“Revolution” was the Beatles’ first overtly political song. There are three main versions of it — a slow version of what was called “Revolution 1” with slightly different lyrics on The White Album, a psychedelic version on the album called “Revolution 9,” and the faster version of “Revolution 1” released as the B-side on the single for “Hey Jude.” This is the version featured here.
John Lennon, the main writer, and Paul McCartney, his longtime writing partner, disagreed on which direction to take the song, with one wanting a key phrase in the lyrics to be “count me in” rather than the recorded “count me out.” This delayed the song’s development and caused an awkward compromise about album versions, the single as a B-side, and some of the lyrics. The word “revolution” appears only once in the song.
Once released as the B-side to “Hey Jude,” which was the first song released on the band’s Apple Records label, the song became another hit for the band, itself reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Lennon’s scream at the beginning (even though the video features McCartney) was double-tracked. Lennon also wanted his vocals to sound different, so he sang them while lying on his back.
The song was used by Nike in a 1987 commercial, which debuted during an episode of The Cosby Show, then the highest-rated show on television. The ad caused a huge backlash among Beatles fans. The band sued to stop the practice, and learned via court documents that Yoko Ono had approved “Imagine” for use in a Japanese commercial, in which Ono appeared as well. She was paid $400,000 for it. Otherwise, only re-recordings of two Beatles songs (“Help!” and “When I’m 64”) have appeared in ads.
The distorted guitar tone was achieved by plugging directly into the mixing board. Initially, some consumers tried to return the singles they’d purchased, assuming their record was defective.