Thursday, December 4, 2014

14 Abbey Road (1969) The Beatles



Abbey Road isn't just a great Beatles album, it's an important one. It's one that Beatles fans need in order to end their story on a high instead of a depressing kind of low.

After spending a painful few weeks staring at each other in hatred for the dismal Let it Be sessions, the band was pretty much ready to go their separate ways and call it a day.  They were happy to slink off into their solo careers leaving someone else to salvage what they could from the Let it Be sessions and consequently make the band's final statement a sad record of their infighting and bickering. Thankfully Paul had more respect for the Band's legacy and persuaded them to reunite in their old studio with their old producer for a final album made the way they used to.  The end result is Abbey Road which is thankfully a triumph. If you're going to listen to the Beatles albums in order of release then Let It Be will be your final moment, but if you listen to them in they order they were created you can end the journey that starts with Please Please Me with this masterpiece and feel like you've had a much more satisfying trip.

Come Together.

Come together has a brilliantly slinky baseline some outstandingly cryptic lines and a fantastic vocal performance. It's also responsible for the best legal settlement in music history. For years people have been suing other people who they think have lifted bits of their music. There are a huge number of lawyers in America getting extremely rich representing disgruntled musicians who are suing other disgruntled musicians demanding a percentage of royalties because their songs sound a bit similar. Most of these settlements end up with one party paying the other some cash, but Come Together's lawsuit had a much better result. Lennon was sued by the people who held the publishing rights for Chuck Berry's catalogue for a line that he definitely lifted from a Berry song. Instead of handing over any money however, Lennon agreed to record some of their songs on his next solo album which would give them royalties but wouldn't cost him. How cool is that? I'd like to see all such disputes settled this way: okay so you clearly plagiarized the tune from these guys so you should probably listen to the rest of their catalogue because you're covering three of their songs on your next LP.

Something

It's definitely fitting that one of the best songs on Abbey Road is by George. Lennon and McCartney started life as the Beatles songwriting strength and George was running to catch up. By the White Album he was more than holding his own and by Abbey Road he was producing songs as good as Something, which nobody else was doing at the time. It's the perfect love ballad which has soul not schmaltz at its core.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Nobody covers this song much anymore. At the time it was kind of a cheery kids song and I remember singing it in school but as the years went on people started to think "Wait, is hitting someone with a hammer really that cute?" Somehow brutal violence could be overlooked in the late sixties and you could easily slip multiple blunt-force trauma fatalities into an album as long as the tune was bouncy. We've changed a bit now.

Oh Darling

It was easy to write McCartney off at the end of the Beatles career as someone who was moving towards the Middle of The Road artistically and producing dull and tedious music. There are those who believe he was turning his back on rock and roll and embracing music hall. Oh Darling proves them wrong. It's a fantastic song that he really belts out with genuine passion.

Octopuses Garden

The obligatory Ringo track and one that he wrote (almost) by himself. While his other songs were often covers or written by a fellow Beatle, this one was his own idea. It's one of those Beatles songs which is great for kids but a bit tiring when you're an adult, especially when people started playing it to you when you were three. There aren't many things I liked when I was three that I still like now.

I want you (She's so Heavy)

A good song? Yes. Worth extending to almost eight minutes? No. When it starts you're pleased to see it arrive but by the time it finishes you're definitely glad to see the back of it. The extended coda wears out its welcome. It's made more frustrating by the knowledge that George had some great songs lying around that could have been included and if John had turned this into a regular length composition there would have been space for one, but no instead of hearing All Things Must Pass we had to hear this repeat itself over and over again.

Here Comes the Sun

Another classic George composition. How many people sing this spontaneously when the sun breaks through a cloud cover suddenly? And how much more joyous does it make the situation when it does? Some songs just put a permanent smile on your face, this is definitely one of them.

Because

I love Because. Partly because it's a fantastic song but partly because it's the sound of John, Paul and George working together in harmony, literally. The gorgeous harmony vocals were created because the three of them put aside their differences and banded together to make a great song as good as it could be. Nobody was saying "That's good enough" and leaving to pursue their solo interests, they all cared enough to put the effort in and make the best Beatles album they could. Thanks guys.

The Medley

The rest of Abbey Road is taken up with a medley which almost acts as a clearing house for half finished songs that Lennon and McCartney had lying around and couldn't brush up into a full track. It shouldn't work but it does. It doesn't have a weak moment from its opening note to the final triumphant finale as it travels through lyrical vitriol and absurdity, rock and pop, vocal harmonies, drum solos and lead breaks. It's all there and every single bit of it works.

My only quibble with Abbey Road is the presence of Her Majesty as the final moment. It would be perfect if the finale moment in the Beatles catalogue was "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make" which might be clumsily worded but is as good a summation of the Beatles ethos as your likely to find. It comes at the conclusion of a magnificent album of music and should send the listener on their way with a huge grin plastered over their face. Sadly Her Majesty breaks the euphoria and is the album's final track. Her Majesty is a pointless little 23 second ditty with useless lyrics and an aimless tune that starts nowhere and ends up in the same place. It was included on the album's final mix by accident but approved by the band which on the whole is a shame. I'm tempted to say it would be better if it had never existed but then if it didn't Chumbawamba would never have recorded a cover version with added verses and chorus which turn it into a fantastic republican anthem.

Abbey Road is my favourite Beatles album and the one that I return to most frequently. There's not a weak song on its running length and the whole thing creates a joyous mood, making it one of those rare albums that genuinely has the power to lift my day. It's testament to the Beatles' genius that even though we're at number 14 on the countdown, there are still four more of their albums to come. To my mind none of them is better than this one but my favourite Beatles album has changed several times over the years and may well change again.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "England's Fab Bore released this album in 1969, during which the Beatles were falling apart at the seams due to creative, financial, and legal issues. "Come Together" sounds fake, and everything else is tired. Who would buy this when you have Pink? Get her new album instead."

-Do you know the only fun I have with this whole Amazon review thing now? It's reading reviews that are obviously written by American 14 year olds and trying to guess which band they will say is better than the artist they're writing about. Which artist are they going to claim the reader should buy instead? I didn't see Pink coming this time but that doesn't make it any less depressing.


So... favourite Beatles album? Abbey Road? Sgt Peppers? Revolver? Something else? Let me know below.

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