Yesterday marked the fifty first year since the Beatles released what would end up becoming the final music the band all recorded together, Abbey Road. The album, which first hit record stores on September 26, 1969, actually received mixed reviews among music critics upon its release. While some praised the band’s unique production approach and masterful songwriting, others believed the album to be overly complex and a collection of songs rather than a cohesive album.
Of course, since its release the album has only managed to grow in terms of not just its critical praise, but on a larger cultural scale. Abbey Road is now considered to be not only one of the Beatles’ greatest albums of all time, but also one of music’s greatest albums of all time. The Beatles do so many things so well that many bands before and after have struggled to perfect. Whether its sheer musical versatility, profound lyricism, glowing vocal harmonies or just the whimsy and imagery that the band injects into nearly every song, the Beatles are able to stretch their musical muscles farther and wider than nearly any other band ever to play music together.
The Beatles’ musical versatility can be heard right off the bat on the album’s lead song, John Lennon’s “Come Together.” The blues based track shows the band taking a different musical approach than they usually do, as Lennon embraces a grittier, bluesier approach in his vocals that pairs perfectly with post production techniques that soften the edges around his voice, not to mention the forever iconic “Shoop-doop” followed by Ringo Starr’s triplet drum riff that resonates throughout the song. “Oh! Darling” sees the Beatles embracing a 3/4, waltz-style approach that highlights Paul McCartney’s stellar vocals that soar over the track. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” further displays the band’s musical versatility, as the slower track allows the Beatles to show off their skills as musicians as well as vocalists. Lennon’s vocals that are in unison with his guitar add an interesting layer to the vocals, while McCartney makes his bass present from beginning to end on the nearly eight minute track. “Sun King” sees the Beatles at perhaps their psychedelic best, as the angelic Italian vocals over the slow, atmospheric backing of the band is magical and awe-inspiring. Whether the Beatles are playing fast or slow, intense or soft, bright or dark, there is no shortage of sounds and styles the band is able to achieve together.
In addition to the musical triumphs of the album, the lyricism across the project is as significant as any other Beatles project. Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden” sees the band offering listeners an escape from reality into some utopian land under the sea over glorious vocal harmonies, while McCartney’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” explores the idea of one acting on his or her whim of the moment over a more traditional musical approach. While both songs apply a level of playfulness that is somewhat of a trademark for the band, the escapes that the lyrics in the songs evoke allow the listeners to embrace the lyrics past their whimsy and look further into their depths. George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun” is not just one of music’s most uplifting tunes, but it is an endless well of positivity and good vibes, while his other song “Something” evokes sadness, pain and loss that the listener cannot help but sympathize with, until the bridge of the song brings the listener back into the light. The Beatles touch on so many different themes through their lyrics, and across the album they succeed in both uplifting the listener and bringing him or her right back down to reality, only to soon offer another escape. The sheer thematic depth that the album achieves is astounding, and it is the immaculate songwriting of all four Beatles that allows the album to touch on so many different areas of life.
Perhaps Abbey Road‘s greatest achievement is its send off, beginning with “Mean Mr. Mustard” and carrying on through the end of the album. The songs that make up the last seven songs of the album are all shorter than two minutes, but played back to back they sound like the individual tracks could all form one singular cohesive song. The high energy start to the first three songs of the suite, “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” are juxtaposed greatly by “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight,” although both songs are still uplifting and positive. The melody of “Golden Slumbers” is one of music’s most recognizable, while the lyrics add another surreal element of escapism to the final portion of the album. The melody of “Golden Slumbers” carrying right into the even more recognizable riff of “Carry That Weight” is as beautiful as it is satisfying, as perhaps no other two songs played in succession in music history belong more together than those. The orchestral climax of the album paired with Lennon’s guitar and the vocal harmonies of the band is a perfect snapshot of the band; a group of four that harmonize as well as any whose true gifts are not in their technical abilities as musicians (although that is certainly there), but in their abilities together as one band. “The End” takes the rest of the album across a rock landscape before closing in a grand fashion, as the melody of “Golden Slumbers” is called back once more. It is difficult to find an album that plays as if the songs could all bleed one into the next, but side B of Abbey Road achieves this feat with ease. The cohesiveness of the album is nearly unrivaled, as listening to the the album, the Beatles’ final recordings all together as a band, simply leave the listener wondering why such a unified-sounding band would ever split up.
One of the reasons Abbey Road is so successful is because ten different people will give ten different answers when asked what the album means to them. The variety of musical approaches, the different thematic elements presented by the lyrics, the silliness of the band that does not take itself too seriously, and the beautiful flow from song to song allows listeners to all take away unique experiences from the album. The best albums of all time all succeed in connecting with the most listeners through universal themes and ideas, while still remaining specific and personal enough to appeal to people on an individual level. Few albums are able to succeed in achieving such a feat, and Abbey Road is absolutely one of them.
Listen to the Beatles’ Abbey Road below: