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This was the first overtly political Beatles song. It was John Lennon's response to the Vietnam War.
John Lennon wrote this in India while The Beatles were at a transcendental meditation camp with The Maharishi. Lennon told Rolling Stone: "I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it, that it's going to be all right (even now I'm saying 'Hold on, John, it's going to be all right,' otherwise, I won't hold on) but that's why I did it, I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say 'What do you say? This is what I say.'"
The original slow version appears on The White Album. The fast, loud version was released as a single. In the slow version, Lennon says "count me in" as well as "count me out" when referring to violence. This gives the song a dual meaning.
This was released as the B-side of "Hey Jude
." Lennon wanted it to be the first A-side released on Apple Records, the label The Beatles started, but "Hey Jude" got the honor.
There are so many versions of this song because Paul McCartney didn't like it. Lennon really wanted this song to be the 'A' side of the single instead of "Hey Jude," and kept changing it around to come up with something that would make Paul see it his way. He basically wrote the song because he felt like he was being pulled in so many directions by different people, all of whom wanted his backing, politically. It was also him questioning his own belief in the revolution that was going on... whether he was "out" or "in." In truth, he was writing about a revolution of the mind rather than a physical "in the streets" revolution. He truly believed that revolution comes from inner change rather than social violence. (This is discussed in the DVD Composing the Beatles Songbook
Nike used this for commercials in 1987. Capitol Records, who owns the performance rights, meaning The Beatles version of the song, was paid $250,000. Michael Jackson, who owns the publishing rights, meaning use of the words and music, also had to agree and was paid for the song.
The Nike commercials caused a huge backlash from Beatles fans who felt that Nike was disrespecting the legacy of John Lennon, who probably would have objected to its use. There were plans to use more Beatles songs in future ads, but they were abandoned when it became clear it was not good business practice. As years went by, it became more acceptable to use songs in commercials, but Beatles songs were still considered sacred, especially since the group did not control their rights. In 2002, "When I'm 64
" was used in a commercial for Allstate insurance. Many Beatles fans were not pleased, but it didn't get nearly the reaction of the Nike commercials, partly because it was not a political song, but also because it was sung by Julian Lennon
, which implied endorsement by his father.
The Beatles played this, along with "Hey Jude," on The David Frost Show in 1968. It was their first performance in 2 years. They played it for the first time in America on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968.
Nicky Hopkins played the piano. When The Beatles needed keyboards, they usually used Hopkins, Billy Preston, or their producer, George Martin.
The dirty guitar sound was created by plugging the guitars directly into the audio board. The guitar sounded so scratchy that many who bought the 45 RPM single tried to return it, thinking it was defective. (thanks to Dwight Rounds, author of The Year The Music Died, 1964-1972
The word "Revolution" is mentioned just once, in the first line.
John Lennon wanted his vocals to have an unusual sound, so he recorded most of them lying on his back in the studio. The famous scream at the beginning is a double-tracked recording of Lennon. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France and Jonathon - Clermont, FL)
The version on the Hey Jude
compilation, released in February 1970 in the US, was the B-side of the "Hey Jude" single. The Hey Jude
compilation album peaked at #2 in the US and consists of a collection of singles and B-sides that had not previously appeared on US non-soundtrack album releases. The album cover
was taken at the final Beatles photo session, at Lennon's (later Starr's) country estate in Ascot, England. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
The Stone Temple Pilots performed this at Madison Square Garden as part of the 2001 special, Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words And Music. Their version was released as a single, with proceeds going to charity.
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