What Is Revolution By The Beatles About

It is obvious that the Beatles were a so-called ‘revolutionary’ band when it comes to their music. The song in question, ‘Revolution’, was a protest song realised during the 1968 album called ‘The White Album’. It was not only written by Beatles legend John Lennon, but it also featured a blistering guitar solo from George Harrison and a pulsating drumbeat from Ringo Starr.

Revolution was written in the aftermath of the Vietnam War with the goal of condemning war and to spread a message of peace. As popular culture scholar Maiko Hayashi put it, “Lennon wanted an uprising of the people, a revolution in attitude where people would shift away from violence and oppression.” Lennon also added in the song lyrics that you should “count me out” and ”in” which could suggest a critique of the revolutionary tactics of the time.

The Beatles obviously had a strong stance against the war but they simultaneously resisted the extreme pacifist stance which amounted to “armed love” and “revolution without violence”. In the third verse, Lennon expresses his unease with the class struggle which stops from achieving peace, “You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world/But when you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out?” By saying this, was Lennon resisting a violent revolution in favour of change through more peaceful methods?

The answer is complex, but John himself gave a clearer idea of his stance as he said in his 1980 interview:

“I wasn’t preaching positivity in ‘Revolution’, it was a cautionary tale. I’m singing, ‘You can count me out’, you know, ‘if you want to destroy it’. That was an anti-revolution song. It’s a warning, not a inciting… That old slogan of ‘burn, baby, burn’, that wasn’t what I was saying.”

This shows that Lennon was in a way rejecting the extreme militant and revolutionary tactics of the time in favour of non-violent change. So revolution for him was not about bringing about destruction, but instead a gradual transformation of society through peaceful means.

Lennon’s Message for Later Generations

As John aged and grew as an artist, his message got more refined. In 1972, he considerably changed the approach of the song. In a live performance of the same song at the 1972 Concert for Bangladesh, he sang “You know it’s gonna be all right”. While Lennon was still against the physical destruction of violence, he was now for a meaningful, lasting and peaceful revolution, wherever it may be.

In a sense, he was expressing an idea which was reaching beyond the physical battles of the time. He was instead trying to connect and reach out to people advocating for change by showing his support and by conveying the message of peace through non-violent posts. As scholar Georgina Born wrote:

“The second verse has a particular resonance. Here, both the general and particular situation merge as Lennon speaks of people’s urge to change the world, and is then obliged to situate the issue more generally – it’s not just about ending the war in Vietnam, it’s about creating a more just world everywhere”.

Revolution as a Wake-up Call

In another way, the song can be viewed as a call to attention for who listen to it. For Lennon, war was the epitome and result of a dehumanised society. In “Revolution”, he is warning us of the implications of a morally bankrupt society and that, if we don’t make any effort to change it, we would need to bear with its consequences.

While the war in Vietnam seems far away in the present day, the general idea of the song is still relevant. In our own times of crisis and ideological battles, people are fighting for change, either peacefully, or through violence.

Regardless of the context, Revolution is an anthem that is suitable for any era or generation who are keen on making a change in the world. In our own times, people need a reminder of having the courage to resist dangerous political ideas; and in the light of Lennon’s song, it is still very present and unexpired to this day.

John Lennon as a Revolutionary Artist

Although he wrote and produced songs both before and after this period, Revolution remains a benchmark in terms of its impact and prominent presence. It is a ringtone for any morally bankrupt society and a reminder on the implications of our actions.

John Lennon, in this case, transcended beyond rock and roll by including political thoughts. His persuasive lyrics and well-written message came together to create a song that is both enduring and symbolic of a movement; and through it he positioned himself as a revolutionary artist.

For Lennon, Revolution was a call to attention and a warning for what is to come. As if to say, if we don’t make an effort to change our world for the better, we should be prepared for the consequences of it.

The Beatles Impact on Social Discourse

In its broadest sense, revolution communicates on many social levels and this is where the true beauty of the song lies in. To this day, The Beatles, alongside other influential artists of their time, have been able to keep their lyrical content relevant and timeless.

For example, when you take the Vietnam war out of the song, you still are left with an anti-war sentiment and a message of gaining strength from collective action. This is why Revolution is still a topic which is discussed and thought about by historians, social critics and music critics today.

In regard to the Beatles, it is impossible to deny their impact on the political, social and lyrical discourse of society. To this day they remain one of the most revolutionary and influential bands of all time.

On the Power of Music

Revolution showcased John’s songwriting ability and the power of music combined. As Canadian broadcaster and pop culture writer Jian Ghomeshi pointed out:

“Revolution is an absolute classic because it’s able to capture the social, political and artistic zeitgeist of the time in which it was written. Lennon was able to express his disdain for violence and authority and yet still capture the anger and confused state of so many in the late ’60s.”

John Lennon was using his music as a medium to not just speak out, but also as a way to spread a global message about the value of peace. In that time, with a society so unaware of the need for change, Lennon pushed forward to be a voice of reason and resistance against conformity and violence.

The way in which Lennon used music to push an agenda is inspirational and still to this day, artists are using music as a form of political protest. An example of this would be Kendrick Lamar and his songs which directly reference the changes needed to be made in terms of social justice.

The Legacy of John Lennon and ‘Revolution’

As already discussed, the Beatles Revolution had an impact on society and this had an influence on all the musicians that have been inspired by them.

John Lennon is one of the most prominent pop-culture icons whose legacy lives on in his lyrics, songs, and overall artistic expressions. Despite his untimely death due to an act of senseless violence, his message of peace and human empathy continues to inspire the world over.

Revolution may be contextualised in the Vietnam war, but the song’s themes of resistance, peace and justice transcend beyond that particular point in time. This is the notion of Revolution: an idea that transcends any socio-political situation and is still as relevant today as it was back in the late 1960s.

Richard Lapoint

Richard P. Lapoint is a music journalist and author who has been writing about rock bands for over 25 years. He has interviewed many of the biggest names in the music industry and has produced content on some of the genre's most iconic groups. His mission is to ensure that the music and its legacy are remembered, celebrated, and respected.

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