ABBEY ROAD (1969) – The Beatles’ valedictory statement

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Abbey Road – Released Sept. 26, 1969

Abbey Road was actually recorded after Let It Be. But The Beatles let the Let It Be tapes fester for so long that Abbey Road made it out of the gate first. Since then, there have been many debates as to whether or not The Fabs and those around them knew that this would be their last album. If you believe that they knew, then this is a pretty amazing way for a group to end their career. In spite of some sputtering here and there, this is Beatles on all cylinders.

Come Together: This is one of those Beatles songs where performance is everything, and it really is beautifully performed…as long as you don’t listen to closely to the lyrics. If this song really is “an exultation to the simultaneous orgasm” (as one British music critic graphically put it), I’d say lyrics such as “Hold you in his armchair, you can feel his disease” are pretty lousy foreplay. Nevertheless, the song has Lennon’s usual great vocals and some stinging guitar work.

Something: Sorry, I know this one put George in the (long-deserved) spotlight, but I think it’s overrated — a little too heart-on-its-sleeve for me. The “official” video for the song, showing each Beatle with his beloved spouse, is even more treacly. Hard to believe that Frank Sinatra got so worked up about lyrics such as “I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe and how.”

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: George and John dismissed this song, respectively, as a “fruity” number “for the grannies to dig,” and there’s not much to add to those assessments. An ostensibly cheery number about a psychotic killer, this was deservedly delivered in full ham by Steve Martin (in his film debut!) in the equally psychotic 1978 movie-musical version of Sgt. Pepper.

Oh! Darling: It might be only a pastiche of ’50s doo-wop songs, but Paul was to get far more trivial in his solo career. Legend has it that he screamed himself hoarse for three days to get the proper sound for this song, and the boy comes through with flying colors here. To be properly noted on any Beatles fan’s catalogue of great rockers.

Octopus’ Garden: The critics poo-poo’d this Ringo number as a sub-Yellow Submarine, but at his best, Ringo and whimsy go hand-in-glove (George proclaimed this one of the best songs on Abbey Road). For the Beatle who gave the least expectations to fans, this is a pretty enjoyable tune, and at least better than some of John and Paul’s worst.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy): Like Hey Jude and George’s later Isn’t It a Pity, a rock epic that goes on far longer and more fascinatingly than it should have a right to. John’s growing need for simplicity in his lyrics — as he told Rolling Stone, when you’re drowning, you don’t make a big speech, you just scream — finds full creative flower here, with an ending that soars to the heavens and then stops in mid-air. Stunning.

Here Comes the Sun: I’m going to go out on a limb here: I know that George Harrison’s contributions to Abbey Road (this song and Something) are what made his late-Beatles-era reputation, but nice as they are, I think they’re a bit too overrated and earnest. For me, he’s trying a little too hard here to sell the sunny optimism. If Paul had written that “Sun, sun, sun, here it comes” bit in the middle, he’d be taken to task for being too saccharine. George deserved his moment in the spotlight, but even a back-burner number like Not Guilty holds up better for me.

Because: The last of the great three-part-harmony “genre” exercised in This Boy and Yes It Is. Hard to believe that these guys were on the verge of a break-up when this was recorded; they never sounded more in tune with each other. The a-cappella version on Anthology 3 is even more intriguing.

You Never Give Me Your Money: This is one of those Beatles songs that seems to tell a story while never quite making sense when you examine the lyrics alone. When the results of this “genre” are bad, they’re really bad (see She Came In Through the Bathroom Window, below), but some great guitar playing and Paul’s shattering vocals carry it off, so that you’re so entranced, you hardly even notice the song ends with a banal nursery rhyme.

Sun King: Short but sweet, a modest but nice evocation of a beautiful sunrise. It plays even better backwards (on the Beatles compilation CD LOVE).

Mean Mr. Mustard: This sounds less like an earthy John Lennon characterization and more like that Monty Python sketch where a bunch of guys sit around coming up with ever more penniless stories about their childhood. He sleeps in a hole in the road? And keeps a ten-pound note up his nose? Would anyone even serve this guy at a local McDonald’s?

Polythene Pam: Not much more than a John Lennon toss-off that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of his books of non-sequitor writing. Still, a well-built woman in a polythene outfit? Works for me.

She Came in through The Bathroom Window: Another free-associational head-scratcher, this one courtesy of Paul for a change. A girl who sucks her thumb and works at fifteen clubs a day?? Sounds like she’ll make someone happy.

Golden Slumbers: Paul’s interesting update of the old lullaby, re-done mainly because he couldn’t read the original’s musical notes. Nicely done just the same, and a perfect kick-off to Abbey Road‘s bittersweet finale.

Carry That Weight: The song never makes it clear just what weight is being carried, but just the same, the…er…full weight of the song really comes across, especially with George Martin’s great production. A worthy part of the breathtaking trilogy that ends the album.

The End: A perfect coda to a near-perfect recording career, providing each member with a chop-displaying solo (even Ringo) before Paul’s simplistically beautiful vocal brings everything to a dreamily flawless close. Darn near makes me cry every time I hear it.

Her Majesty: A 22-second P.S. to get your attention. Just in case you thought the album was done.

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