Saturday, 9 June 2018
The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
Released September 1969
Recorded at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London
Firstly, let me make a comment about the sound. Thankfully, with this album, the seemingly endless debate with regard to the sound does not exist. It was only released in stereo, so there is no stereo versus mono comparison. As it happens, the stereo sound is excellent.
Now to the album. After the tense, fractious recording sessions that resulted in the material used on the “Let It Be“ album that would be released the following year, The Beatles decided to give it one more try and “get back to recording like they used to do” i.e. having a modicum of fun while doing it, as opposed to sniping, griping and often engaging in full-on confrontation. To a certain extent it worked, to another extent it didn’t.
For example, John Lennon was said to have had no time for the “side two” pastiche of short, unfinished tracks running together that is now revered as a work of genius. He felt the songs were too short and incomplete and the whole effect was somewhat half baked. I have to say I agree with him. The reason it works in retrospect is because we are all used to those songs and how they run into each other and we know it back to front, therefore we like it. However, I have always been frustrated by the fact that the songs finish just as I am starting to enjoy them. I have to say that I would have preferred to have listened to all the songs in a much fuller longer version. Just imagine “Mean Mr Mustard”, “Polythene Pam” or, particularly, "Sun King" as fuller, lengthier songs. Why, they may have had a different bridge in the middle of them, or different verses, or guitar solos. An intriguing thought.
Lennon also, apparently, wanted one side to be comprised of his own songs, and another side of McCartney’s songs. This is not surprising as so many of their albums had songs which were clearly being from one or other of the song writers, as opposed to dual efforts. The writing credit of “Lennon/McCartney” had long since ceased to be relevant, let’s be honest. On the other hand, though, he had also said he wanted the songs to be mixed around, “chocolate box” style, as they always had been, so he was a bit mixed up as to what he wanted. Then, of course, there was the constant presence of Yoko Ono in the studio....
So, what songs did these sessions result in?
1. Come Together
3. Maxwell's Silver Hammer
4. Oh Darling
5. Octopus's Garden
6. I Want You (She's So Heavy)
7. Here Comes The Sun
9. You Never Give Me Your Money
10. Sun King
11. Mean Mr. Mustard
12. Polythene Pam
13. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
14. Golden Slumbers
15. Carry That Weight
16. The End
17. Her Majesty
Lennon’s “Come Together” with its "here come old flat top" lyric borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and his own “I Am The Walrus” “ju ju eyeball” stuff was a shuffling, rhythmic, Southern States bluesy number that perfectly summed up the weirdness of the times and also the sexual freedoms hinted at, saucily, in the title “come together, right now, over me”, like something from a hippy orgy.
George Harrison’s “Something” was arguably his finest song, ironically originally written for Joe Cocker. With beautiful lyrics and melody, it was a stunning love song, covered by many, many artists, including Frank Sinatra, who erroneously credited it to Lennon and McCartney.
The same plaudits cannot be given to McCartney’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, a bizarre song that supposedly fitted his penchant for writing “songs for grannies” in its delivery and twee melody, yet it had dark lyrics about a man murdering a woman by bludgeoning her with his silver hammer. Just very odd indeed.
McCartney’s “Oh Darling” was a 50s style rock n roll ballad, a song that Lennon would have appreciated, albeit seven years or so earlier. It sits a little uncomfortably on the album, to be honest.
The less said about Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden” the better, so I won’t.
Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was possibly the most credible “rock” number The Beatles ever did. A mix of “progressive rock” progressions and changes and blues chords, it was a lengthy pleasure to those of us who wanted The Beatles to actually sound like a proper rock band for once.
Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun” is impossibly catchy and summery. Everybody loves it and rightly so.
Lennon’s “Because” is a convincing love song to Yoko and is the last full song on the album before the “medley”.
The “medley” starts with the most fully realised track, McCartney’s “You Never Give Me Your Money”, almost a full track, to be honest. Then we get three Lennon “songs” - the melodic, appealing “Sun King”; “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”, all of which would benefit from being longer. The next four are all McCartney’s - the Lennon-esque “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”; the beautiful candidate for lengthening in “Golden Slumbers”; “Carry That Weight” and “The End”, which incorporated Ringo’s powerful, rhythmic drum solo. They all run perfectly well in to each other, I have to admit. So, to want them in longer versions is a bit churlish, because we all pretty much love them the way they were presented, but it is something that has always given me food for thought - "what if "Abbey Road"'s "Medley songs" had been longer? A bit like what if Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" songs had been full band versions? What if "Another Side Of Bob Dylan" had been electric? Music always throws up plenty of "what ifs".
So, "and in the end", that was it, in effect the final Beatles album. As I said, the medley side worked because everybody became familiar with it. It is what it is. It is unique and most appealing for it. It makes “Abbey Road” a different and special album. Considering the circumstances and prevalent feelings from the time it was recorded it is remarkable that it was so good. For that we should be grateful.