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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Beatles, "Abbey Road"

The Beatles
"Abbey Road"
Apple (1969)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

As a writer, I feel somewhat stupid telling readers about albums that they already know. Revealing an obscure jazz musician or punk band is more satisfying than reveling in "Thriller." No offense to Jackson, but everybody already knows this stuff. However, I feel that writing about "Abbey Road" is not on the same level. Say "Abbey Road," and everyone knows what you're talking about. It is, and I don't think this is an overstatement, the most iconic album cover in history. That being said, listen to a Beatles greatest hits album. How many songs from "Abbey Road" made it? This is an album that everyone knows without actually knowing a dang thing about.

The best place to start with the last album the biggest band in history recorded together ("Let It Be" was actually recorded before, and released after "Abbey Road") is the second half. The B-side is a collection of could-have-beens and also-rans, with the exception of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun." Most of the second half is comprised of a series of medleys comprised of songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had barely finished, minute to two minute vignettes that run together as one big track. "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam" and "She Came In Through The Window" form one medley and McCartney's "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" make another. The bits-and-pieces method is an indication of the sinking Beatles, as the group's leaders are jettisoning what they had left over. "Here Comes The Sun" is also a precursor to the band's breakup, detailing Harrison's breath of fresh air when he took a day off from the "dopey accountants" at Apple Records. Are the songs on the second half bad? No, but they are certainly undercooked.

The second half is notable for serving as the precursor to the band's breakup, but the first half is noteworthy for displaying a buffet of the Beatles various capabilities. Each of the four members wrote and sang at least one song on the album's A-side. From Harrison, there's "Something," one of the band's most covered songs (which, in my opinion, is rather boring). Ringo Starr, who normally takes the most flack for his abilities, provided "Octopus's Garden," another nautically-themed Beatles track that's quite good. McCartney's uplifting style is noticeable on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," a jaunty and black-humored piece of pop describing a child's murderous way. Lennon, however, is the star of "Abbey Road."

The first track is the classic "Come Together," an iconic song that is instantly catchy despite having four verses and no real hook, thanks to Lennon's simultaneously bizarre and hard-hitting lyrics (He one spinal cracker/He got feet down below his knees/Hold you in his armchair/You can feel his disease). The nearly eight-minute "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" deserves at least as much credit as "Come Together" however. In my mind, it, the last song the band worked together on, would have been the ideal album and discography closer for the band.

Although "The End" is appropriately named and plays like an encore for the group, with each band member getting a solo, "I Want You" screams finality. The lyrics are simple, a mere 14 words delivered in the bluesy style the band originally aimed for as members of the skiffle scene in Liverpool. The second half of the song is a progression of repeated chords that continues to darken, reaching a crescendo with a wave of white noise that suddenly and unexpectedly stops. No fading out, just the cessation of being.

The ending of The Beatles caught the world by surprise, even if all of the clues were out in the open. There were no clues more clear than the track list of Abbey Road. Songs like "I Want You," "Come Together" and "The End" make this album more (or less) than bittersweet.

INTERESTING FACT: The Volkswagen Beetle at the left of the famous album cover had reportedly been involved in more than 100 police reports involving stolen license plates.

"I Want You (She's So Heavy)"

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