A recurring theme in my walk through The Beatles’ discography and therefore their history too, has been the mythic quality of their story. For me and for many fans, The Beatles are more than just a rock group. They were a generational ideal, or at least representatives of what talented people could do when they came together to form a common identity.
When we think of any band we love, this is often the common denominator; that in the making of art, mortality is subverted somehow. The Beatles went beyond the realm of the musical in this. They were cultural paragons, and collectively a symbol for that which can potentially change the world for the better. That’s a lot of pressure on four musicians in their twenties. It couldn’t last. Nor did it.
It’s been noted by both McCartney and Starr that when The Beatles recorded Abbey Road, they weren’t doing so with the idea that they’d never record together as a band again, as bad as things were getting by 1969. Maybe in retrospect it just seems like it. But there is something of the journey to Avalon about this record.
Even today, Abbey Road seems like a miracle child; born to be very healthy under unlikely and even hostile conditions. As I talked about very loftily many years ago, this record was a last ditch attempt to record an album with George Martin “like we used to” in McCartney’s purported words. They’d just finished their very dreary recording sessions that they intended to use as fuel to stage a live comeback, all while tensions rose all around them and certainly between each other. Things were bleak. But they’d also played together for the first time in public at the end of January on the rooftops at Apple, their first show since 1966. Perhaps it was this that drove them to preserve that spirit that they felt between them when they played. It seems that they had one more record in them after all.
The Beatles are my favourite band. Abbey Road is my favourite of their albums. It was a soundtrack that had me ritually jumping on the furniture every day after school at one time. I think the reason it’s my favourite of their albums is because it remains to be an acknowledgement that what they’d created together was ultimately bigger than each member, going beyond the petty fights over money and control that broke them up. Maybe it pointed to where they might have gone into the 1970s together, too revealing even more wondrous possibilities. But that’s perhaps secondary to the immortality they attained when it was done despite the fact that they didn’t continue. This album was their last, their true swan song. They made it count as such, even if they didn’t necessarily know it at the time.
Joining my friend and A Year With The Beatles co-host Graeme Burk on this episode is podcaster and musician Steven Schapansky. As usual, we talk about favourite tracks, favourite moments, and about where this album fits into The Beatles’ discography. But we also touch on the role that this record played for the band themselves; a healing agent, an emollient to the damage done to their union, and a tribute to the band they’d been. In that, it is a fitting end to a mythic journey of four young musicians who changed the course of popular song that is still being appreciated across generations today.
Listen to the episode right here.