Fifty years ago, The Beatles released what was their final recording together, Abbey Road (Apple Records). Even though the ‘Get Back’ single sessions and the massive Let it Be (also Apple). Let it Be is always remembered as the swansong and has the epic title track ear-wormed into our souls, but Abbey Road was the last time the band would work together collectively on music. Although they were the biggest band on the planet at the time, and their relationships were disintegrating, the group made some of its best music ever on this album.
Helmed again by their “fifth member” George Martin at famed Olympic Studios in London, Abbey Road is a monument to songcraft and recording. Even people who straight out hate the band would be hard-pressed to argue against the gorgeous sounds, the use of instrumentation, and immaculate mixing job. Yeah, there are some clunkers by comparison to their greatest works in tracks like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and ‘Octopus’s Garden’, but even when the band diverges and goes silly (this album did come out after Yellow Submarine) there is still some quality to be found.
Everything else on Abbey Road sticks to your ribs like a crazy hits package or originals type release with actual massive hit songs, pop ditties, deep Rhythm and Blues, and the huge catalog of music history flowing out of the band members, and Martin at every turn. The double album, like most of the bands’ output, is matched in ambition only by their ability to write great, lasting songs. Although John Lennon and Paul McCartney typically get the credit as the main drivers of the record, in many ways it is George Harrison’s fingerprints dominating the two biggest hits and his lead playing everywhere is incredible.
Beginning and ending Side-A of the vinyl with ‘Come Together’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ showed the band was not totally free of their love for Blues-drenched Psychedelic Rock. Good thing too, since these are excellent with some of the best songs here. ‘Something’, often mistakenly attributed to Lennon and McCartney, it is Harrison’s masterwork, and one of the most beloved and covered songs of all time. Frank Sinatra called it “one of the greatest love songs ever written” when he covered it, and it was the hit single from the album,
Side B has a lot of experimental tracks which saw the band try their hand with other styles such as the Gospel/Blues of “Oh Darling” which is even stronger sounding after all these years. The Harrison penned poppy and inspirational ‘Here Comes The Sun’, took on a deeper meaning when covered by other artists later on such as Richie Havens, Nina Simone, Paul Simon or Peter Tosh. ‘Because’ was almost chamber music style, orchestral swells, with Martin playing the harpsichord and the complex vocal harmonies from all four members.
On top of hits and other tracks, the feature of Abbey Road is the pre-Progressive Rock of the closing medley. Brilliantly combined in a pastiche of mini-songs and recurring motifs edited seamlessly by McCartney and Martin, the results are electrifying and some of the best stuff of their career. The 16-minute medley of eight short songs, recorded in their earliest demo forms during the fractious White Album sessions, is a helluva coda to their recorded output.
The medley included ‘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’, and ‘The End’. The composite of all of these songs feels again, like a greatest hits of Pop, Rock, ballads, Classical Music, and psych-rock elements. It’s pretty brilliant and is still studied and debated about by music scholars and other artists to this day. ‘The End’ was meant to be in the medley itself, but cut out and tacked onto the end, apparently against Paul’s wishes.
With these great songs, underrated lyrics, and fantastic playing and singing, the album has earned its place at the top of The Beatle’s output. Often it’s cited as one of the hallmarks of the end of the 1960s decade. A signpost for Baby Boomers, along with Woodstock `69 (The Beatles were omitted from it, unbelievably) Altamont, the expansion of the Vietnam War, and the deaths of the holy trinity of 60s rock icons (Jimi, Janis, and Jim) within a year. Time to jam this album once again an think about where the band could have gone next had it lasted a little while more.