Thursday, September 11, 2008

Abbey Road: a Beatles Milestone

When I think back on the impact and fond memories I have of certain Beatles events, the release of Abbey Road always looms large in my mind. It came out 39 years ago. October, 1969. Since that's my birthday month, I got it for my 12th. In retrospect, that seems really young, but I was a Beatles' veteran by that point.

I remember a day or so before my birthday, we were driving somewhere in Portland. It was a crisp fall day. Yellow leaves, that sharp clear look everything has in the autumn light. 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' came on the radio, and I said to Mom, 'I really love that song! I want that new Beatles' album!'. A few days later, I had it in my grubby hands. 39 years later, I'm still listening and marvelling at what a wonderful album it is.

First, the cover was a masterpiece. Maybe their best one. And the boys were all peaking as singers.

Even Ringo shines. 'Octopus's Garden' was a big improvement over 'Don't Pass Me By', and his drum solo on Side 2 is a classic. Never a fan of drum solos, Ringo kept it short, with his distinct fill-ins along with that pounding bass drum. And the hot guitar solos afterward showed that they were a hot band and not just a lightweight pop vocal group.

George was definitely at his peak here. Two great songs, 'Something' and 'Here Comes the Sun'. He also provides excellent guitar work throughout and harmonies on the other guys' tunes. He even plays synthesiser on 'Maxwell'. With All Things Must Pass only a year away, this was prime time for George.

As for Paul, this is not his best song-writing era. With the exception of his A-Side singles ('Hey Jude', 'Let it Be', 'Get Back'), I think he peaked around Revolver/Pepper. 'Oh! Darling' and 'You Never Give Your Money' are standouts, but John and George have better tunes on Abbey Road. But it is his best performance as a sideman. His best bass playing ever. He's so melodic, funky and original, that every person who considered themselves a bass guitarist (like your humble narrator), has two choices: Either give up and never play again, or sit down with your bass and do your best to play along (I been trying the latter for years).

And Lennon's 'Come Together' and 'I Want You' are two of his best. Unique, simple and so friggin' cool. Two of my all-time favorite Beatles' songs.

This is also George Martin's best production job. Slick, robust and with crystal clarity.

Everybody loves this record. A few months ago, a guy I know at work was all pissed and I asked him what was wrong. He said he'd lost his Abbey Road CD. He'd looked everywhere for it. And I've never even heard him discuss the Beatles before. I hope he finally found it.