September 2, 2016

The third Beatles album in my top ten list (you’ll just have to wait to see the other two!) is a masterpiece almost from beginning to end. Released in the fall of 1969, “Abbey Road” would serve as the group’s true swan song; (even though “Let It Be” would follow in 1970, those recordings originated from the tempestuous and aborted “Get Back” sessions from early 1969 and shelved until Phil Spector was recruited as producer to create a release the group could agree to after it had already disbanded).

The relations in the group were beyond strained when Paul McCartney approached their producer George Martin, who had worked with the group since its earliest days up through the so-called ‘White Album’, with a request to have him and the band work together “like old times” for one last go round that would allow everyone involved to “go out in style”. And while the atmosphere during the Abbey Road sessions could at best be described as professional, at worst distant, the group still put its best foot forward to produce an album that just about everyone rates as one of their best.

For me, the biggest impact of Abbey Road was that it kindled in me a desire to learn to play bass, for the bass sound achieved on the album through McCartney’s virtuoso playing and a prominence similar to that found on the group’s 1966 single, “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain”) is something (at least in my view) yet to be matched on any other recording. And its not just McCartney’s bass that sounds so clear and crisp: the entire production from beginning to end is flawless – a recording so precise and concise that almost every song is allowed its moment to shine all by itself.

I say almost every song because the one song keeping Abbey Road from pure perfection is McCartney’s insipid “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, yet another of his written in the vein of “When I’m Sixty Four” (from Sgt. Pepper), “Penny Lane”, and “Your Mother Should Know” (from Magical Mystery Tour that John Lennon would caustically referred to as songs “written for old grannies”. It’s the kind of cutsie-tootsie, showtune-y thing McCartney would return to over and over again with his band Wings, leaving some to think he had been castrated, if not physically then musically.

McCartney’s contributions on Abbey Road are fairly subtle: beyond his bass playing (listen to George Harrison’s “Something” and tell me you’ve heard better!) and his rock n’ roll tear-jerker “Oh Darling!”, his greatest contribution was working with Martin to assemble the suite of songs and song fragments that comprise the majority of Side 2, culminating in “The End” with its classic line:

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

In another setting such a lyric might sound trite, but following “Carry That Weight” and the blistering guitar solos traded off between Harrison, McCartney, and Lennon, and then in turn followed by a snippet of McCartney’s “Her Majesty”, it serves as a send-off to the “Flower Power” generation and a sentiment transcending the acrimony and bad feelings of the group’s private affairs.

The void created by the absence of any truly memorable McCartney tunes is more than ably filled by the strength of George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s contributions. Harrison’s “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” became instant classics, and Lennon’s “Come Together” (a song originally written in support of Timothy Leary‘s run for governor of California and more than loosely based off of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me”) and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) book-end Side 1 to offset the relative lightness of “Maxwell” and Ringo’s “Octupus’s Garden”).

Abbey Road has been called by some a little too slick and a little too “safe” compared to prior Beatles releases, but one has to understand that the group was, by this time, both creatively and physically exhausted. They were all ready to move on to whatever came next, but took the time and care to make one final, exquisite recording. Between the overall quality of the songs, the expert musicianship, the flawless production, and (not to mention) the album’s iconic cover, there are few recordings in the history of rock music that can match it.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:36 | Comments Off on The Great White Shank’s Top Ten: #8: The Beatles “Abbey Road”
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