Is “Revolution” the worst song ever? I think so.

Further supporting my contention that the Beatles were an utterly terrible band is the song Revolution.

Let’s look at some of those lyrics. Most are just sort of standard-variety anti-activist quietism, “ooh, ooh, you people are so violent, get it away.” But then there’s this gem of a quatrain (leaving out the “well you know” between the first and second, and third and fourth, lines):

You say you’ll change the constitution
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
You better free your mind instead

Wait, seriously? This isn’t even an objection to violent or excessive activism. This is pure quietism: not only is the activist to whom the song is addressed not even supposed to change the constitution, but (s)he is wrong to think that there’s something institutionally wrong with society as it stands. Instead, (s)he is told to get his/her head checked, or, in the last line, take some drugs.

How on earth did the Beatles get away with this crap in the 60’s, during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement? If all their fans weren’t too continually stoned out to bother to listen to their lyrics or care, and if the 60’s hippie Beatles fans really cared about bringing about social change, they’d have torn the whole band limb from limb for this song.

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6 Responses to “Is “Revolution” the worst song ever? I think so.”

  1. eric Says:

    I’ve long had the same objection to those lyrics. Especially curious is the asserted antinomy between institutional change and mental freedom. It would seem to me that they (should? must?) go hand in hand.

    And, objections to cultural Stalinism notwithstanding, I suppose that a song called “Revolution” might fairly be subject to political, and not only aesthetic, criticism.

    Still, I do like (much of) the Beatles’ music, including “Revolution”, despite the often silly lyrics. Of course, I also like Evelyn Waugh novels, despite their reactionary politics.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Especially curious is the asserted antinomy between institutional change and mental freedom. It would seem to me that they (should? must?) go hand in hand.

    Seriously. I much prefer Bob Marley’s take on the matter, even though it is religious, in Redemption Song, where political and mental emancipation go hand-in-hand. Hmm… actually, Redemption Song is remarkably Hegelian. Perhaps I should post about this. :-)

  3. Pär Says:

    An extremely generous (and incorrect)interpretation could be that the lyrics are just critising the activists/wanna be revolutionaries that are “carrying pictures of chairman Mao” since that “ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow”, and not left wing activism per se. So, “you better free you mind instead” means that the activist shouldnt just focus on the revolution and how she will change the constitution after it. A successful revolution in the UK? In the sixties? Not very likely.

  4. Aaron Says:

    But why do we need to care about the lyrics? Why not just care about how the music sounds? I remember seeing a track by The Mars Volta in some Halloween play list thing you had, Paul (I remember because TMV are one of my favourite bands). Have you listened to their lyrics? They’re nonsensical — and the lyricist (let me just pretend for a moment that I don’t know his full name, date of birth, and details of ethnic origin) is open about that. A lot of vocalists say that they just use words which sound good; they just “clothe” the melody. Another example of this is Mike Patton.

    I’d say a lot of The Beatles music sounds pretty good. What about… ‘A day in the life’? Or ‘Eleanor Rigby’? Or ‘Something’. Or like millions. I don’t really know how to advance a point that a song *sounds* good though. “Listen, LISTEN, man.”

  5. Paul Gowder Says:

    I certainly appreciate The Mars Volta, and nonsense lyrics generally (witness: George Clinton), but there’s a difference between nonsense and actual harmful propaganda…

  6. Jason W. Says:

    One answer to the question in the final paragraph is that the ’60s weren’t all they were cracked up to be — the vast majority of people, and the vast majority of Beatles fans, were as disengaged from the real world as anybody was in the Me Generation or the mid-’90s or today. We’ve romanticized the period to the point where we’ve forgotten that most people at most times just don’t care.

    (I’m usually wary of making empirical claims like the above with zero support, but I’ll let the above stand. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.)

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