Thursday, March 13, 2014

Music Review - The Beatles - Abbey Road

Abbey Road The year is 1969 and I wasn't even a zygote. The Beatles had just canned a disastrous attempt to record what became the album Let It Be. Hoping to salvage the band they again enlisted longtime producer George Martin who had walked out on the previous album due to egos and arguments. He imposed certain conditions to his involvement to which all agreed. Martin truly was the fifth Beatle. None of the band was thinking that this was the last album but, per Harrison, "It felt as if we were reaching the end of the line."

Abbey Road is partially famous for the adventurous Side B where a variety of shorter songs are linked together to create a kind of suite, a technique that later came to impress many progressive rock bands. This was the result of a compromise. Lennon wanted a regular album where each song stood on it's own but McCartney wanted Sgt. Pepper Part 2. So Side A is distinct songs, Side B is Part 2. And everyone was happy and all the trees began to sing and the squirrels danced with the wolves and ...

As for the album proper, well, I right kindly like it even if Lennon doesn't. Or didn't. "Come Together" is a subdued, sparse, odd song with a unique bass line that would never be released as a single in today’s heavily regimented radio world. Harrison's "Something" is absolutely gorgeous with orchestral strings, piano, gentle pitter patter from the drums and that stunning melody. This one could have easily tipped over into cheesy excess but managed to step right up to the line of good taste without falling over. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a song I enjoyed growing up. My family didn't own Abbey Road but my brothers neighbor friend did so I got to hear the album quite a bit while we rode Green Machines around in his basement. Apparently the rest of the band referred to songs like "Maxwell" and "When I'm 64", which were written in the music hall style, as "granny music." Yeah, I can see that but since Paul's dad earned a living playing that kind of music it must have been deep in Paul's genes. I never cared much for "Oh! Darling" but as a kid I most certainly liked "Octopus's Garden", a playful song whose lyrics were written by Ringo. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is simple lyrically but still appeals to me. It starts light but definitely becomes heavy, grinding even, and has a progressive, expansive structure that stretches to nearly eight minutes, layering in organs, screaming vocals and white noise, ending with a jarring abruptness. Thus ends Side 1.

The turbulent night that ended the first side is overcome by another astounding Harrison song, "Here Comes The Sun." Put this song on and by the end of it you'll be just a bit happier, just a bit more pleased with life. Harrison was on a roll, I tells ya! I always liked the sound of "Because" and later found that it was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata played backwards on a harpsichord. Very complicated vocals on that one. I don't think Alice Cooper attempted those when he covered the song on that BeeGees movie. If you don't know what I'm talking about you're better off. Okay, since I know you'll just go looking for it anyway, here it is. Enjoy Cooper with a moustache! Good career move, shaving that off. MOUSTACHE!!!!

Now begins the medley!

At one point I could play the thirty seconds of "You Never Give Me Your Money" on the piano but I lost that muscle memory decades ago. I rather still like this song, it being a bit morose at the beginning but rocketing right up soon enough. BLIMEY! At 4:02 it's the longest of the medley bits and is actually a proper song where the rest are just mostly unfinished fragments. Necessity is the mother of invention, or at least of Side B. "Sun King" is boring and I'm not afraid to say it. "Mean Mr. Mustard", "Polythene Pam" and "...Bathroom Window" are nice, albeit brief, ditties. I especially like the fat bass notes on "Mustard." "Golden Slumbers" finds Paul being a bit too theatrical but the horns and string prevent a misstep, leading to the boring "Carry That Weight" which recaps a melody from "You Never Give Me Your Money", serving to round things up nicely. Fittingly the album (almost) ends with "The End" which features a drum solo, dueling guitar solos from all three guitarists and the famous last words "And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love you make." Pure flower power, man. Side B is a piece that is truly larger than the sum of its parts, taken as a single composition it is a fitting farewell from the famous fab four. After something like this it would almost be embarrassing to come back with another album. Kind of like performing your third farewell tour.

And then there's the twenty-three second snippet known as "Her Majesty" which was supposed to be part of the medley but was removed at the last moment and tacked at the end of the master reel.

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