For a swan song to really be a swan song, the artist in question has to know that this is the end, don’t they? In which case, this has to be the ultimate swan song album; it was certainly the most often mentioned when I threw the idea out to Twitter. Hell, it even finishes (sort of) with a song called “The End”.
It took me a long time to get round to Abbey Road; my Beatles fandom pretty much started with “Day Tripper” and Rubber Soul and ended with The White Album when I first got into them in my early teens. Let It Be was a bad aftertaste, and something about Abbey Road (probably “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) put me off getting to grips with it for quite a long time. While isolated tracks jumped out and did it for me, it probably wasn’t until the remasters in 2009 that I properly started enjoying the whole record. Bar “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, of course. I think my friend James claimed Abbey Road as his favourite Beatles album when we were both discovering them, and I was happy to let him have it.
So I’m probably alone in having known George & Ringo’s stomping groove in “The End” from “The Sounds Of Science” by Beastie Boys before I knew it was The Beatles. Likewise “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” were bizarre, groove / drone based rock diversions from what I understood as The Beatles’ palette when I finally got around to them, a million miles away from both the early pop days and the psychedelic dandies era. Hell, some of the guitar lines on this album are almost as spidery and jagged as Slint…
Then there’s the second side. You could view the half-songs and sketches and segues presented here as filler or as some kind of final expunging of all the ideas left in George Martin’s big bin of Beatles bits. I didn’t get the concept of the medley for ages. Is the whole of the second side (from “Here Comes The Sun”) part of it, or just from “Sun King”, where the songs get really short and start segueing into one another? It doesn’t really matter, of course; the whole 23-odd minutes are dazzling. I once heard a mix of “You Never Give Me Your Money” which eliminated everything but the bass guitar, and even just that was extraordinary.
It’s remarkable to think that so many amazing melodies, grooves, and studio ideas were recorded in just a month. The way “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” gets consumed by sheets of white noise and then just stops. The way “You Never Give Me Your Money” moves through so many sections and arrangements and styles but maintains melodic cohesion. The control and mimimalism of the groove to “Come Together”. The fact that George wrote his two best songs. Even Ringo’s moment is beautifully played and arranged. Apparently, with a sense that this would be the final Beatles ‘product’, the four members agreed to put their (many and considerable) differences aside and go for broke. You can tell.
Rob listened: Fairly pleasant. This brings to 4 the Beatles studio albums i’ve listened to in their entirety in one sitting. Feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’m guessing they didn’t make many more so I’m pretty much a total expert on them now. But enough about me. I thought this was okay. ‘Come Together’ is a yawn-fest and some of the other stuff passed me by, but I did find myself singing ‘The End’ for a couple of days after the meeting, so these boys must have had something going on when it came to writing earworms.
Tom Listened: My Dad sorted out a TDK C45 of Abbey Road (backed with Boney M’s Greatest Hits) for my 11th birthday present. For the first few months I almost wore the tape out…rewinding it so I didn’t have to suffer Abbey Road on the way to Boney M induced nirvana. But, you know how it goes, gradually The Beatles earwormed their way in (probably via Maxwell and Octopuses’ Garden) and soon all the rewinding was in the other direction.
Abbey Road was my second Beatles album (after Sergeant Pepper’s) and whilst I have fallen out of love with the latter’s overcomplicated arrangements and over-considered song-writing, Abbey Road just about hangs in there…some of the songs suffer from being too familiar (I have nothing left to discover in Here Comes the Sun or Come Together or Something), some are a bit naff, but there are others that stand up with the best in the band’s catalogue. For me, Abbey Road is some way off Revolver’s spontaneous brilliance and if push came to shove, I would chose The Beatles or Hard Day’s Night (or maybe Rubber Soul) over it but it is one of those records that is always a pleasure to hear and it has probably stood the test of time even better than Boney M’s greatest hits!
Graham listened: Well Rob has listened to 3 more Beatles albums, in one sitting, than I have. I have a mental block when it comes to the Beatles. To me they inhabited the dull Radio 2 playlists of the late 70’s which I wanted nothing to do with, as I began the search for my own musical inspiration. The fact that my journey stopped at Marillion at one point, clearly means that I, and my opinions, are not to be taken seriously. I was genuinely surprised at the bluesy/rocky numbers on this album. Even so, I tried to bait the Beatles fans by suggesting that Led Zeppelin were doing a better job of that sort of thing in early 1969. I somehow felt as awkward about Paul McCartney “rockin’ out” in 1969, as I do when I see him on TV today. Weird!