Frequently when I'm weighed down with fatigue (as John seems to be, too, in this YouTube still) and feel like I could use a burst in energy-- call it a shot in the arm-- I pay a visit to "Doctor Robert."
Oh, poor "Doctor Robert." Who ever names this one as their favorite song on Revolver? And yet what other Beatles song promises a shot of amphetamine delivered along with your vitamins? Well, "promise" is a strong word. This song more winks and dances around its homage to Dr. Robert Freymann, a New York quack who hooked up all kinds of well-to-do patients with all kinds of interesting stimulants on demand, until the state unsurprisingly revoked his medical license. Before it did, though, John Lennon was a frequent visitor. (At least this is my understanding. I've also read that this song might allude to the dentist who unscrupulously dosed John and George and their significant others with LSD in their coffees at a dinner party, but I think the commonly accepted theory is that it's actually Freymann, though it really might be a bit of both.)
Whomever it's about, "Doctor Robert" is a kickass little song whose only real weakness is that it almost can't help but be outshone by all the mind-blowing songs it shares space with on its LP. How kickass is it? Let us count the ways. For one, there's a slightly druggy feeling introduced from the outset with a kind of a drone sound-- we stay on an A chord about forever and a day, and Paul eschews the more complicated bass options available to him and just hangs out on the root of the chord forever. Above that, George and Ringo play repetitive lines that sound as though they couldn't be simpler, though George's guitar in particular has that ragged, dirty Revolver-esque sound that I love so much. John, you'll note, sounds like he's singing into a bucket or something, at least on the mono version (which is my preferred Revolver listening experience at the moment), but also manages to sound about as snide and cutting as ever. He's amused, though, too. This isn't what I'd think of as one of John's mean-spirited songs, really-- he's just laughing at the hilariously slick ways of the good doctor. Any second now he's going to stop pointing and laughing and say, "no, but seriously, can you help me out here, doc?"
The best part is totally at the bridge, when all of a sudden Ringo cuts out, John comes in playing sustained chords on a harmonium, and John and George and Paul all break out into angelic three-part harmonies. It's a strange moment of near seductive beauty in the song-- besides providing a change in the texture here that's probably necessary just for us to maintain interest, it gives this sarcastic advertisement for Doctor Robert's goodies a note of sincerity. The more psychedelic tone here doesn't sound like we're just talking about amphetamines anymore, and it bolsters the argument of those who would claim that the song's target is wider than just Robert Freymann. It's probably just all about drugs in general-- the comedy of establishment types who surreptitiously dole them out to those with means, sure, but also the fact that this stuff does, indeed, make John and the other Beatles feel pretty darned fine.
Anyway, despite the droniness of the harmonic stuff here, "Doctor Robert" moves along at a nice little clip, and keeps cadencing on B major chords just to totally wig out all of us who have been grooving to the drone sounds in A. As always, the Beatles are smart as hell and keep us surprised, even in an acknowledged minor song on a masterwork of an album. This is some medical malfeasance that you can dance to. Well well well, I'm feeling fine, suddenly-- "Doctor Robert" always seems to set me right. Woo hoo!
"Doctor Robert," released in the U.K. side B track 4 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. side A track 4 of Capitol's loathsome Yesterday and Today, June 15, 1966.