the distinctive sound of the released version.
The original version, re-titled "Revolution 1" to distinguish it from the single version, was released on The Beatles in late November 1968.
"Revolution 1" contains a notable lyrical difference to the final "Revolution": Lennon's vocal for the track adds the word "in" following the line "When you talk about destruction/don't you know that you can count me out". Lennon said in interviews that he was undecided in his sentiments toward the song's theme so he included both options.
Unreleased versions of the song, including demos and outtakes, can be found on many bootleg albums such as "From Kinfauns To Chaos" and "Revolution", on which appears a twenty-three minute version of the song with Yoko Ono talking over The Beatles.
"Revolution 9" was a sound collage piece which appeared along with "Revolution 1" on The White Album. It shared no music or lyrics with the released versions of "Revolution" or "Revolution 1." The collage began as a coda for "Revolution 1" but ended up as a separate track. Some elements of the original coda are clearly audible in "Revolution 9", such as Lennon's drawn-out "all right" and repeated screams of "right".
The song was inspired by the May 1968 uprising in France. The lyrics can be interpreted as a cautionary response to the Radical Left elements of the counter-culture movement of the worldwide Civil Rights Movement, as Lennon's verses include a clear dislike for left-wing revolutionary militancy in general and for its New Left Maoist-inspired adherents in particular. Naturally the reaction of this sector of the Left to the song was, and continues to be, hostile as a result.
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow
"Revolution" was the first Beatles recording, and indeed one of the first rock music recordings by any artist, to be licensed for use in a television commercial. (Ford Motor Company had used a cover version of "Help!" for a TV ad in 1985.) Nike used the actual Beatles recording for a commercial in 1987, paying $250,000 for the rights to Capitol Records and Michael Jackson, who owned the publishing rights. This caused a huge backlash among Beatles fans, who felt Lennon would have objected to this usage, especially in the face of controversy over Nike's use of sweatshops. In addition McCartney protested, saying, "Songs like Revolution don't mean a pair of sneakers, they mean Revolution." Nike later released a television ad featuring the Lennon song "Instant Karma," with the permission of Yoko Ono.
In 2006, a cover version of the song was used in Australia on television advertisements to promote a Mitsubishi sales event.
"Revolution" was covered by the synth-pop group Thompson Twins on their 1985 album Here's to Future Days.
It was also covered by 90's rock band Stone Temple Pilots in November 2001, Hungarian band Anima Sound System on their 2006 album We Strike, and low-fi rockers Grandaddy on the I Am Sam soundtrack.