Thursday is the 44th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' pivotal Revolver, an album that continued their growth away from their boy-band roots and into something stranger, better and far more complex. 1965's Rubber Soul had started the transformation with its multiple psychedelic influences, but Revolver was much more of an electric guitar-centered rock album than the folk-rock inspired Rubber Soul. The differences even between those two albums are substantial, and showed that the Beatles were growing rapidly and drastically.
The rifts between the Beatles that would lead to their eventual breakup hadn't yet begun to form when Revolver was released, but what if they had? What if the Fab Four's descent had been much faster, and they'd broken up after its release?
Well, first the obvious: The Beatles albums that followed wouldn't have existed. For those keeping score, that means no Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, no Yellow Submarine, no Abbey Road, no Let It Be, no self-titled LP known as the "White Album." Even the somewhat hastily slapped together Magical Mystery Tour, released only in the U.S., would be a casualty.
Most likely, most of the material on those albums would have come out in fractured, half-baked form on various solo albums. On McCartney's, we would have gotten versions of the songs "Fixing a Hole," "Lovely Rita" and "When I'm Sixty-Four," while on Lennon's, we would have versions of "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "Good Morning Good Morning."
Under different titles, both albums would have their own chunk of "A Day in the Life," which contained sections written independently by both men and later combined. George Harrison, meanwhile, would have made off with "Within You Without You," and Ringo Starr... well, we're not sure Ringo's debut album would have sounded much different, actually.
And that's just one album. If the Beatles hadn't been going through exactly what they'd gone through together, who knows if they would have even had output vaguely similar to what they did? How would band manager Brian Epstein's 1967 death have affected each member without the others around to grieve with? We may very well have been looking at a world entirely without "Helter Skelter," "Hey Jude," "Let It Be" and countless other classics.
There's also the legacy to consider. Starting with Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson began a competition with the Beatles. Wilson loved Soul so much, he incorporated many of its techniques into writing of the Beach Boys' own wildly influential Pet Sounds, which you may recognize as the album ripped off by most of the bands to whom Pitchfork gave glowing reviews in 2009.
The Beatles upped the ante with Revolver, and Wilson was struggling with self-doubt (and drugs) as he toiled in the writing of his next album, Smile. The story goes that Wilson heard the first released tracks from Sgt. Pepper, "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," and just gave up, sinking into a deep depression that prevented him from completing any kind of writing and resulted in the Beach Boys releasing the inferior, muddled Smiley Smile instead of his masterwork.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
If the Beatles had broken up, however, might Wilson have completed Smile almost 40 years before its eventual release in 2004? Perhaps the pressure would have been relieved if he'd known the Beatles wouldn't be able to release a unified answer to his upcoming output, and we would have had the single most positively-reviewed studio album of all time in time for the summer of 1967, instead of Sgt. Pepper.
How would that have affected the infamous Summer of Love? Would the Beatles have been forgotten about in favor of the Beach Boys, or would their premature breakup have led to an even deeper reverence and a mad scramble for leftover studio scraps and lost B-sides?
What would have happened to all of the artists who cite the Beatles' later material as influences? Could the various Beatles' solo albums have yielded even a vaguely similar impact? What about psychedelia? Would it have died immediately, or lasted even longer?
Leave your own thoughts of how the world of music would have been changed in the comments.