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Baker's Dozen

Grit In One’s Third Eye: Robyn Hitchcock’s Baker’s Dozen
Julian Marszalek , February 11th, 2013 11:14

English songwriter and frontman of The Soft Boys, The Venus Three and The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock leads Julian Marszalek through his most played LPs


The Beatles – Revolver
They were still a pop group when they recorded this. This was the last record they made as a pop group when they had to deliver to EMI 14 songs twice a year or whatever it was and the Americans still took four of them off each album so they could make three albums for every two that came out here. They were kings but they were kings in a pop cage.

When this was recorded they were still going on tour and doing ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘She Loves You’ and they were still playing, with increasing cynicism and weariness, to screaming teenyboppers. Then you had John Lennon’s quote about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus, which had lain dormant for a few months and had suddenly come out, and so they got all this shit in the States and then they got into trouble in the Philippines and it all just got too much for them and they were ready to disappear and do Sgt. Pepper’s.

But with Revolver they were distilling stuff like the Tibetan Book Of The Dead and Timothy Leary and Highway 61 Revisited which obviously John and George would have soaked themselves in. George’s songs, I think, are even more extraordinary because they’re so profound. It sounds pretentious but they’re dealing with really philosophical and existential issues and the fact that George was sneaking this stuff in for teenyboppers. Having said that, there was this sort of rabid Tory anti-tax rant. He wasn’t a morass of enlightenment; he was as greedy as the rest of ‘em but he was capable of delivering.

They were still working as a team. They were kind of breaking down into individual vocalists but it hadn’t separated into, oh this is John’s world, this is Paul’s world, mostly they were all on the songs and Ringo was the drummer as he always was. If they’d have done this ten years later it would’ve been like, “We need Billy Cobham or let’s have Ginger Baker, you sit this one out, Ringo.” It was so simple that world; they only had two roadies yet they produced Revolver! I’m sure they thought, smoke that, universe! They knew what they were doing but it still had to be a pop record. When they went on tour they still had uniforms. Dylan’s stuff was still going via the bongo-playing hipster elite but it wasn’t going straight down to the folks in Alabama [like The Beatles did].

The great quantum leap with Revolver is in the sound. And of course ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer’, which were the great tracks that didn’t make it on to the album, were the wire-between-the-ears, acid-jangle guitar sound and they had obviously been listening to The Byrds and Dylan and they synthesised this kind of shimmering, trebly, hypnotic guitar sound. You listen to ‘Rain’ and ‘Doctor Robert’ or ‘She Said, She Said’ – which was even written about tripping with The Byrds – and needless to say that was my template. If you hit it right it’s a terrific sound.

I think that, unfortunately, because of the drugs they became much more aware of how things sounded. Their pre-dope stuff was always much happier, you know, ‘No Reply’ or ‘Any Time At All’, it’s just… woah! The drugs come in and they start to get thoughtful and they start to get paranoid and after a while they get less exuberant but texturally it’s just so much more advanced.

I think Revolver’s my favourite Beatles album but if I was marooned on a desert island with any of their records I’d be happy. Except maybe Let It Be.