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Publication Date

Spring 2005


The Beatles recorded two starkly different musical settings of John Lennon's controversial 1968 song “Revolution”: One was released as a single, the other appeared on the White Album (as “Revolution 1”). Lennon's 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.


Published in The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 241–267, ISSN 0277-9269, electronic ISSN 1533-8347. © 2005 by the Regents of the University of California. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on [Caliber (] or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,

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