Tomorrow Never Knows – Revolver

Revolver by The Beatles
Revolver by The Beatles

Tomorrow Never Knows – Revolver

Tomorrow Never Knows on Revolver

There are still a few Beatles songs from their major albums that have not yet made an appearance here. When I initially wrote this in early November of 2020, I referred specifically to the title of the song in this way: “Today, the day before what many are calling the most consequential Presidential election in a long time, if not in the history of the republic, is time to highlight one of them, if only for the title of the song – ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.”

LSD

A highly experimental, and LSD-enhanced song that came at the end of the B-side of Revolver, it denoted a significant moment in the evolution of the Beatles as a group. But before I discuss the song itself, I should mention that for the longest time the working titles were “The Void” or “Mark 1.”

Ringoism

Then, as noted by Kenneth Womack in his 2014 book The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four, the group recalled an interview Ringo had given during the group’s first concert tour in America, after a female fan had come up and cut off a swatch of Ringo’s hair in DC. His response, which may not have risen to the level of his most famous malapropism – “It’s been a hard day’s night” – was another, now famous malapropism of the phrase “tomorrow never comes.”

                You know – what can you say? Tomorrow never knows.

The phrase never appears in the mystical song, but it stuck as the title.

Timothy Leary

John Lennon wrote this song, and besides some significant LSD usage also leaned heavily on Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Some of the initial verses from the song, including the very first, are direct quotes from Leary’s book:

Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream….

Lay down all thought, surrender to the void.

Ravi Shankar

All the Beatles, not just John Lennon, joined in the experimentation that made “Tomorrow Never Knows” such a revolutionary piece. Ringo slackened the tuning on his tom-toms and recorded them through an echo chamber. George played the sitar, which he had been studying with master sitar artist Ravi Shankar, and recorded it at varying speeds for playback both forward and backwards; Paul drew on his interest in the electronic music of Karlheinz Stockhausen to encourage all his bandmates to create tape loops of interesting sounds that also could be played forward, backwards, and at different speeds. One of Paul’s loops sounded like a seagull, but really was him laughing and recorded at high speed before playback.

Dalai Lennon

John’s lead vocal required significant experimentation by sound engineer Geoff Emerick, who reported in the Beatles’ Anthology that Lennon said that he wanted his voice

                to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop, miles away.

As reported in the Anthology, what finally worked, and pleased Lennon greatly, was the directing of his voice track through the rotating speaker of a Leslie cabinet, then through a Hammond organ. Lennon wasn’t the only Beatle excited about the effect; McCartney, upon hearing the track, exclaimed, “It’s the Dalai Lennon!”

Remarkably, for this very, very different song, leaning so heavily on experimental recording techniques, it all came together very quickly: only three takes, and an evening and an afternoon of overdubs for the experimental loops.

The Beatles had introduced an additional “different” song, “Love You To,” also on Revolver (#143), but with this song to round out the Revolver album they made an emphatic statement that their work henceforth would not follow an established pattern. And as I wrote on November 2, 2020, “Tomorrow, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, may provide some insight as to whether there is interest in sustaining – or changing – our nation’s response to it. But for now, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.”

This is an excerpt from Tim Hatfield’s book “When We Find Ourselves in Times of Trouble: The Beatles”

Tim Hatfield

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