The Beatles along with Giles Martin (and Sam Okell), continue their 50th Anniversary releases with iconic Abbey Road having issued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (aka The White Album) in recent years. As with those releases, we have forgone the $130 CDN super deluxe edition and put our hard-earned money down on the 2-disc collection that has the remixed version on disc 1 and outtakes on disc 2.
The first side of Abbey Road veers from darker blues of the John Lennon tracks and harder rock songs to some of their most celebrated pop songs. Album opener “Come Together” is best remembered for its psychedelic lyrics about “ju ju eyeballs” and “got to be good looking cause he’s so hard to see”. The eight minute “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” mostly repeats the title of the song with a few added lyrics in mantra like fashion with various shades of affection and guitar effect.
McCartney takes over and shreds his vocals on “Oh! Darling” but also offers the much maligned “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. Similar to the charming “When I’m 64” from Sgt Pepper’s, this is a bridge too far with what Lennon called Macca’s “Granny music”. Ringo Starr’s solo composition “Octopus’s Garden” is a fine slice of childlike whimsey. “No one there to tell us what to do” is sure to appeal to the youngest of Beatles fans and a reason why they are beloved by both the young and the old.
The two big highlights come from George Harrison. “Something” is a traditional love song wrapped up in dreamy psychedelia. Harrison pleads “You’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know” over a nice bit of Ringo drumming. Side two starts with “Here Comes the Sun”, a song that floats in on a cloud after the heaviness of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
The next several tracks up the ante on Abbey Road. The palette cleanser of “Because” leads into “You Never Give Me Your Money”, the song that opens the medley of eight tracks all strung together. Starting with just McCartney with his piano it goes into a bit of old timey piano. “Sun King” is awash in a sunlit haze whereas “Mean Mr. Mustard” is more upbeat and introduces us to raucous garage rocker “Polythene Pam”. “She said she’s always been a dancer” is a lyrical highlight of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” before McCartney belts out the chorus to “Golden Slumbers” that magically spins on a dime to the thundering drums of “Carry That Weight”. “The End” rocks out with a guitar line later lifted by The Beastie Boys but also offers the classic line “the love you take is equal to the love you make” before a few moments of silence…. Then the lite ditty “Her Majesty” appears and secretly gets into your head for days.
As a whole, the first half of Abbey Road is very good rock record with a few ebbs and flows. What lifts it to greatness is the suite of songs on side two that don’t really sound like they should go together but are strung together so magnificently that it sounds like they were born as one. It’s hard to have hands type fast enough while exhilarating “The End” plays.
Unlike the anniversary editions for Sgt Pepper’s and The Beatles, the outtakes on Abbey Road don’t feel as essential. The drums and a big fat bass are pushed to the forefront on “Here Comes the Sun” and there is a rawer vocal on “Come Together”. The studio demo of “Something” with a prominent piano and more ragged vocal is really interesting but the outtake of “Octopus’s Garden” falls apart in under two minutes. There is simply no need to hear “Maxwell Silver Hammer” or “She’s So Heavy” in outtake form. An instrumental version of “Because” is pleasant but the outtakes of the suite of songs that make Abbey Road great just don’t live up anywhere near to the final product.
Abbey Road – 10/10
Abbey Road Outtakes – 7/10