DISCLAIMER: I've been linking to Ian Hammond's Beathoven for years. When I found out that geocities (Which hosted Beathoven) was going offline my hope was Mr Hammond would move his site to another server. He hasn't. In a panic I copied the info from his site and sat on it till recently. This info is just to good to be destroyed so I republished it, the good news is I finally had an email exchange with Mr Hammond and I have his permission to post this info, though neither he nor I like the layout. He may send me the actual codes to use to remake his site, or he might do it himself on a new website, which I will link to. I'll let you know what the latest news is. (Part 4 has been recovered).
Is this Too Much Information on the least loved piece of music the
Beatles ever released? Probably. But say what you will, Revolution 9
provides us with an unique opportunity to look at the marvelous mind
of John Lennon at work from a completely different angle. And a great
opportunity to torture my favorite newsgroup.
This is a multi-part posting. The initial posts deal with the piece
minute-by-minute at face value. Following that I will look at
questions of origin, history and reception.
I have dispensed with a long introduction (actually, I gave up after
the third attempt). A guide to the musical conventions is found at the
bottom of each post. Despite the weeks spent studying Revolution 9,
I know these posts still have errors. I welcome corrections.
This post deals with the first minute of the piece, section 1.1.
Section 1.1 [0.00-1.00]
0.00 D1 "Claret" dialog
0:00 -- AT: "[I'd] have got you a bottle of claret if I'd
-- GM: "Well do next time..."
-- AT: "I forgot all about it... will you forgive me?
-- GM: "Yes... you bitch"
Revolution 9 begins softly, with a camp (i.e. showbiz effeminate)
conversation between Alistair Taylor and George Martin, regarding a
forgotten bottle of wine. Its a very refined British conversation,
marked by occasional footsteps. We know that the George is George
Martin, making the piece self-referential, as are many White Album
songs. Martin returns later Geoff, turn the red light on.
The fragment is not repeated, just as the baby talk which marks the
beginning of section two at 2.00 is not. I suspect both pieces are
dubs, thus I have marked it D1, for Dub 1 in the title line.
Both fragments serve to introduce a section, but also form part of
The dialog is the first thing we hear, which gives it some importance.
I think of it as a placeholder for the JohnAndGeorge babble that
begins at 1.00 and which becomes one of the three major pieces of
background seating for the piece. Put another way, the JohnAndGeorge
babble comes as no surprise when it enters.
0.10 L1 Waltz
0.10 b: Waltz. A dreamy 3/4 piano piece in b minor.
Style: Modal minor rather than harmonic minor.
A very simple style. Possibly a Beatle.
|_ b g |f# g |f# f# |e g c#'| Tune
|b |b |b |e | Chord
|d f# b'|c# dc# |c# | | Tune
|b |f#5/c# |f#5/c# | | Chord
At 0.10 Lennon introduces two of the three main recurring themes: the
piano waltz and Number nine. The third is the JohnAndGeorge babble.
This first loop (L1 in the title above) is a simple B minor piano
waltz. It provides a fey backdrop to much of the action. The origin is
unknown. I try to define the style of unknown entries. Anyone who
has a better idea of the source or style is invited to contribute.
The piano piece prolongs the refined salon atmosphere created by the
0.12 L2 "Number 9"
0.12 (B-Bb) "Number nine". 5/8.
Source: an EMI examination tape
A pre-echo of "Number nine" can be heard at 0.10.
|B BB_ Bb | Tune
With Number nine, Lennon chose a theme that Beethoven would have
liked, with it's distinctive 5/8 rhythm (a syncopated double upbeat
onto a longer held note) and simple melody (a repeated B, then a
octave glissando up to sharpish Bb).
The term Number nine has been made famous by this piece of music:
the "number nine" voice came off an examination tape. John
thought that was a real hoot!
Richard Lush CBRS138
The impact it made was immediate:
For weeks afterwards [the recording] everybody was going
around the building muttering number nine, number nine...
Brian Gibson CRBRS139
Lennon chose nine as his all-time number-one toppermost favorite
number. He might even have reminded us that 1998 is a nines year
(1+8=9). But whether it had this significance for him at the time he
constructed Revolution 9 is doubtful.
The salon atmosphere is enhanced by this perfectly enunciated nine
(which is beautifully recorded).
Lennon lets the duet with the Waltz proceed for close to fifteen
seconds. I don't think the matching key (B) or closeness of beat is
entirely coincidental. The first occurrence of Number 9 in Section 2
is also synchronous with the background music.
0.25 L3 Stasis strings
0.25 Eb: Stasis strings. Slow. 4/4.
Source: Unknown. Probably from a symphony
|Eb Eb :]
|C//G C//G :] Strings
Bb|Ab G Bb:] Tune
|F Eb :] Bass
XXX Tape speedup
(B-Bb) Nine: Number nine -- stops at 0.32
Lennon carefully lets the piano finish before introducing the first
orchestral fragment. We know he was careful, because we can hear the
piano overlap the string entry in an early mix made before editing.
This restful stasis figure is used as a cadence theme in this
section. Lennon uses a string plunge in the next section for the
The E flat tonality of this fragment is distorted momentarily by a
slight speed up at the join.
Again, the fragment is very western, and very refined. Like Number
9, it is beautifully recorded. The nature of the string tremelo
reminds me of Sibelius (who contributed the analogous plunge figure
in the next section). But I haven't been able to locate it.
0.31 L4 Backward piano
0.31 E:? Backward piano, 4/4.
Source: Unknown. Some cite Lennon.
Forward style: Rapid lyric. Late 19th century.
|1 2 3 4 |1 2 3 4 |1 2 3 4 |1
|e g# c# d#|e _d#c# _ |g# c# e f# |g#
|c# b |a# a |g# c# |e
Backward style: Dreamy meandering flute-like piece.
|g# f# e c# g#|_ c#d# e |d# c# g# e |
|e c# g#|a a# |b c# |
E c# A F# B c# Chord
0.32 "Number nine" voice stops
At 0.31 the meandering backward piano voice enters, overlaying the
continuation of the stasis strings. Cast in E major, the join appears
exactly at the point where the stasis string fragment speeds up. Thus
the dissonance between the Eb: and E: sections is disguised. In any
case, the stasis strings quickly disappear.
In its reverse form the piece makes a cadence on to B, rather than E
(E c# A F# B). It appears, in its backwards form, to be a bar of 3/4
followed by a bar of 4/4. But, that's just how its been cut up. The
example above shows the original forward 4/4 version (it took me an
hour to work it out, and I'm still not completely sure).
Some refer to this bit as the Backwards melletron (played by John)
mentioned in Lewisohn, but it is certainly a backwards piano.
I think of the backward piano as an "answer" to the waltz, and like
the waltz, it has an other world quality. It is not Western as
heard, although it certainly was in its original forward form.
0.38 L5 Agitated strings
0.38 Bb7: Agitated backward strings. Fast. 4/4.
4 c# bb a ab|3 g gb f e eb d
4 eb eb ab ab bb bb bb bb|4 eb eb ab ab bb bb|
3 d eb e f f# g |4 g# a bb c#|
4 bb bb ab ab eb eb|4 bb bb bb bb ab ab eb eb|
Could this be the fragment Lewisohn mentions as coming from the A Day
In The Life sessions?
A brief extract of the A Day In The Life orchestral
overdub, repeated over and over.
This would explain the combination of chromatic strings and throbbing
electric bass. The upward chromatic key would fit. But, it's in the
wrong key, and the bass part is wrong for A Day In The Life.
If you reverse the fragment, and drop it a fourth or a tritone, you
can clearly hear electric bass and a standard Beatle drum track. But
the strings sound a little odd. It's possible that Lennon combined two
tapes, one of the strings and one of the bass/drums. But we're
grasping at straws.
The agitated strings overlay the end of the backward piano stretch.
An audible dissonance could be expected between the E major piano and
Bb major string sections. However, little clash occurs. Why? The parts
are in separate stereo channels. The strings begin quite softly. By
the time they get louder, the piano part has faded. The piano part
does not have a bass line to clash with that of the string section.
The upper part of the string section is a chromatic scale which is
equally at home, or not at home, in any key.
Again, its Western in sound, but a bit more 20th century.
The function of this fragment is to liven things up. Lennon uses it in
particular when he's punching in sounds percussively.
0.53 L6 Fanfare
0.53 (CF/Bb) Brass fanfare. Brass/cymbal/timpani/choir climax. 3/4.
Source: Unknown. Probably an opera.
Style: Bombastic. "Roman".
| c f | Brass
| g c | Brass
A brass fanfare fragment brings the first minute to a close. A typical
Western climax to a dramatic work. It's probably one of the
miscellaneous ... operas mentioned by Lewisohn. It may be from the
same work that contributed the operatic material at 2.00.
Sub-Section 1.1 [0.00-1.00]
The first minute has an exceptionally clear layout, with a succession
of entries and the barest of overlap. The sparse texture emphasizes
the introductory nature of the section.
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55
0.00 - ######## "Claret"
0.10 b: ############ Waltz
(B-Bb) ################## "Number nine"
0.25 Eb: ###### Stasis strings
0.31 E: Backward piano ############
0.38 Bb7: Agitato strings ###########
0.53 Bb2 Fanfare ######
Lennon takes great care to showcase each entry, letting each start
clearly at its beginning and finish neatly. New entries enter
separately, or overlay a repetition of the previous voice. At most
Lennon has two voices at any time. This is not chaos.
The material is predominantly Western: the mega-British voices, the
salon piano music, the strings and brass. Only the backward piano
hints at other worlds.
In fact, what Lennon has constructed corresponds closely to the forces
of a symphony orchestra.
"Claret" dialog Voices
Piano waltz Seating
Number nine Theme/seating
Stasis strings Soft strings
Backward piano Woodwind
Agitato strings Loud strings, Bass
Fanfare Brass, Choir, Percussion
Lennon has introduced some basic architecture: soft strings followed
by wind, then agitated strings, followed by brass to create a climax.
This device, repeated at 1.20-2.00 and in later sections, corresponds
to fairly common orchestral technique.
The tonal basis of the sub-section is B-Bb, the two notes of Number
nine. More fully we might write: b: Eb: E: Bb:. Some will debate the
validity of assigning a tonal structure to Revolution nine, but the
fact that only these keys are represented in this sub-section is
significant. We will return to this subject in later posts.
All in all, the sub-section is introductory, which is what we expect
at the beginning. It tells us we have a symphonic work on our hands.
Since the introduction has taken a minute, we can expect the remainder
to take more than the usual two minutes left for a pop song.
The dialog, the waltz, Number nine, the soft strings: I think of all
these loops and dubs as voices that Lennon has at his disposal. The
language of vocal music works well here: we can think of the opening
dialog as a duet for example. Certainly, there is something
immutable about the prerecorded voices that leads to a strictness
in the work. Revolution 9 is a serious piece of music.
Although the voices chosen for the piece are arbitrary to a degree,
this sub-section itself has been put together with great care. It's
very neat and tidy. Controlled chance in the selection of the voices
with a tightly controlled structure.
With the introduction over we should expect some action to follow.
That's what we'll find in the second minute, which is the subject of
the next article.
Filling me up with your rules...
I have employed a number of conventions in these articles.
You will need to use a fixed size font to read these posts sensibly.
In the first column I indicate the time, in minutes and seconds, as it
occurs on CD. I'm not always exact to the second when referring to the
time in the main text. This is not physics.
1.50 (A) This is something that happened at 1 minute 50 seconds
In the second column of titles I use "D" to indicate dubs (e.g. D1)
and "L" to indicate loops.
In the second column of examples I indicate the notes, chords or key
of a section, using the following conventions:
(A) the note A. (ABC) implies the notes A, B and C.
a the chord a minor
A the chord A major
a: the key a minor
A: the key A major
The third column may have quoted text, which is preceded by the
initials of the speaker, if known. JL, GH, YO and GM are obvious.
AT: is Alistair Taylor. The text is highly conjectural in places.
In melodic examples, "'" and "_" are used to indicate non-intuitive
jumps. "a' b" indicates the "a" is above the following "b". "b_ a"
indicates that "b" is below the following "a".
copyright (c) ian hammond 1998 -- all rights reserved
"will you forgive me?"