The song appeared in two distinctly different incarnations, a raucous electric "Revolution", and a slowed acoustic "Revolution 1". A third connected piece, the heavily experimental "Revolution 9", appeared on the same album side as "Revolution 1" on The White Album. Both were on the second side of the second disc.
A product of the recording sessions for The Beatles (aka The White Album), "Revolution" featured distorted guitars and an electric piano solo by session musician Nicky Hopkins. This track is said to be one of the loudest and most aggressive Beatles songs; it begins abruptly with a loud, overdriven electric guitar played by John Lennon, a thundering, compressed drum beat from Ringo Starr and a ferocious scream from Lennon (the scream was an overdub added when Lennon double tracked his vocal. Paul McCartney performed the scream on the semi-live performance for the promotional film because Lennon could not deliver the scream and catch his breath again in time to launch into the first verse).
The musical form is a simple rock and roll chord progression, but the highly processed elements and hyperbolic approach distinguished the track from nearly anything that had come before; the sound of "Revolution" is often cited as presaging heavy metal. "Revolution" later appeared on the 1970 Hey Jude compilation album created for the U.S. market and other compilations.
The Beatles performed the song semi-live (with live vocals performed over a pre-recorded instrumental track) in a specially produced promotional film shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg at the same time as the Hey Jude promotional film. The film received its world premiere in Britain on David Frost's ITV television programme, 4 September 1968. As the Beatles were singing the vocals live on the film, they elected to incorporate part of the vocal arrangement from the slower Revolution 1 version of the track. McCartney and George Harrison added the "shoo-bee-doo-wah" backing vocals unique to that version behind Lennon's lead vocal - thus making the vocals on the film performance a hybrid of the two versions of the song.
"Revolution 1" was recorded between 30 May and 4 June 1968, about 6 weeks before "Revolution", but released nearly three months later than the single. Lennon wanted the initial version to be released as a single but the other band members said it was too slow for a single.
Lennon, slightly irritated, resolved to remake the song in a version as loud and raucous as anything the Beatles had released, and he led the band through the faster recording which ended up backing "Hey Jude". Searching for a highly distorted and 'dirty'-sounding guitar sound, they plugged the guitars directly into the recording console, overloading the channel, and the resulting highly distorted tone satisfied Lennon and became the distinctive sound of the released version.
The original version, re-titled "Revolution 1" to distinguish it from the single version, was released on The White Album in late November 1968.
"Revolution 1" contains a notable lyrical difference from the final "Revolution": Lennon's vocal for the track adds the word "in" following the line "When you talk about destruction/don't you know that you can count me out". Lennon said in interviews that he was undecided in his sentiments toward the song's theme so he included both options.
Unreleased versions of the song, including demos and outtakes, can be found on many bootleg albums such as "From Kinfauns to Chaos" and "Revolution", on which appears a twenty-three minute version of the song with Yoko Ono taking over vocals.
This was the first overtly political song the Beatles recorded, reflecting the shift in Lennon's 1967 creative focus on psychedelia, LSD, and Transcendental Meditation, which had collapsed in the wake of the Beatles' February-April 1968 trip to India, Lennon's involvement with politicially-oriented artist Yoko Ono, and the growing social upheavals of 1968. McCartney was initially uneasy about the political nature of the song, which he felt was at odds with the Beatles' style.
The song was also used most recently in an advertisement for the University of Tasmania.