“Revolution” is a song by The Beatles written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon/McCartney. The Beatles released two distinct arrangements of the song in 1968: a hard rock version as the B-side of the single “Hey Jude“, and a slower version titled “Revolution 1” on the eponymous album The Beatles (commonly called the “White Album”). Although “Revolution” was released first, it was recorded several weeks after “Revolution 1” as a re-make specifically designed to be released as a single. A third connected piece written by Lennon is the experimental “Revolution 9“, which evolved from an unused portion of “Revolution 1”, and also appears on the White Album.
“Revolution” was inspired by political protests in early 1968. Lennon’s lyrics expressed doubt about some of the tactics. When the single version was released in August, the political left viewed it as betraying their cause. The release of the album version in November indicated Lennon’s uncertainty about destructive change, with the phrase “count me out” modified to “count me out, in”. In 1987, the song became the first Beatles recording to be licensed for a television commercial, which prompted a lawsuit from the surviving members of the group.
In early 1968, media coverage in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive spurred increased protests in opposition to the Vietnam War, especially among university students. The protests were most prevalent in the US, but on 17 March several thousand demonstrators marched to the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square and violently clashed with police. Major protests concerning other political issues made international news, such as the March 1968 protests in Poland against their communist government, and the campus uprisings of May 1968 in France.
The Beatles had avoided expressing political viewpoints, with “Taxman” being their only prior song with an overt political topic. During his time in Rishikesh, Lennon decided to write a song about the recent wave of social upheaval. He recalled, “I thought it was about time we spoke about it [revolution], the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India.”
Despite Lennon’s antiwar feelings, he had yet to become anti-establishment, and expressed in “Revolution” that he wanted “to see the plan” from those advocating toppling the system. The repeated phrase “it’s gonna be alright” in “Revolution” came directly from Lennon’s Transcendental Meditation experiences in India, conveying the idea that God would take care of the human race no matter what happened politically. Another influence on Lennon was his burgeoning relationship with avant-garde artist Yoko Ono; Ono attended the recording sessions, and participated in the unused portion of “Revolution 1” which evolved into “Revolution 9”.