Abbey Road

The Beatles

Apple / Capitol Records, 1969

http://www.thebeatles.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/01/1998

Almost 30 years since The Beatles gathered with George Martin and recorded their final album as a group, it's easy to sit back and analyze the band. Each member's musical tastes had branched off into different directions - a fact which often made some of the last Beatles albums sound a bit disjointed. By the time that Abbey Road was recorded, the Beatles were one small step away from non-existence; they all agreed that this would be their last album together.

What is more difficult to analyze is how Abbey Road, despite all the differences between the group members and tensions which existed, is so cohesive a package. At times showing signs of genius, at others demanding patience from the listener, this album serves as a fitting, albeit sad and anticlimactic finale for arguably the world's greatest rock band.

(And before we go any further, I know that Let It Be came out in the United States after Abbey Road - but that album was recorded before Abbey Road, so this one truly is the "last" Beatles record. Please put away your flame mail.)

From the first notes of "Come Together," you can almost feel a more relaxed attitude amongst the Fab Four. Knowing that this would be the last album, they lifted the burden of constantly topping their previous work, instead producing an album which had to be listened to on their own terms. There were no concerns about writing "top-of-the-pops" singles - instead, the song was the thing... and if it succeeded on the charts, so be it.

Again recruiting Billy Preston for keyboard chores, John Lennon and crew kick it off strongly with "Come Together," a song which does symbolize a style change for the Beatles. Withholding a guitar line until the chorus kicks in and highlighting Paul McCartney's bass work, The Beatles plow a new field in rock - with pleasant and successful results.

On other tracks, trying to build new inroads to a musical style just doesn't work as well. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" seems to want to re-write the rules of the blues - and while there are many enjoyable moments in this song, it seems to beg the question at a length of just over seven minutes. The sudden halting of the song at the end of the side also catches the listener off guard.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

George Harrison's songwriting talents, which had just started to come to the forefront on their untitled "White Album", clearly shows he was just as good as - if not sometimes better than - the Lennon-McCartney partnership. "Something" is a ballad par excellence which displays a thoughtful side of the band. "Here Comes The Sun" is a delightful slice of pop at its best - and also, to me, represents the direction the band might have taken had they stayed together.

Even "throwaway" songs shine on Abbey Road, like Ringo Starr's slightly off-key vocal on "Octopus's Garden" and McCartney's vocal on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," a song which might be one of their most under-rated classics. (For that matter, I might be one of the only people who looked forward to a Starr vocal on a Beatles song; he really wasn't that bad a singer.)

If "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" does anything, it acts as a precursor to side two, a hodge-podge of shorter songs which sound like one big jam session. Segueing from one song to the next sometimes gets repetitive, and one wonders why this whole side was developed like this - that's something which I'm at a loss to explain. But, for the most part, the concept works. "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" both get high marks, while the trio of "Sun King," "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" has its moments.

The true moment where you know that this is the end for The Beatles comes in the medley of "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End". "The End" does it for me, and was a fitting way for the "Beatles Anthology" video set to end as well; the vocal harmonies moving to a full-band fadeout is almost a sigh of relief from the four band members. And as the final notes fade from your speakers --- DON'T TOUCH THAT NEEDLE, YOU FOOL!!! --- 'cause here comes the "hidden" track, "Her Majesty," a short throwaway piece that either is one last gasp of The Beatles having fun or is the band giving the finger to the establishment, I can't decide which. (Of course, it can hardly be called a hidden track, what with it listed on the album jacket and label.)

At times, though, I find Abbey Road difficult to listen to. Not because it isn't good - on the contrary, it's a great album - but because of the way The Beatles challenge you, the listener, it sometimes seems like the album takes forever to finish. But no matter what, as soon as I hear those sparse piano chords on "The End," I don't want it to end - proof that sometimes the difficult journeys are the most rewarding.

With the 30-year anniversary of Abbey Road within sneezing distance, it might be time for a re-discovery of this album, well-overplayed tracks and all. It was a powerful farewell statement that John,. Paul, George and Ringo left us with... and it served as a challenge for us to pick up where they left off.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.