Abbey Road The Beatles“Let’s make an album like we used to”, said Paul McCartney to a beleaguered George Martin. The indispensable producer had had enough, much like the members of the four- piece band who had made their way to fame from the beat combo of the Cavern Club, to the fictional Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the revivalist intentions of the disastrous Get Back sessions. The fabric of the band that had been held together only tentatively after the death of their manager and friend Brian Epstein, was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. They needed to truly “get back” and make an album worthy of their success, their artistic struggles, and their friendship. Martin agreed, on condition that all members would be involved and that the album be polished. “Abbey Road” was that album.

The record is exceptional stylistically, with a cohesiveness that defies its variety. The Beatles were still masters of the various musical genres that inspired them to be the band they were – from the Chuck Berry-inspired shuffle of “Come Together”, the rock n roll screech of “Oh! Darling”, and the macabre British music-hall humour of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to the tenderness of George Harrison’s first A side single “Something”, and the innocence of Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’ Garden”, this is in many ways a summation of the band’s career in terms of what they were capable of. Despite their wandering attentions at this stage in their careers, when called upon they could still pull together work that went beyond their individual efforts. This is, unlike the “white album” of the previous year, the result of a band and not of four artists sharing studio time.

Even in the face of John Lennon’s apathy and cynicism about the now famous medley side, his contributions of Sun King-Mean Mr. Mustard-Polythene Pam were seamless to McCartney’s more enthusiastic efforts culminating in the concluding “The End”. George Harrison’s voice came to the fore in his excellent “Here Comes The Sun” (my favourite Beatles song), where acoustic guitars live side by side to the wash of early synthesizers. Ringo has his first and only (to date) recorded drum solo, which is perfectly placed along side the three-part guitar duel at the record’s conclusion.

In short, part of what makes this record so exceptional is the knowledge that this is the sound of a band that is dying, making music for its very life, with a sort of desperation lying behind each note pushing the songs along like the euphoria experienced before a last word or breath is uttered. It is an observation that is perhaps visible only because of hindsight. Yet historical context aside, this is a sound of music being made meant to transcend what was happening in the lives of those people who were making it, a tribute to that which had brought the four principle players together in the first place; the Beatles, as a band, an entity which always had this function of transcendence of everyday life in mind. As such, The Beatles make good on their belief that, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Such love poured into this, their last statement, allows us to understand that the Beatles had always made music for this purpose. They did it for love.

Further Listening

  • John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon. To contrast the sumptuousness of AR, Lennon’s first proper solo record is just the ticket. This is a stark statement, and in some ways almost too intense. Even with Ringo on drums and former Hamburg-era pal Klaus Voorman on bass, Lennon still lashes out at his past in what appears to be a desparate attempt to save himself from his own image. It’s delivered in a basic style with bare acoustic guitars, gospel-tinged piano, and muddy bass. This is a taking stock album, a search for identity album. Luckily, John remembered to write great songs; “Mother”, “God“, “I Found Out”, “Look At Me”, and all of the others, frankly.
  • Ram, Paul & Linda McCartney. McCartney’s first solo record was a self-titled, DIY home recording of songs which included many he was going (and some that he did) bring to the Beatles. But this one was about his new marriage – this time to Linda McCartney, not to the other Beatles. Or at least it was about making music under more hospitable conditions. The result is flawed, but is ultimately satisfying and quintessentially McCartney ; an album of silliness, sweetness, and effortless hook-laden genius.”Too Many People“, “Dear Boy”, “Back Seat of My Car”, “Heart of the Country” and the unlikely pop hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” are all album, and solo-career, highlights.
  • All Things Must Pass, George Harrison. His first solo album, (not counting his Wonderwall soundtrack) and generally accepted to be his best too, this was a behemoth as a three-disc set; a triple album, which included a jam with friends who included Eric Clapton. But this was the album which showcases Harrison’s most fertile period as a writer, freed of the constraints of his traditional portion of two or three tracks per album. “What is Life“, “Beware of Darkness”, “If Not For You” (written with Bob Dylan, no less), and the song which would be a blessing and a curse for George – “My Sweet Lord” – show once again that Harrison was every bit the songwriter his partners were.
  • Ringo, Ringo Starr. If Ringo lacked the songwriting prowess of his compatriots in the Beatles, he arguably surpassed them in the charm stakes. With a little help from, well you know, he made a solid and plain fun record with radio hits in “It Don’t Come Easy” (written with George Harrison), more Beatle-derived tracks like “I Am the Greatest” (written by John Lennon), and an old rock n’ roll standard in Johnny Burnette’s “You’re Sixteen”. And “Early 1970” is his coming to terms song, imbued with fondness and not bitterness. As his friend had said, the dream was indeed over. At least it was for a while. But it would be Ringo who would keep the faith, and he would be the one the others would never fall out with.

6 thoughts on “Records I have known: ‘Abbey Road’ by the Beatles

  1. It’s without doubt my favourite Beatles album, and in my top 10 albums of all time. McCartney’s masterpiece of pulling those half songs together from “Because” to “Her majesty” is simply astonishing.

  2. Yet Lennon was left a bit disappointed by it because for him it was made up of half of a cobbled-together string of song fragments. Of course, this perspective comes out of the famously bitter and iconoclastic “Lennon Remembers” interview. Who knows how he felt about it again years later, when prog acts everywhere were constructing whole albums this way.

    For me, this is the most emotional Beatles album – the tagline at the end still gets to me, because it’s like they’re saying goodbye, to us, and to each other in a way. I don’t think they actually are, but it sounds like they are – which is what counts.

  3. I think that’s the genius of it all. That McCartney and George Martin could pull together such a monumental completion to an amazing career out of a bunch of “half songs”.

    Thanks for the link to that RS interview, I hadn’t read it before. Lennon could sure be an egotist when he wanted to be? What was he on? Better guitarist than George? For my money he was the third best guitarist in The Beatles. Have you ever tried to learn McCartneys “Blackbird” or “Mother Natures Son” on acoustic ? They’re pretty hard. I’m not trying to stick up for Macca and George here, because John was the icon of the band, and wrote some fantastic songs, but he did talk a lot of crap at times.

  4. Oh and I understand your view on your emotional tag for the album. I think George, Ringo and Paul had a great time on the last album, because they KNEW it was the last album. The song “The End” captures it for me. Ringo’s drumming and George’s guitar solo’s. I just always feel that they were having a blast and going out with a bang. It still raises the hairs on my arms to this day.

  5. Agreed on the impact of the record as a whole, and on John being a bit of an egotist (at least for the press – there are rumours that he was a very insecure person as a songwriter when comparing himself to others – including Macca). I love that it is in fact the three of them on the last guitar solo(s) on the last Beatles album, preceded by Ringo’s only drum solo.

    The best all-around musician is clearly McCartney. Yet it doesn’t seem to matter with the Beatles. Their use of the studio, and what they were able to do as writer was their main strength. Having said that, I think Harrison in particular has always been rather underrated as a player.

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