Abbey Road (1969)


Title: The road in north-west London where EMI Studios – now called Abbey Road Studios – can be found. The Beatles recorded there for most of their career.

Cover: George in double denim, Paul without any shoes on, Ringo in a black suit and John in a white one striding across the pedestrian crossing outside the studio. A Volkswagen Beetle was coincidentally parked in shot. I visited Abbey Road in September 2000 and – like EVERYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN THERE – had my photograph taken while crossing the road.

Best song: George’s lush, soft-focus ballad Something is so good that Frank Sinatra used to call it his favourite Lennon and McCartney song. It kicks into a powerful gear for a heartfelt middle-eight and has a cool, relaxed guitar solo, while I could spend hours listening to just Paul and Ringo’s inventive, melodic work on bass and drums.

Honourable mentions:

* John’s Come Together is full of attack and attitude. Lennon snarls the nonsense lyric like it means everything in the world, and he’s supported by a laid-back yet still menacing production of funky bassline, bass-drum kicks and vamping on an electric piano.

* Oh! Darling is Paul at his pastiche best: here he’s aping doo-wop ballads of his youth. He blasts out the vocal with commitment and obvious joy, while the music is genuinely excited.

* Ringo began to write Octopus’s Garden while he was in Sardinia, having quit the Beatles temporarily in 1968, and a fisherman started explaining how octopuses search the seabed for stones. There’s a lovely moment in the documentary film Let It Be where Ringo shows the chords to George, who then suggests an improvement. Three minutes of charm, clearly made with love by the whole group, it’s the best song Ringo either wrote and/or sang on a Beatles record.

* Side A of the album closes with the gargantuan I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – it’s John pleading for seven minutes, so earnestly his voice rips open at one point. The repetitive music – rock riffs, bubbling bass, stadium drums – sounds very 70s supergroup. The hypnotic, rolling play-out is so dogged it has to be cut off by the needle running out of vinyl. There’s a tremendous cover of this song by Booker T & the MGs:

* Side B begins with George’s bucolic, beautiful Here Comes The Sun. He wrote it one morning in Eric Clapton’s garden while he waited for his pal to get up. Its general light touch is wonderful, Ringo’s drumming is lovely, and cute handclaps give a bit of extra bounce to the bridge. The only thing wrong with it is how low George Martin’s orchestra is in the mix: the flutes sound delightful, but don’t shine through enough.

* John’s Because is a complex vocal harmony with minimal instrumentation. John, Paul and George actually recorded three parts each, making nine voices in all: the resulting sound is what I imagine angels would sound like.

* The final 16 minutes of Abbey Road famously consists of an eight-song medley. (In truth, there’s actually a beat of silence between two of them.) It’s a wonderful encore, a final flourish before the curtain falls. A few of the sections are bits of fluff, but Paul’s You Never Give Me Your Money (a mini-medley in itself) and She Came In Through the Bathroom Window are both really good. Unity is enforced by clever cross-mixing and, in the case of Carry That Weight, one song quoting another. The last segment is called The End. It features guitar or drum solos from all four Beatles, and the final lyric is an end-of-an-era valediction: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Well, it’s not quite the end. After 20 seconds of silence, we get the earliest ‘hidden track’ in pop music: a snatch of Paul singing about the Queen.)

Worst song: If Maxwell’s Silver Hammer vanished from existence, I doubt I’d miss it.

Notable outside contributions: George Martin, back as a proper producer after the chaos of the Let It Be sessions (see next review), plays an electric harpischord on Because and an organ on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Sun King and Mean Mr Mustard. Billy Preston plays organ on Something and I Want You (She’s So Heavy). There are many uncredited violins, violas, cellos, double basses, horns, trumpets, trombones, piccolos, flutes, clarinets on Something, Here Comes The Sun, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. Long-time Beatles roadie Mal Evans hits an anvil during the chorus of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

Review: Embarrassed perhaps by a series of half-arsed, mixed-bag projects (one of which was stuck in post-production hell), the Beatles resolved to make one last great record before calling it a day. Abbey Road is a glorious swansong, a real return to the craft, class and quality of Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. The fact George Martin was back producing with real authority for the first time since Pepper is probably hugely significant. This is music of overwhelming beauty – wonderful songs brilliantly played, magnificently recorded and skillfully produced. The Beatles really were the best, you know.

Ten mojo filters out of 10.

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