Beatles Tape Loops – Tomorrow Never Knows

The Beatles tape loops

The Beatles in studio during Revolver

It was 50 years ago this month that The Beatles started work on “Revolver”, a record that changed the way people looked at recording studios, and made everyone sit up and ask, “How did they do that?!”  And no track from this album confirms this as much as Tomorrow Never Knows, christened as such with a terrific “Ringo-ism”…

Technology, huh?  So much has changed, and in many ways the art of recording has improved ten-fold, and in many ways it hasn’t.  Case in point – the tape loops in Tomorrow Never Knows.  We in the industry have infinite power, infinite technology to advance the art of record, and the science 🙂  Are we being creative enough, or as creative in days past?  We obviously love the Fab Four for their musical output, but we also some them because they used the studio, and some say advanced the art of recording sciences by demanding new sounds, new techniques that had not be developed yet.

John Lennon, when he presented this song to George Martin and the other Beatles, said he wanted his voice to sound like the Dalai Lama on a mountain top.  Or coming from space…this was 1966, so newly acquired Abbey Road engineer Geoff was perhaps in a bit of a panic.  His first session on what would be the new Beatles album (Revolver), the gauntlet was thrown down, and everyone in the room looked to him to make it happen.  John wanted this track to sound unlike any other, so while George was the producer, HOW the record would ultimately sound was his responsibility.  And he would shine, giving Lennon what he needed, and then adding elements to the mix that blew everyone away.

At some point, two MAJOR contributions….check that…THREE major contributions to the advancement, and some say creativity of recording came from these sessions:

  1. Backmasking – voices or instruments flipped and played backwards;
  2. Tape Loops
  3. ADT (Artificial double tracking)
Beatles tape loops

Ringo in studio tracking Tomorrow Never Knows

Now that I’ve typed out that list, there is a FOURTH!  Heavy compression, which resulted in the MASSIVE drum sound on Ring’s drums.  Okay, now there are FIVE – close miking!!  Part of the reason the drums sound so massive is that they were miked very close, then heavily compressed…so many advancements on ONE song…but, back to the tape loops.

On April 7th, 1966 The Beatles gathered in Abbey Road Studio Three to assemble the tape loops.  Paul McCartney, and to a lesser extent the other Beatles, used their Brennell tape machines to record ambient sounds.  Paul got creative and recorded distorted guitar, sped up guitar, wine glasses, and more.  These loops provided the basis for the ambient textures to be applied to Tomorrow Never Knows.  He dropped a plastic bag with the loops on the console, and Geoff started splicing and flipping loops near and far.  Many engineers and quite a few tape machines were pilfered from other studios at Abbey Road to pull this magnificent feat of technology off.

There is a wealth of information available on the internet about these sessions, I grabbed a little from a fantastic, long out of print book called “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”, by Mark Lewisohn.  If you are a Beatle fan or merely a student of recording, get it.  Here’s a link to Amazon, hope you don’t have to pay these prices!

In the meantime, enjoy this YouTube video of the various loops that were employed during the session.  Once you’ve listened to them, fire up the track and see if you can spot where they come in.  As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions for future blog posts 🙂


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