Sunday, 14 September 2014

Abbey Road by The Beatles

What is there left to say about The Beatles at this great remove, fifty years since their glory days? Probably not much of any consequence, truth be told. Luckily, I only deal in the inconsequential...
As ever, this isn't some scholarly investigation into the Fab Four's art  -  just me rambling on about a favourite album and what it means to me. And it does mean quite a lot...
For most of my life I've only owned one Beatles album: a vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper that my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was a teenager. That album is, of course, a thing of beauty and I always meant to buy more Beatles records but for one reason or another ( mostly the constantly high prices of Fab Four product ) I never got round to it. Until a few years back I discovered a box set of four Beatles CDs  -  Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road  -  going for the strangely sensible price of a tenner. Of course, I snapped it up, devoured the contents, and soon Abbey Road became one of these 'ere 15 Albums. All four would be worthy of inclusion but Abbey Road just edges out Revolver as my absolute fave and was the first that sprung to mind when I compiled the list, so it had to make it into the blog. Them's the rules. Anyway, with this one, I think I'll just dive in and play it song by song...
Come Together
What a way to start an album! Lennon's mid-paced, oblique R'n'B groover with a contrastingly clear message for the radicalised, post-hippie times: "One thing I can tell you is you've got to be free". Everything literally comes together ( see what I did there? ) on this track  -  great vocal interplay from John and Paul, soulful electric piano from Billy Preston and some wonderful drum patterns from the sadly much-maligned Ringo.
George Harrison's crying guitar sound heralds his most beautiful, heartfelt ballad. "All I have to do is think of her..." Smooth, easy listening maybe... but none the worse for that.
Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Paul McCartney's tasteless but guiltily funny tale of an unrepentant serial killer, presented as a children's song. Only The Beatles could get away with such whimsical nonsense. Just. Love the "do-do-doo" backing vocals!
Oh! Darling
Paul again, but this time with a far superior song: a pastiche '50s / doo-wop rocker, harking back to the band's early days. McCartney's voice is raw and ragged, tearing the final "do you no harm" from his battered larynx.
Octopus's Garden
Another kiddies' song. Ringo's charming but inconsequential sub-aqua ditty is a close relation of Yellow Submarine and passes the time amiably enough.
I Want You ( She's So Heavy )
A slow, strangely menacing and bluesy examination of lust, John patently singing about his obsession with Yoko. The final guitar riff repeats and repeats, clanging into itself again and again, the band's new toy  -  the Moog synthesiser  -  churns out white noise... and then...
Here Comes The Sun
...the sun comes out. Clearly one of the greatest songs in all of pop history. Optimism, love and good vibes  -  the epitome of The Beatles' philosophy. "And I say, it's alright..."
And the sun keeps on shining! Because is a beautifully summery example of the boys taking a fairly simple song and transforming it with soaring, ethereal harmonies.
The "Long Medley" ( 8 songs edited and sequenced together )
Pretty much the dictionary definition of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The medley, constructed by McCartney, takes up most of Side Two of the original vinyl album and consists of various scraps of songs which the band had kicking around, sequenced into one fantastic collage. Perhaps realising that Abbey Road would be their final creative flourish ( Let It Be was their last album to be released but had been recorded previously ) The Beatles went out on a sky-scraping high.
It starts with the mournful piano notes of Paul's You Never Give Me Your Money, a sad reflection on the band's long and painful dissolution which turns into a hymn to freedom: "but oh, that magic feeling  -  nowhere to go", with some scorching lead guitar, before drifting into the Albatross-like Sun King, all lazy Mediterranean siestas and nonsense lyrics. A quick drum-beat and we're into two upbeat, rockin' Lennon songs about two eccentric characters, Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam, complete with some very self-aware "yeah, yeah, yeahs" and nostalgia for the band's early years. With an "Oh, look out!" the medley shifts back towards Paul with his strange tale of a persistent Beatles fan  -  She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, a jangly, quintessential Fabs song with some perfect harmonies. Then it's the high point of the medley: Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight, a staggeringly moving meditation on the band, the past, the future, with Olympian melodies and a red-blooded "boy, you're gonna carry that weight" from the full Fabs vocal ensemble. You Never Give me Your Money is reprised, this time with an orchestra in tow, before things get surprisingly funky and raucous as the guitarists duel it out for the last time. Finally, The End does exactly what it says on the tin and says goodbye to the band and the era with the sublime last line, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make..."

Her Majesty
Well, it's not exactly over as Paul's daft acoustic ditty surfaces 20 seconds after the end of The End to ensure we leave with smiles on our faces...

So, Abbey Road...It's all very wonderful and encapsulates everything the Beatles ( and all great pop music ) stood for: love, sex, fun, longing, freedom, mischief, melancholy  -  it's all here. And, of course, it all means different things to different people. On a very personal note, this album helped me immeasurably four years ago when my Mum was very ill. Things were as bad as they could get and then they got worse. The Beatles' wonderful music was there for support. The beautiful melodies, harmonies and awesome instrumental sounds were very resonant at this tough time and I took things from some of the lyrics that the writers surely never intended, but which gave me strength and spoke of love and history and peace. At the end of the day, music can be just music, a pleasant distraction, aural wallpaper, but sometimes... sometimes it's something more...

"Golden slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise..."

( By the way... a special thanks goes out to new Follower John Pitt, whose recent comments inspired me to revive this 'ere blog. Cheers! )