John Lennon, “Revolution,” and the Politics of Musical Reception


The Beatles recorded two starkly different musical settings of John Lennon\u27s controversial 1968 song “Revolution”: One was released as a single, the other appeared on the White Album (as “Revolution 1”). Lennon\u27s lyrics express deep skepticism about political radicalism, and the single, with its lines “But when you talk about destruction/… you can count me out,” incited rage among critics and activists on the Left. Lennon appears less opposed to violent protest in “Revolution 1”—recorded first, though released later—where he sang “you can count me out—in.” The reception of “Revolution” reflected a focus on the words and their apparent political meanings, largely ignoring the musical differences between the two recordings of the song. Moreover, the response to “Revolution” had much to do with public perceptions of the Beatles. Their rivals the Rolling Stones, seen as a more radical alternative voice, released the equally political “Street Fighting Man” at virtually the same moment in 1968. The much more favorable public reaction to the latter had at least as much to do with the way the bands themselves were perceived as with differences between the songs

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This paper was published in Trinity College.

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