THE BEATLES, Abbey Road, Anniversary Edition (Apple/Universal, 2019)
PERSONNEL: John Lennon (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion); Paul McCartney (vocals￼, bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, percussion); George Harrison (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals); Ringo Starr (drums, percussion, vocals); with additional contributions from Billy Preston and Sir George Martin
- Come Together
- Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
- Oh! Darling
- Octopus’s Garden
- I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
- Here Comes the Sun
- You Never Give Me Your Money
- Sun King
- Mean Mr. Mustard
- Polythene Pam
- She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
- Golden Slumbers
- Carry that Weight
- The End
- Her Majesty
I wasn’t quite four years old when the Beatles imploded. I can’t tell you which of their songs I heard first. I certainly can’t say for certain which album was my first (though I suspect it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). So despite my undying love for the Fab Four, my explorations of their music has and will always lack one key element: context.
I will never be able to properly appreciate the growth of one of the most influential bands in music history, from the time they first appeared on the scene c. 1963, singing “She Loves You” and other bubblegum-pop hits, until the end in 1970, when they were nearly five years removed from the road and had learned to use the recording studio as an instrument. That growth defied imagination. It seems unfathomable that less than three quarters of a decade passed between the opening strains of Meet the Beatles and the closing grandeur of Abbey Road, which has just been re-released in deluxe form to commemorate its 50th anniversary.
Like Sgt. Pepper’s and The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) before it, fans old and new are given a fresh opportunity to delve into the genius that was this band, particularly as their fifth member, producer Sir George Martin, wielded more and more influence over the group as they worked in the studio where this release derived its name. The saccharine hits have been replaced with genuine songcraft full of introspection, innovation, and experimentation. There was no way most of these songs could be played on the concert stage. The studio had become the ultimate laboratory for a band continuously trying to top what it had done the album before.
When Sir George re-mastered the Beatles catalog in 2009, the results were a revelation. The music was given an additional layer of depth that couldn’t be provided when the records were originally released. When his son Giles took over and began remixing the songs — starting with the Cirque de Soleil soundtrack Love, which is positively brilliant — things went to a different level. Even without a 5.1 surround mix, I was able to hear the separation between the instruments more clearly, and the methods used to create the songs became more exciting. Abbey Road is further proof of just how far the band came in such a relatively short time.
Starting with “Come Together” and continuing through “Something,” the new Abbey Road mixes bring a level of depth that augments its already remarkable clarity. The earnestness behind these songs (helmed by John Lennon and George Harrison, respectively) can be felt from a mile off. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” proves to be a nice breather from this mood, while “Oh! Darling” finds Paul McCartney reminding fans why they loved him both then and before. Ringo Starr might be viewed by some as vocal comedy relief during “Octopus’s Garden,” but he too is at the top of his game both as a singer and behind the drum kit.
My personal favorite moment from this album is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” a song I truly wish I could’ve heard in the proper context. I mean, who on earth is looking for a song like this before it comes along? The new mix just makes what’s already great sound greater, particularly where McCartney’s bass and Harrison’s guitar are concerned. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s that big of a leap from the guitar sounds of “heavy” to a couple of grunge tunes in the 90’s.
It seems almost pointless to discuss this album track by track. It’s too well known. I will simply say that if you really want to get to know this album again, the anniversary re-mixes are just your cup of tea. The guitar parts are sharper, the bass lines deeper, the keyboard sounds (including a Moog synthesizer) fill the room, and the drums have more kick (pardon the expression) than ever before. I’ve always declared Ringo to be a “sneaky good” drummer. These tracks help drive that point home.
The “growth” aspect of the Beatles is also wonderfully evidenced by the hardcover book that comes with the 3-CD, 1 Blu-ray edition. In addition to detailed notes about the songs, lead sheets, and hand-written lyrics, there are some positively breathtaking photos (most taken by Paul’s soon-to-be-wife Linda Eastman) clearly showing a band that has transitioned. Long gone are the mop-tops and matching suits, replaced by longer hair, beards, and clothing more suited to each band member’s personality. The whole had become the sum of the parts, but this happens in pretty much any relationship. Did it lead to the band’s ultimate demise? Perhaps. But it can be argued that bands stay together for exactly as long as they are supposed to. I may be looking at it out of context, but that seems to be just what happened here.
The two additional CDs are designed for completists (like me) who want to experience both the pregnancy and the birth of the baby. While not quite as in-depth sounding as the extras on Sgt. Pepper, the Abbey Road outtakes are still interesting, containing interesting song demos, false starts, and band interactions that give a good feel for what was going on in the studio. The orchestral sections (containing just strings and brass) are also quite remarkable.
Bottom line: this set is a welcome addition to any collection, and a must for a true Beatle-maniac.
Abbey Road was the last album the Beatles recorded, albeit the second to last one released. The Beatles studio release catalog officially concludes with Let it Be. I can only assume that 50th anniversary box set is lurking somewhere around the corner.
Bring it on!
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