The Beatles Songs: "Revolution"

The history of this classic Beatles song

Neil Aspinall (at left) with The Beatles
The quiet and retiring Neil Aspinall (at left) with The Beatles in London in 1964. John Happy Hopkins/Getty Images

By spring 1968, student demonstrations had reached a fever pitch all around the world, most notably in Paris, where a massive strike and resultant riots led to the collapse of the government led by Charles DeGaulle. John Lennon, who questioned the goals of the leftist movements even as he championed their basic beliefs, wrote this song directly to the world's young revolutionaries, specifically inspired as he was by the May 1968 French upheaval. "Revolution" would go on to become one of the Beatles signature tracks. 

John had always intended this song to be the first release on the group's new, self-owned label, Apple, but the other band members and producer George Martin felt the original song -- slower and calmer than the single we know today -- wouldn't capture the attention of radio listeners. Still, Lennon thought the message important enough that he reconvened the band in the Abbey Road studios in late July 1968, and cut the loud, fast, rock version we know today. It is still accepted as the definitive version of this song, even though it was recorded six weeks after the original take.)

The original slower version of "Revolution," named "Revolution 1" so as to distance it from the more familiar single version, was released as a track on the album The Beatles (usually known as the "White Album") in November 1968. Snippets from the recording of "1" were used in a sound collage Lennon made for the album, dubbed "Revolution 9."

John laid on the floor of the Abbey Road studios to record the vocal for this single; he got the distorted guitar tone he wanted by scraping the paint from his Epiphone Casino and having engineers run it directly through the soundboard. When the 45 single was released, many customers returned it, thinking the record was damaged in some way.

The famous scream heard at the beginning of this track was John himself, double-tracked, although Paul can be seen performing the scream on the videotaped for their appearance on the British TV show The David Frost Show. It would be impossible for John to scream live and then jump into the verse.

Nicky Hopkins, who played electric piano on this track, was a favorite sideman of the Rolling Stones. He can also be heard on their songs "Sympathy for the Devil," "Tumbling Dice," and "Angie," as well as the Who's "The Song Is Over," Lennon's "Jealous Guy," and Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful."


Written by: John Lennon (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: July 10-12, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: August 2 and 6, 1968
Length: 3:21
Takes: 16


John Lennon: lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Paul McCartney: bass guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), organ (Hammond B-2), handclaps
George Harrison: lead guitar (1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard)
Ringo Starr: drums (1963 Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl), handclaps
Nicky Hopkins: electric piano (Hohner Pianet N)

First released: August 26, 1968 (US: Apple 2276), August 30, 1968 (UK: Apple R5722); b-side of "Hey Jude"

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Hey Jude, (US: Apple SW 385, UK: Parlophone PCS 7184)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
Past Masters Volume Two, (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2)

Highest chart position: US: 12 (September 14, 1968); UK: 1 (two weeks beginning September 11, 1968)


  • This Beatles version of this song was infamously used in a 1987 Nike television ad, the first time an original Beatles version had been heard in a commercial. Fans were in an uproar over the "selling out" of the band's good name, blaming Michael Jackson (who owned a majority of the Beatles song publishing, having bought it from behind Paul McCartney's back) and Yoko Ono (who was required to sign off on the ad as well, being executor of John's estate). The ad was soon pulled.
  • John remained adamant for the rest of his life about the non-violent form of revolution he preached in this song, later only regretting that he mentioned "Chairman Mao" in one verse as a dig against Communism. (Mao Zedong was Chairman of the People's Republic of China from 1949-1975 and an influential figure on the world stage.)
  • Despite the title and theme, the word "revolution" is heard only in the first line of this song, and never repeated.

Covered by: Anima Sound System, Billy Bragg, The Brothers Four, Enuff Z'nuff, Jools Holland, Kenny Neal, Reckless Kelly, Stereophonics, Stone Temple Pilots, Jim Sturgess, The Thompson Twins, Trixter