Record > MusicThe Beatles: Abbey Road
They fed the world the fairytale notion that love could save us all. But to skew the words of one of their buddies: we were so much younger then, we're older than that now. No, especially after eight years of a Bible-thumping, Beatle-bashing (it's true; Blender once asked all the presidential candidates their favorite Fab — Al Sharpton's was Ringo!), culturally devoid puppet as Moron-in-chief and a resulting economy so badly destroyed that it's going to take years to make a dent in the opposite direction, that notion seems about as ridiculous as Beatles' music being used to sell orange juice and sneakers would've once upon a time.
But the notion was already quaint in 1969, when they recorded this album. It was the year of Manson (who claimed to be inspired by them) and the year after the assassinations of King and Kennedy; George Harrison had visited Haight-Ashbury expecting a flower-power utopia but instead experienced the beginnings of a speed- and heroin-infected skid row environment. What's more, the Beatles hated each other — or at least the idea of "Beatles" — when they made Abbey Road. And anyone who's ever learned to hate someone or something they also once deeply loved understands how intense a lot of that hate and rage must've been. You can read all about it in countless books or Mikal Gilmore's excellent recent Rolling Stone cover story. You can see it in documentaries, most notoriously Let It Be, and hear it on the subsequent Let It Be album, which in the hands of any other band would be termed a "masterpiece" but, as Beatles albums go, is considered just OK.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Beatles' extraordinary career is that they cared enough about their artistic legacy (unlike so many of their peers still on the road today) and place in cultural history to consciously make a decision to go back into the studio one final time to record their masterpiece. Because they certainly didn't have to do it.
Side one (on the vinyl version of those things we used to call "albums") effectively displayed the persona of each individual member — both public and personal, which, especially in the case of Lennon and Harrison, was basically one and the same, warts and all. Every moment of it is perfect to this day, even those two tracks you are now not supposed to like.
But the one time I met Ringo — as a Beatle fan, not a journalist — I sincerely told him "Octopus's Garden" stands next to some of my favorite Fab tunes. He nodded nonchalantly, as he'd probably heard those exact words five million times before. But it was the truth. As for "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," some might simply view it as more of the beginning of the "cutesy" stuff that would devolve into some real crap years later in McCartney's solo career. But "Maxwell Edison majoring in medicine..."? C'mon! That's pure genius. Anyway, we didn't have that kind of hindsight for years to come. And it fit perfectly and comfortably amid the incredible blues-rock, balladry and pure pop surrounding it. The Beatles, after all, did it all. They were all-inclusive. All-inclusive.
But it was side two where it all really came together: A band — whose members hated (and loved) each other — teaming one last time to create what was (and is) pure undeniable magic, something wonderful and momentous out of all the turmoil surrounding them. The album starts, after all, with Lennon literally requesting a coming together, which — thanks to some equally dark imagery — perfectly illustrated the dichotomy of the band ... and the times. Fuck Tommy and the rock operas. Not even Sgt. Pepper was as successful in terms of "concept" as the Abbey Road suite is.
All the initial thoughts will come flooding back. Not just related to the imagery but simple things, like wishing Lennon's "Polythene Pam" was at least three times as long, that's how wonderful it is. ("She's so good looking that she looks like a man" — along with "Obla-di, Obla-da" and "Get Back," not to mention the early androgyny thing, these boys were years ahead on the whole sexually-ambiguous and gender-bending rock tip.)
Perhaps most telling and magnificent of all is the three-way guitar duel, following a brief drum solo, that falls between "Carry That Weight" and "The End"; the styles surely define their individual identities (Lennon sounds pure punk in one of the greatest such duels in all rock history) but also find them gelling together as a whole. And then, "in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." One could surely ask for a worse epitaph.
In terms of love, it's wonderful to fall in love with the Beatles all over again — and the reason behind revisiting, of course, is the much-publicized Sept. 9, 2009 ("Number nine...") release of the remastered catalog. Does it sound better? Yes. Way better than the original 1987 CDs. You can hear Harrison's fingers on the acoustic guitar strings. Paul and George's (and John's?) backing vocals (which make the song) on "Octopus's Garden" are that much clearer. The changes are even occasionally disconcerting; the listener may be thrown, for instance, by how radically different Macca's "I Will" from the White Album now sounds. Metro Times has only heard the stereo versions, which are available individually as well as in a box set. The Mono box, though, is said to be the way to go, as everything — except Abbey Road, Let It Be and the Yellow Submarine soundtrack — was conceived and recorded in mono; Lennon & McCartney took part in all the mono mixes, while George Martin did the stereo mixes without their output. Still, we haven't heard the mono CDs yet — so maybe we can report back in our gift guide later this year.
But the stereo versions aren't now simply louder, which is what happens with so many supposed "remasters." No, instead, they're pristine and not compressed. Unfortunately, the boxes are mostly over-priced thus far, especially in this economy. And there's that whole issue of some of us Yank fans actually preferring the American versions (Rubber Soul just ain't Rubber Soul if it doesn't kick off with "I've Just Seen a Face"). One also wonders how John and George would feel about all the price gouging going on under their names. But that's all speculative, much like that notion of love saving us all. Because you've gotta have these if you're a fan of the best that ever was and probably will ever be. And isn't everyone? There are people, I've heard, who hate the Beatles. I'm always baffled, thinking, "Surely, they must only know the overplayed hits and not the brilliant obscurities." ("Happiness is a Warm Gun"? "Hey, Bulldog"? The Abbey Road suite?). As my brother once said, "People who hate the Beatles sadly must not have love in their hearts." True that. Especially when the majority of what they did, as this album proves, was about nothing but the capacity for love that every human heart just might hold.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.