Revolution 9 is not a song

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    Revolution 9 is not a song

    I think sometimes it's good to have a little controversy here, a little in the way of philosophical debate.  So I'm returning to a little argument from months back.  There was a thread that the Beatles' Revolution 9 was being discussed on, and I came on and said it wasn't a song.  The people that replied to me on that all disagreed.  I let it go but I thought that at some point I might want to return to that argument in a thread of its own.  So here it goes.

    My feeling is that Revolution 9 is a work of sonic art, but one that it is something different than a song.  I don't think it was intended by John Lennon to be regarded as a song, but as something else altogether.   

     

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    The Wikipedia entry on Revolution is excellent.  Here are some excerpts from it.

     

    "Revolution 9" is a recorded composition that appeared on the Beatles' 1968 self-titled LP release (popularly known as The White Album). The sound collage, credited to Lennon–McCartney, was created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. The composition was influenced by the avant-garde style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

    All the thing was made with loops. I had about 30 loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects. One thing was an engineer's testing voice saying, "This is EMI test series number nine." I just cut up whatever he said and I'd number nine it. Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything. I didn't realise it: it was just so funny the voice saying, "number nine"; it was like a joke, bringing number nine into it all the time, that's all it was.

    —John Lennon, Rolling Stone, 1970[4]

    Much of the track consists of tape loops that are faded in and out, several of which are sampled from performances of classical music. Works that have been specifically identified include the Vaughan Williams motet O Clap Your Hands, the final chord from Sibelius' Symphony No. 7, and the reversed finale of Schumann's Symphonic Studies.[10] Other loops include brief portions of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, "The Streets of Cairo", violins from "A Day in the Life", and George Martin saying "Geoff, put the red light on". Part of the Arabic song "Awwal Hamsa" by Farid Il-Atrash is included shortly after the 7-minute mark. There are also loops of unidentified operatic performances, backwards mellotron, violins and sound effects, an oboe/horn duet, a reversed electric guitar in the key of E major, and a reversed string quartet in the key of E-flat major.[10]

    Portions of the unused coda of "Revolution 1" can be heard briefly several times during the track, particularly Lennon's screams of "right" and "alright", with a longer portion near the end featuring Ono's discourse about becoming naked. Segments of random prose read by Lennon and Harrison are heard prominently throughout, along with numerous sound effects such as laughter, crowd noise, breaking glass, car horns, and gunfire. Some of the sounds were taken from an Elektra Records album of stock sound effects.[11] The piece ends with a recording of American football chants ("Hold that line! Block that kick!"). In all, the final mix includes at least 45 different sound sources.[12]

    Lennon described "Revolution 9" as "an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens, just like a drawing of revolution."[4] He said he was "painting in sound a picture of revolution", but he had mistakenly made it "anti-revolution".[4] In his analysis of the song, MacDonald doubted that Lennon conceptualised the piece as representing a revolution in the usual sense, but rather as "a sensory attack on the citadel of the intellect: a revolution in the head" aimed at each listener.[22] MacDonald also noted that the structure suggests a "half-awake, channel-hopping" mental state, with underlying themes of consciousness and quality of awareness.[23] Others have described the piece as Lennon's attempt at turning "nightmare imagery" into sound,[24] and as "an autobiographical soundscape."[25] The loop of "number nine" featured in the recording fuelled the fallacy of Paul McCartney's death after it was reported that it sounded like "turn me on, dead man" when played backwards. 

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    Note that the Wikipedia refers to it as a 'recorded composition' and a 'sound collage', but never as a 'song'.

    I just finished a book by Geoff Emerick, who was the lead sound engineer on Beatles albums from Revolver up to Abbey Road.

    Emerick talks about Revolution at several points in the book.  Like the Wikipedia entry, he never refers to it as a song.  But he does refer to it on two occasions as a 'sound pastiche'.

     

     

     

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    For those who do consider Revolution 9 a song, I would pose this question: 'Does every track that a musical artist puts on one of their albums necessarily have to be classified as a song?'

    Before answering that, let me bring up another recording that falls somewhere in this discussion.

    On Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends album, there is a track called 'Voices of Old People'.  What is on that track is exactly what the title suggests - it's a recording of a small gathering of elderly people talking about their lives and their families etc.  Nothing less or more.  It has a thematic tie-in to some of the songs on the album, especially 'Old Friends'.

    If Revolution 9 is a song, is Voices of Old People also a song? 

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    I'm sorry not to disagree, but it is not a song. The problem is that song, like art, is a human invention, a human concept. We say that birds sing, but that is not really songs but sounds they use to communicate. If we call any form of sound a song, we undermine our definition of the word. Same thing with art. If a man piles tires in his back yard we call it junk. If the same man piles those tires in a contemporary art museum and titles it "Eternal Road", we call it art. But song, like art, is not something that exists outside of human concepts. If the word song is to have any real meaning as a concept, there needs to be some boundaries on its definition. These boundaries can include many variations, but somewhere a line must be drawn, or else the notion of defining "song" becomes absurd. 

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    Good post, devildavid, thanks.

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    To add to the controversy, not only is it not a song but it is also unworthy of being included on a Beatles album. I rarely skip songs on their albums but this is one non-song I never listen to. I won't waste 8 minutes and 22 seconds of my life on that. 

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    Also agreed that it's not a song.  "Musical composition" sounds about right.  "Soundscape" if you want to be glib about it.

    I've listened to a lot of avant garde stuff like John Cage, and they're conceptual in nature.  Sometimes, these experiments can lead to 'songs'; sometimes not.

     

    Either way, I think John, et al. were on some good s**t when they recorded it.  Nothing wrong with that.

    [Aside: The Simpsons covered this, hilariously, in the "B-Sharps" episode....]

     
  9. You have chosen to ignore posts from devildavid. Show devildavid's posts

    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:
    [QUOTE]

    Also agreed that it's not a song.  "Musical composition" sounds about right.  "Soundscape" if you want to be glib about it.

    I've listened to a lot of avant garde stuff like John Cage, and they're conceptual in nature.  Sometimes, these experiments can lead to 'songs'; sometimes not.

     

    Either way, I think John, et al. were on some good s**t when they recorded it.  Nothing wrong with that.

    [Aside: The Simpsons covered this, hilariously, in the "B-Sharps" episode....]

    [/QUOTE]

    I guess good s**t doesn't necessarily lead to good ideas.

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    It's a wonderful piece of art. It is creative, it is distinctive. It sounds like nothing else ever done. 

    I also find it disturbing to listen to ( and like david, I skip over it, haven't listened to it in over a decade). It is surreal...I like surreal paintings, but not surreal music. But, the fact that I do not like it doesn't make it bad. Just like when I say I do not like Disco or Rap make those styles "bad"...I will never like any of these things, but to those who do....well, you can have it, just keep it away from my ears.

    I found it interesting in 1972 or 73, when I first heard it.Unlike the first Public Image Limited album, which was experimental and somewhat bizarre. This album was just terrible noise....but different. So was Two Virgins....I own it, cannot listen to it. It is interesting art, but not something good to listen to. Both Johns ( Lennon and Lydon ) would go on to make many, many excellent albums and songs. 

    But, no, for all intents and purposes, Revolution 9 is never going to be confused with a song.

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    In response to devildavid's comment:
    [QUOTE]

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:
    [QUOTE]

    Also agreed that it's not a song.  "Musical composition" sounds about right.  "Soundscape" if you want to be glib about it.

    I've listened to a lot of avant garde stuff like John Cage, and they're conceptual in nature.  Sometimes, these experiments can lead to 'songs'; sometimes not.

     

    Either way, I think John, et al. were on some good s**t when they recorded it.  Nothing wrong with that.

    [Aside: The Simpsons covered this, hilariously, in the "B-Sharps" episode....]

    [/QUOTE]

    I guess good s**t doesn't necessarily lead to good ideas.

    [/QUOTE]

    Or it could lead to good ideas that end up being poorly executed....

     
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    Re: Revolution 9 is not a song

    In response to Hfxsoxnut's comment:

    For those who do consider Revolution 9 a song, I would pose this question: 'Does every track that a musical artist puts on one of their albums necessarily have to be classified as a song?'

    Before answering that, let me bring up another recording that falls somewhere in this discussion.

    On Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends album, there is a track called 'Voices of Old People'.  What is on that track is exactly what the title suggests - it's a recording of a small gathering of elderly people talking about their lives and their families etc.  Nothing less or more.  It has a thematic tie-in to some of the songs on the album, especially 'Old Friends'.

    If Revolution 9 is a song, is Voices of Old People also a song? 


    I have an example that is similar to the Simon and Garfunkel track.  It's from FWM's "Bare Trees" album.   The last track, one that I have never liked, is an old woman named Mrs. Scarrot,  reading a poem that she wrote entitled, "Thoughts on a Grey Day"; the poem sparked the idea for the album, actually, since it has a line, "God bless our perfect grey day ... with trees so bare, so bare ... and so beautiful"  and so forth.     Mrs. Scarrot apparently lived near the recording studio or nearby the home of a band member at the time. 

    It does sound like the exact concept at work, and is not a song.

    BTW, I thought you were going to cite "7:00 News / Silent Night" at first, when I saw Simon and Garfunkel in your post.    That title might be off, but you know the track I mean, I'm sure.  I don't consider that a song, either, coincidentally. But that's my opinion, and other opinions may vary, which is likely.   Either way, it seems to fit the theme.  

    It's referred to as a "track" ... not a song (Wikipedia)  Interesting:

    "The track consists of an overdubbing of two contrasting recordings: a simple arrangement of the Christmas carol "Silent Night", and a simulated "7 O'Clock News" bulletin of the actual events of 3 August 1966.

    The "Silent Night" track consists of Simon and Garfunkel singing the first verse twice over, accompanied by Garfunkel on piano. The voice of the newscaster is that of Charlie O'Donnell, then a radio disc jockey. As the track progresses, the song becomes fainter and the news report louder. Matthew Greenwald calls the effect "positively chilling".[1] Bruce Eder describes the track as "a grim and ironic (and prophetic) comment on the state of the United States in 1966".[2]

     

     
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