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Retro Rewind: “Abbey Road” by The Beatles

Abbey Road | Courtesy of David Erickson | The Wright State Guardian

The Beatles are one of the most influential rock bands of all time. They were one of the first boy bands, a term used more often with artists such as the Backstreet Boys, One Direction and BTS.

They constantly brought new sounds into their recording studio, moving from cheeky pop-rock into psychedelic symphonies. The band was massively successful, and all four of the members also went on to achieve successful solo careers.

The magnum opus of the Beatles is considered by many to be the 1969 album “Abbey Road,” and the record’s cover art is one of the most instantly recognizable album covers in popular music.

Released Sep. 26, 1969, this album was supported by a double A-side single release of “Something” and “Come Together.”

Though “Abbey Road” got mixed reviews when it was released, many music fans believe it’s their finest album, but why is that? What other recognizable tunes from the Beatles’ catalog show up on this album? Those two questions will be answered in today’s Retro Rewind.

The band

An English rock group formed in Liverpool in 1960, the Beatles are the best-selling band of all time. It is estimated that the band has sold over 600 million units worldwide, with at least 183 million of those coming from the United States.

The most well known line-up of the group, established in August 1962 and continuing until their break-up in 1970, consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and won seven Grammy Awards. Lennon was sadly shot and killed in 1980, and Harrison passed away from lung cancer in 2001. McCartney and Starr are still releasing new music to this day. A film based on the band’s music, “Yesterday,” was released in 2019 to mixed reviews.

The tracklist

Beginning side one of “Abbey Road” is the iconic bass line and simple yet nonsensical lyrics of “Come Together”. Following that is “Something,” a Harrison composition based on James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” which is Lennon’s favorite song on the record.

Next is “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which I have always referred to as a 60s version of “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. “Oh! Darling” is a doo-wop style song influenced by New Orleans R&B, while “Octopus’s Garden” is a Starr tune where he sang lead vocals.

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was written by Lennon about his relationship with Yoko Ono, and was created by stitching together two attempts at recording the song. Taking cues from progressive rock and blues music, the tune runs for almost eight minutes before abruptly cutting out.

The record’s second side starts off with “Here Comes the Sun,” another Harrison track. It was written in Eric Clapton’s garden and did not feature Lennon, who was recovering from a car accident at the time of recording.

“Because” is a Lennon tune based on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” which prominently features the harpsichord. Following this is a 16-minute medley of songs that blend into each other seamlessly.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” was the first song to be recorded for this medley and was reportedly written about a dispute with manager Allen Klein. “Sun King”’s beautiful harmonies help the track shine, and that track transitions into “Mean Mr. Mustard.”

“Polythene Pam” transitions into “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” “Golden Slumbers” is a number based on a Thomas Dekker poem and leads into “Carry That Weight.”

The medley fittingly ends with “The End,” a song that includes solos from all four band members. The album itself ends on “Her Majesty,” a 26-second song originally included in the aforementioned medley.

The production

The Beatles began recording “Abbey Road” on Feb. 22, 1969, in London’s Trident Studios and continued until August 20, the last day the Beatles were all in the studio together.

Ono, Lennon’s wife at the time, often observed recording sessions and argued with the other Beatles members. In June of that year, Lennon and Ono had gotten into a car accident while Lennon was halfway through recording “Abbey Road”. A doctor had explained to Ono that she had to rest in bed, and Lennon had one put in the studio so she could continue to observe the album’s creation.

This was the first Beatles album not to be released in mono. “Abbey Road” was recorded on eight-track reel-to-reel tape machines, while other Beatles albums were created using four-track machines.

It was also the only Beatles album to be created with a solid-state transistor mixing desk, with the TG12345 Mk 1 being the model used.

Kenneth Womack, a music historian mentioned that “the expansive sound palette and mixing capabilities of the TG12345 enabled George Martin and Geoff Emerick to imbue the Beatles’ sound with greater definition and clarity. The warmth of solid-state recording also afforded their music with brighter tonalities and a deeper low end that distinguished ‘Abbey Road’ from the rest of their corpus, providing listeners with an abiding sense that the Beatles’ final long-player was markedly different.”

During recording, Lennon wished for his contributions to the record to be put on one side, while McCartney’s would be on the other side. The duo compromised, with side one featuring unique, separate tunes while side two features the medley along with the other tracks. Lennon described this medley as “junk … just bits of songs thrown together” and claimed that the “Abbey Road” album as a whole did not have an authentic sound.

What the critics thought

Reviewers had mixed feelings about “Abbey Road” when it was released. Ed Ward of Rolling Stone mentioned that the record was “complicated instead of complex.” He also stated that the Moog synthesizer featured on the record “disembodies and artificializes” the Beatles’ sound, making something that “could not possibly exist outside the studio”.

Nik Cohn of the New York Times said that the songs on the record were “nothing special” on their own, though he praised the medley as the Beatles’ “most impressive music” since “Rubber Soul.”

Rolling Stone’s John Mendelsohn also lauded that section, saying “that the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite … seems potent testimony that no, they’ve far from lost it, and no, they haven’t stopped trying.”

More recent reviews have been incredibly positive. Neil McCormack of The Daily Telegraph called “Abbey Road” a “last love letter to the world” from the Beatles and praised its “big, modern sound,” stating that it was “lush, rich, smooth, epic, emotional and utterly gorgeous”. Nicole Pensiero, writing for PopMatters, stated that the album was “an amazingly cohesive piece of music, innovative and timeless”.

In 2012, “Abbey Road” was ranked by Rolling Stone at number 14 in their list of the 500 greatest albums ever made. It was also put in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best albums in 2006.

A reissue to commemorate the record’s 50th anniversary in 2019 reached number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, while the original release reached the top spot on the Billboard Top LPs chart.

What I think of “Abbey Road”

I feel like listening to “Abbey Road” uninterrupted is a surreal experience. Sure, we’ve all heard “Come Together” or “Here Comes the Sun” at least a few times during our lives, but how many times have we heard “The Sun King” or “Polythene Pam”?

I would say that my highlights of the album would be “Something” (one of the greatest love songs ever created, in my opinion) and “Here Comes the Sun.” The album is very well-produced, and everything just comes together (no pun intended) so nicely.

The medley in the second half of the album closes it perfectly as the short but sweet “Her Majesty” shows up at the finish line. “Abbey Road” for sure gets Maxwell’s silver hammer of approval.