Celebrating 40 Years of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road”
Today, September 26th, marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the last album the Beatles recorded together, Abbey Road. From the opening bassline of “Come Together” to “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” four decades later Abbey Road remains one of the greatest masterpieces not only in the Beatles’ history, but also in rock history. Thankfully, because of the new Beatles remasters, we’re hearing Abbey Road again like it’s the first time. With a Side A stocked with tracks like “Come Together,” “Something” and “Oh! Darling,” our readers recently voted Abbey Road as the Fab Four’s greatest album, no small achievement.
And then there’s that Side B. As John Mendelsohn wrote in his 1969 Rolling Stone review of Abbey Road, “That the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite, as they’ve done on side two, seems potent testimony that no, they’ve far from lost it, and no, they haven’t stopped trying. No, on the contrary, they’ve achieved here the closest thing yet to Beatles freeform, fusing more diverse intriguing musical and lyrical ideas into a piece that amounts to far more than the sum of those ideas.” (Mendelsohn also said “Simply, side two does more for me than the whole of Sgt. Pepper,” which might be a slight overstatement.)
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Abbey Road, in addition to listening to the LP itself, be sure to check out all the essential coverage over in our Beatles hub, including the Fab Four’s photos, reviews, the story behind their breakup, their Rolling Stone covers, a landmark 1970 interview with John Lennon and much more. - Daniel Kreps
Simply, side two does more for me than the whole of Sgt. Pepper, and I'll trade you The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour and a Keith Moon drumstick for side one.
So much for the prelims. "Come Together" is John Lennon very nearly at the peak of his form; twisted, freely-associative, punful lyrically, pinched and somehow a little smug vocally. Breathtakingly recorded (as is the whole album), with a perfect little high-hat-tom-tom run by Ringo providing a clever semi-colon to those eerie shooo-ta's, Timothy Leary's campaign song opens up things in grand fashion indeed.
George's vocal, containing less adenoids and more grainy Paul tunefulness than ever before, is one of many highlights on his "Something," some of the others being more excellent drum work, a dead catchy guitar line, perfectly subdued strings, and an unusually nice melody. Both his and Joe Cocker's version will suffice nicely until Ray Charles gets around to it.
Paul McCartney and Ray Davies are the only two writers in rock and roll who could have written "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," a jaunty vaudevillian/music-hallish celebration wherein Paul, in a rare naughty mood, celebrates the joys of being able to bash in the heads of anyone threatening to bring you down. Paul puts it across perfectly with the coyest imaginable choir-boy innocence.
Someday, just for fun, Capitol/Apple's going to have to compile a Paul McCartney Sings Rock And Roll album, with "Long Tall Sally," "I'm Down," "Helter Skelter," and, most definitely, "Oh! Darling," in which, fronting a great "ouch!"-yelling guitar and wonderful background harmonies, he delivers an induplicably strong, throat-ripping vocal of sufficient power to knock out even those skeptics who would otherwise have complained about yet another Beatle tribute to the golden groovies' era.
That the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite, as they've done on side two, seems potent testimony that no, they've far from lost it, and no, they haven't stopped trying.
No, on the contrary, they've achieved here the closest thing yet to Beatles freeform, fusing more diverse intriguing musical and lyrical ideas into a piece that amounts to far more than the sum of those ideas.
"Here Comes the Sun," for example, would come off as quite mediocre on its own, but just watch how John and especially Paul build on its mood of perky childlike wonder. Like here, in "Because," is this child, or someone with a child's innocence, having his mind blown by the most obvious natural phenomena, like the blueness of the sky. Amidst, mind you, beautiful and intricate harmonies, the like of which the Beatles have not attempted since "Dr. Robert."
Then, just for a moment, we're into Paul's "You Never Give Me Your Money," which seems more a daydream than an actual address to the girl he's thinking about. Allowed to remain pensive only for an instant, we're next transported, via Paul's "Lady Madonna" voice and boogie-woogie piano in the bridge, to this happy thought: "Oh, that magic feelin'/Nowhere to go." Crickets' chirping and a kid's nursery rhyme ("1-2-3-4-5-6-7/All good children go to heaven") lead us from there into a dreamy John number, "Sun King," in which we find him singing for the Italian market, words like amore and felice giving us some clue as to the feel of this reminiscent-of-"In My Room" ballad.
And then, before we know what's happened, we're out in John Lennon's England meeting these two human oddities, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam. From there it's off to watch a surreal afternoon telly programme, Paul's "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window." Pensive and a touch melancholy again a moment later, we're into "Golden Slumbers," from which we wake to the resounding thousands of voices on "Carry That Weight," a rollicking little commentary of life's labours if ever there was one, and hence to a reprise of the "Money" theme (the most addicting melody and unforgettable words on the album). Finally, a perfect epitaph for our visit to the world of Beatle daydreams: "The love you take is equal to the love you make ..." And, just for the record, Paul's gonna make Her Majesty his.
I'd hesitate to say anything's impossible for him after listening to Abbey Road the first thousand times, and the others aren't far behind. To my mind, they're equatable, but still unsurpassed.