The “Listen Again” series went over well enough that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. In this edition we revisit The Beatles’ 11th studio album Abbey Road.
Whether one lives in L.A. or Liverpool, most music fans know that The Beatles were an English rock group founded in 1960. They were one of (if not the) most critically and commercially successful bands in history. The line-up from 1962 on included: John Lennon (guitars, keys, white noise generator, percussion, vocals and sound effects), Paul McCartney (bass, keys, guitar, percussion, vocals and sound effects), George Harrison (guitar, keys, percussion and vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums, percussion, piano and vocals).
The boys would step into the studio to record in April of 1969 although the majority of the music would be recorded that summer. Producer George Martin would assist on keys and percussion on this release. Mike (Manfred Mann) Vickers would also lend a hand on Moog programming.
After the troublesome recording sessions for the proposed Get Back album (renamed Let It Be), Paul McCartney thought they should get together and make a record “the way we used to”. This would be the last time the group would record with Martin. The Beatles knew this would probably be their swan song and decided to set aside personal differences and “go out on a high note”.
The project was a compromise between Lennon’s desire to put out a traditional album with individual, unrelated tunes and McCartney and Martin’s desire to return to a thematic approach. This resulted in the platter’s two very different sides.
Side one opens on Lennon’s “Come Together”. It was inspired by something Lennon wrote for Timothy Leary’s campaign for governor of California. Sources disagree about the meaning of the lyrics and split between an obscure song about the band to Lennon doing a musical autobiographical bit.
The second song is “Something” which includes an opening line inspired by James Taylor’s song “Something in the Way She Moves”. When Harrison first wrote the song he gave it to Joe Cocker later recoding it for this project. Billy Preston backed the band on Hammond organ.
Martin orchestrated the work and co-conducted with Harrison. (This and the prior piece would be released as a double A-side single and was the band’s first non-Lennon-McCartney number one hit.)
Next is the first McCartney number “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. McCartney composed this in 1968 after returning from India. It caused issues between Lennon and McCartney as Lennon thought it was “granny music” and refused to take part in the recording of the track.
It’s followed by “Oh! Darling”, a McCartney composition, that Lennon always thought that he should have sung lead on since it seemed more his style. Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden”, is also included here. This was his second and final solo song to appear on a Beatles release. In truth, Harrison helped him with the melodic structure but gave full writing credit to Starr.
The first side closes on Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. This is a combination of two different recording sessions and features Billy Preston on Hammond organ. It is the band’s second-longest song next to “Revolution 9”.
While the opening is a bit blues-tinged, the length, white noise, repetitive guitar riffs and unique song structure makes this their most obviously progressive-rock influenced piece. Their use of a Moog synthesizer to create the previously mentioned white noise was unprecedented. The overdub session for this cut would be the last time the Fab Four would work together in studio.
The flip-side opens on Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”. It’s his second song here. It was orchestrated and conducted by Martin (with Harrison).
“Because”, the first Harrison-Lennon-McCartney composition here, follows. Highlighted by Harrison’s Moog synthesizer, the actual chords here are inspired by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” played backward by Yoko Ono on piano. Vocals were triple-tracked to make it sound like nine singers.
The project climaxes in a 16-minute medley of both finished and unfinished tunes melded into a suite by McCartney and Martin. It begins with McCartney’s “You Never Give Me Your Money” which expresses his views on Allen Klein and his “empty promises”. The song subtly slides into Lennon’s “Sun King” which once more triple-tracks the vocals of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.
Lennon’s miserly tale of “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are next. These are followed by four songs by McCartney: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” which was inspired by a real-life event when a fan snuck into his place through his bathroom window, “Golden Slumbers” which was adapted from a poem by Thomas Dekker and “Carry That Weight” which actual revisits “You Never Give Me Your Money” and includes all four Beatles in the chorus. The medley aptly ends with “The End” which features Starr’s only Beatle drum solo.
“The End” is also notable for including a sequence of guitar styles that reflect their personalities of McCartney, Lennon and Harrison. McCartney’s style is staccato, Lennon’s is stinging, distorted and rhythmic and Harrison’s is melodic. Martin again assists with orchestration.
“Her Majesty”, tacked onto the end, was originally part of the medley. It was between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”. McCartney didn’t like the way it sounded there and pulled it. The crashing chord it opens with is actually the end of “Mean Mr. Mustard”. Had Apple personnel not been trained to never throw anything out the song would never have been heard.
With a running time of almost 48 minutes, the platter hit the record racks in September 1969. It was a commercial success selling four million copies in the first two months of its release. It debuted at number 178 in the US, quickly climbed to number 4 and in its third week hit number 1. It camped out for 129 weeks in the Billboard 200 and slotted in at number 4 on Billboard magazine’s top LPs of 1970 year-end chart.
By the summer of 1970 sales in the US alone had scraped 5 million. When The Beatles broke up, the LP had sold more than 7 million copies globally. Still, some music journalists initially criticized it because of the artificial effects. Nevertheless, it soon became known as the band’s best work and numerous magazines listed it as one of the greatest albums of all time.
It would be reissued in 1987 and hit number 69 on the charts. It would be certified platinum 12 times over in 2001 and reissued again in 2009.
Abbey Road is memorable for the noteworthy snatches of melody, the great guitar solos and fills—which actually gave birth to a school of guitar in the 1970s, and the harmonious swells. The individual songs flow well and the second side operetta has a melodic instrumental cohesion. It should be no great surprise that The Beatles’ Abbey Road/Cap. SO-383 remains their best-selling album.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.