"Revolution 9" is a sound collage that appeared on the Beatles' 1968 eponymous release (popularly known as the "White Album"). The composition, credited to Lennon–McCartney, was created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. The composition was influenced by the avant-garde style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
The recording began as an extended ending to the album version of Lennon's song "Revolution". He, Harrison and Ono then combined the unused coda with numerous overdubbed vocals, speech, sound effects, and short tape loops of speech and musical performances, some of which were reversed. These were further manipulated with echo, distortion, stereo panning, and fading. At over eight minutes, it is the longest track that the Beatles officially released during their existence as a band.
"Revolution 9" is a sound collage, which has been described as piece of experimental, avant-garde, musique concrète and a psychedelic music work.The piece begins with a slow piano theme in the key of B minor and the voice of an EMI engineer repeating the words "number nine", quickly panning across the stereo channels. Both the piano theme and the "number nine" loop recur many times during the piece, serving as a motif. Lennon later said of the track and its production:
Much of the track consists of tape loops that are faded in and out, several of which are sampled from performances of classical music. Works that have been specifically identified include the Vaughan Williams motet O Clap Your Hands, the final chord from Sibelius' Symphony No. 7, and the reversed finale of Schumann's Symphonic Studies. Other loops include violins from "A Day in the Life", and George Martin saying "Geoff, put the red light on". Part of the Arabic song "Awal Hamsa" by Farid al-Atrash is included shortly after the 7-minute mark. There are also loops of unidentified operatic performances, backwards mellotron, violins and sound effects, an oboe/French horn duet, a reversed electric guitar in the key of E major, loud cymbals and a reversed string quartet in the key of E-flat major.
Portions of the unused coda of "Revolution 1" can be heard briefly several times during the track, particularly Lennon's screams of "right" and "all right", with a longer portion near the end featuring Ono's discourse about becoming naked. Segments of random prose read by Lennon and Harrison are heard prominently throughout, along with numerous sound effects such as laughter, a cooing baby, crowd noise, breaking glass, car horns, crackling fire and gunfire. Some of the sounds were taken from an Elektra Records album of stock sound effects.The piece ends with a recording of American football chants ("Hold that line! Block that kick!"). In all, the final mix includes at least 45 different sound sources.
The unusual nature of "Revolution 9" engendered a wide range of opinions. Lewisohn summarised the public reaction upon its release as "most listeners loathing it outright, the dedicated fans trying to understand it". Music critics Robert Christgau and John Piccarella called it "an anti-masterpiece" and commented that, in effect, "for eight minutes of an album officially titled The Beatles, there were no Beatles." In their respective reviews of the White Album, Alan Walsh of Melody Maker called the track "noisy, boring and meaningless", while the NME's Alan Smith derided it as "a pretentious piece of old codswallop ... a piece of idiot immaturity and a blotch on their own unquestioned talent as well as the album". Jann Wenner was more complimentary, writing in Rolling Stone that "Revolution 9" was "beautifully organized" and had more political impact than "Revolution 1". Ian MacDonald remarked that "Revolution 9" evoked the era's revolutionary disruptions and their repercussions, and thus was culturally "one of the most significant acts the Beatles ever perpetrated", as well as "the world's most widely distributed avant-garde artifact".
Among more recent reviews, Rob Sheffield wrote in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide that it was "justly maligned", but "more fun than 'Honey Pie' or 'Yer Blues'". Mark Richardson of Pitchfork commented that "the biggest pop band in the world exposed millions of fans to a really great and certainly frightening piece of avant-garde art." David Quantick, writing in 2002, similarly described it as being "after nearly a quarter of a century, [still] the most radical and innovative track ever to bring a rock record to its climax". He added that, given the Beatles' popularity ensured that an avant-garde recording was found in millions of homes around the world: "No one in the history of recorded music has ever been so successful in introducing such extreme music to so many people, most of whom, admittedly, will try their best never to hear 'Revolution 9.' Those who do listen to it usually find that it not only rewards repeated playing ... but that it also knocks other tracks on the White Album into a cocked hat."
While reviewing the most overrated albums of all time, where the White Album ranked at number 18, Edward Sharp-Paul of FasterLouder wrote that "'Revolution #9' is the sound of an illusion shattering: Yes, the Beatles are human, and sometimes they drop almighty turds." The track was voted the worst Beatles song in one of the first such polls, conducted in 1971 by WPLJ and The Village Voice. Writing for Mojo in 2003, Mark Paytress said that "Revolution 9" remained "the most unpopular piece of music the Beatles ever made", yet it was also their "most extraordinary [recording]".