There are a lot of narratives in the Beatles’ story that have evolved in the last 20 years or so of me being a fan.
George Harrison has gone from John and Paul’s “little brother” to every indie artist’s favorite Beatle–“Here Comes the Sun” is by far the band’s most-played track on Spotify. And there used to be a longstanding and seemingly impenetrable perception that the secret to the Lennon/McCartney partnership was that John was the raw, honest pessimist, while Paul was the sunny optimist. Never mind that John was the one who plastered “War is Over (If You Want It)” billboards around the world and Paul was the one who reacted to his own mother’s death by lamenting that the family was doomed without her nurse’s salary.
The biggest shift I think I’ve seen though is that, when I first started diving into their music, all the books I read and fans that I talked to were pumped about Sgt. Pepper. This was the record that changed the Beatles, that changed music, that changed the world. It was an insurmountable apex of an album and I couldn’t wait to hear it.
And then I listened to it and I was like, oh, yeah, that was good. I mean, I’d heard a lot of the best stuff before on the 1967-1970 set. And I liked a few other songs. But “Good Morning, Good Morning” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” weren’t exactly what I expected given all the hype.
That was Christmas 2000. A few months earlier, for my birthday, my sister gave me a copy of Revolver, an album that got way less attention but absolutely eclipsed Pepper in every way. (Well, minus one way–George Harrison’s token Indian song on Revolver is the dreary “Love You To” which I ranked all the way at #194. Pepper‘s “Within You Without You” is equally dreary but hasn’t appeared on the countdown yet.) It blew my mind that Sgt. Pepper was so hailed and Revolver seemed like an afterthought.
But things started to change. As more and more “best albums of all time” lists popped up, critics seemed to appreciate the pop craftsmanship and variety packed into Revolver‘s 35 minutes. Aside from the sprawling double White Album, it’s the most diverse and eclectic set of songs the band ever issued.
“For No One” is a lovely, morose song about the end of Paul’s relationship with Jane Asher, bound to pull on the heart strings. Though it possesses some of Paul’s trademark vagueness and distance–directing the emotional lyrics towards the listener rather than towards himself–it’s one of the most mature, poetic pieces in the Beatles’ catalog.
And it’s all the more remarkable that it shares an album with novelty hit “Yellow Submarine,” drug-addled rockers like “She Said She Said” and “Doctor Robert,” and the soundtrack to trippy Tibetan horror movies “Tomorrow Never Knows.”