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Why ‘Revolver’ Is Better Than ‘Sgt. Pepper’

Seven experts explain why the just-reissued 1966 album is the best Beatles record ever

The Beatles performing "Paperback Writer" on “Top of The Pops” on June 16, 1966.
The Beatles performing "Paperback Writer" on “Top of The Pops” on June 16, 1966.
Apple Corps Ltd.

Roll over, Sgt. Pepper. The Beatles’ Revolver is way beyond compare. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield declared it “the best album the Beatles ever made, which means the best album by anybody.” 

And thanks to a lavish new reissue overseen by Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles Martin, Revolver has never sounded better. It’s got extras (28 early takes, three home demos, remastered mono and new stereo mixes of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain”). You can buy a 63-track super-deluxe special edition (five CDs, four LPs, a 7-inch EP, a 100-page hardcover book); a deluxe special edition (two-CD digipak and 40-page booklet); or the standard special edition (the original 14 tracks, digital and on CD, LP or vinyl picture disc).

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So why does 1966’s Revolver outplay 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which used to be widely considered the band’s finest hour? Seven Beatles authorities offer their explanations:

Ken Barnes, former USA Today music editor

Sgt. Pepper was impeccably timed, Barnes says, at a point where pop music fans had “a nearly unshakable conviction that a favorite band progresses in an ever-ascending line, when the pattern is just as likely to be a bell curve. In that mindset, Pepper had to be better than Revolver.”

So what turned the tide of opinion? “Starting with the CD era, the original British version of Revolver became widely available in the U.S., for the most part replacing the amputated American release, which had sacrificed three John Lennon songs: ‘I’m Only Sleeping,’ ‘And Your Bird Can Sing,’ ‘Dr. Robert’ — among his best creations, period.” Revolver had three George Harrison tunes, a first. “His mantra mash-up ‘Love You To’ is far livelier than Pepper’s stolid, preachy ‘Within You, Without You.’ As for McCartney, ‘Lovely Rita’ and ‘Fixing a Hole’ are patented pop delights on Pepper but don’t measure up to the haunting melancholia of ‘For No One’ and the brassy soul of ‘Got to Get You Into My Life.’

Sgt. Pepper’s ‘A Day in the Life,’ the welding of separate Lennon and McCartney creations, may be the single greatest achievement of the Beatles. It cements Sgt. Pepper’s status as a superior summation of state-of-the-art 1967 pop-rock. But the experimental foundation had already been dug, the boundary-pushing already accomplished, by its predecessor.”

The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films on May 19, 1966.
The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films on May 19, 1966.
Apple Corps Ltd.

Faith Cohen, founder of Global Beatles Day

“For the first time, the Beatles had relieved themselves of their grueling touring schedule and sequestered themselves in the studio to follow every creative impulse. Their attention was no longer on just girls. They were dealing with more adult themes. ‘Taxman’ is about money. Love is dealt with but in the context of lasting love in ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ and the death of love in ‘For No One.’ Loneliness in ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ LSD and death in ‘She Said She Said.’ Consciousness and the transition from life to death and beyond in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ arguably the most elaborate and shocking aural surprise.” 

Sam Graham, Los Angeles musician and Beatles disciple

One track alone sets Revolver apart from Sgt. Pepper, says Graham. “With its tape loops, sampling, speed manipulations and hypnotic drone, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is the album’s most radical track, an astonishing collision of song, performance and production unlike anything that came before or after.

“But Revolver also brought us horns for the first time on a Beatles record, backwards guitar solos and a host of other studio innovations, a fuller realization of George Harrison’s Indian inclinations than on Rubber Soul, a kind of dense sonic texture previously unheard on a Beatles recording and, of course, a few pretty decent tunes. 

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“There’s none of McCartney’s cloyingly twee ‘granny music,’ as John Lennon mockingly described it, that populates Pepper and later records. Instead of ‘When I’m 64’ or ‘Lovely Rita,’ we get ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ ‘For No One’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ three deathless classics. Harrison’s ‘Taxman’ is a killer first track. And with the inclusion of Lennon’s songs, you’ve got a record that’s not just better than Pepper, but the Fabs’ best overall.”

The Beatles' "Revolver" album cover
The Beatles' "Revolver" album cover
Apple Corps Ltd.

Robert Hilburn, former Los Angeles Times music critic

“Aside from the classic ‘A Day in the Life’ and the enchanting ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘When I’m 64,’ the songs on Sgt. Pepper now feel largely mediocre by the standards the Beatles themselves had set in two previous albums — songs that showed the band moving from youthful exuberance to writing about the adult world with remarkable character and insight.

“The transition began with ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘In My Life’ on Rubber Soul and moved even higher with the likes of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from Revolver. Sgt. Pepper was a wonderful moment during the Summer of Love, but Rubber Soul and, especially, Revolver were and remain better expressions of the artistic heart of the band.”

Steve Marinucci, veteran Beatles reporter

“There were several incredible leaps forward in Revolver. McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a genius jump into classical sounds. And there were ‘Good Day Sunshine,’ the effervescent ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ and ‘Your Bird Can Sing,’ all joyful pop ballads that remain among the best they ever did. The guitar solo on ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ still crackles with delight after all these years. Lennon’s contributions were more psychedelic. Then there was Ringo’s vocal contribution, ‘Yellow Submarine,’ a delightful children’s song that has taken on a cottage industry of its own with a fantastic animated movie and consumer goods ranging from shirts and jackets to lava lamps.”

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Gene Sculatti, author of For the Records: Close Encounters with Pop Music

Living in San Francisco when Revolver arrived in 1966 had much to do with his preference, says Sculatti. “Musical explosions were firing weekly the world over then, and Revolver was one of them. It fit. Paul’s ebullient ‘Good Day Sunshine’ easily cohabits with the hazy swoon of John’s ‘I’m Only Sleeping.’ And if ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ represents the opening shot of electronica, it was fired by musicians who, mercifully, valued melody just as much as they dug rhythm.

"In 1966, the Beatles’ adventurousness was still constrained by the rules of conventional pop: Keep it tuneful and economical. Pepper’s flow is diffuse; it’s like a flea market where each stall finds a vendor hawking wildly different goods, which is probably why the band chose the circus metaphor to frame the album.”

The Beatles during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films at Chiswick House in London on May 20, 1966.
The Beatles during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films at Chiswick House in London on May 20, 1966.
Apple Corps Ltd.

Sam Sutherland, former Billboard music journalist and producer

“After six studio albums recorded within a few weeks (or, on their debut, a single day), the band and George Martin were spurred toward experimentation by advances in studio technology and fresh influences drawn from beyond the pop charts on Revolver. The Beatles lavished nearly three months to capture its 14 songs, as well as an edgy new double A-side single pairing ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain,’ both stepping beyond the harmonic bloom of their earlier hits to tap into hypnotic drones.

“‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ dispenses with the familiar guardrails of guitars, bass and drums, weaves tape loops, reverse guitars and Lennon’s heavily processed vocal reciting instructions culled from Timothy Leary’s musings on psychedelia and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

“For this fan, Revolver anticipated much of Sgt. Pepper’s advances and surpassed it in end-to-end pleasure, a verdict borne out by how easily and how often I return to the 1966 album. It shares its more celebrated successor’s sonic audacity, as well as its balance of nostalgia and futurism — while also rocking harder.”