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.
Following up last year’s ecstatically received Sgt Pepper remix, The Beatles camp released their s/t 1968 double White Album also in remix form from Giles Martin. In mid-November the Celebration Rock podcast debated what tracks they would include if they cut The White Album down to just a single disc and neither host was happy with their choices. The sprawling double album has many hits, several misses and a few redundant tracks but without them all, somehow it doesn’t hang together as well.
On the new remix, tracks that in the past were easier to skip (to these ears) now have a new groove. “Glass Onion” has always been one of my least favourite later day Beatles tracks but here the background atmospherics are brought out to the forefront to add to the madness. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” greatly benefits from a more exhilarating chorus. “Wild Honey Pie” on the other hand is still completely unlistenable.
On the second side, “Yer Blues” has John Lennon really going for it in the vocal but “Cry Baby Cry” all the way on side four is the better of the two. The latter appears before the cut and paste “Revolution 9” that could have been cut out altogether. Ignoring the hits spread across the album (“Back In the USSR”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), the underlining memory of The White Album is that it’s challenging but going back and hearing it, many of the tracks are just terrific. Paul McCartney’s “I Will” is a pleasant pop song before Lennon’s “Julia” that is utterly beautiful.
Two of Lennon’s best album tracks appear here with “Dear Prudence” and the drowsy “I’m So Tired”. Non-singles “Birthday” is familiar to anyone who’s ever heard FM radio in their lives and vocal shredder “Helter Skelter” is a big part of late 60s dark crime wave. Everyone will have their random favourites with this writer’s being the jaunty Ringo Starr lead “Don’t Pass Me By” and the “Good Night” album closer that saw The Smashing Pumpkins Melon Collie years in the future.
On the three disc edition, the third disc is devoted to the famous Esher demos recorded at George Harrison’s home. A generous 27 tracks in acoustic form. The version of “Back In the USSR” with the double tracked vocals is superb, great musicians just banging around. “Mother Nature’s Son” sounds great and “Honey Pie” finds a new home as a campfire singalong. A few Harrison tracks appear such as the organ accompanied “Circles”, the angry “Not Guilty”, and “Sour Milk Sea”. Two Abby Road tracks also pop up in demo form – “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”. Not really a disc to listen to all in one sitting but fascinating to jump around and discover different tracks. The six disc super deluxe edition offers a deeper dive into the valley of the White Album.
5. Paris Angels – Perfume (Song): When going down a YouTube rabbit hole late one night, we discovered this lost track from the early 90s Madchester scene. We like to consider ourselves fairly up on British guitar bands from that era but had never even heard of this band before. With well over 200K views on YouTube, it is not obscure by any stretch and the anthemic quality to the track is a good reason why. The “loved up” version on Apple Music is the one to get.
4. Pet Shop Boys – Please/Further Listening 84-86 (Album): Over the past two years, Pet Shop Boys have been re-releasing remastered versions of their albums along with B-sides and rarities discs. The first album in their long career,Please provided a worldwide smash hit in “West End Girls”, a handful of great singles, and memorable album tracks. The second disc is a strong collection of dance mixes and B-sides almost as good as what appears on the original album (“In The Night”, “Was That What It Was?”).
3. Paul Simon – The Paul Simon Songbook (Album): Taking advantage of sales and gift cards, we picked up both the Simon & Garfunkel box set as well as the solo Paul Simon collection. While the S&G debut failed to deliver, many of those songs appear on the Paul Simon Songbook a year later in better form (“The Sound of Silence”, “He Was My Brother”) along with acoustic version of future classics (“I Am A Rock”, “Kathy’s Song”). The recordings are sparse and at times Simon delivers them by spitting out the lyrics but this album helped gain a following in England and superstardom back home was only a few months away.
2. Lily Allen (Feat. Giggs) – Trigger Bang (Song): Right at the end of 2017, Allen released one of her best singles in years. A brief intro by Giggs before the lady herself steps in singing about her past party lifestyle. As with her best songs, “Trigger Bang” was self-aware with a chorus that sticks in the head for days.
1. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 2CD Deluxe (Album): This was an easy one. Released in November of 2017, I received this at Christmas last year and started listening in early 2018. The original album continues to be a wonder and the new remix by Giles Martin/Sam Okell make it even more so. After listening to the album for the 1000th time and just when you think it couldn’t get any better, “A Day In The Life” appears at the end. The second disc of different recording takes with new versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” was better than most rarities collections. It is one that will continue to get played for years to come (see: the title track, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and “Getting Better”).
Enough has been written about Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that it could fill the Royal Albert Hall… and then some. 2017 was the 50th anniversary of arguably the most talked about album ever and as such, the deluxe editions were rolled out to celebrate. A six-disc super deluxe edition came out along with a 2CD deluxe edition. With the former trending close to $200, we opted for the latter. On this edition, the original album features a new stereo remix by Giles Martin and Sam Okell along with an extra disc of outtakes + extras.
The sound that Martin and Okell produce here is extraordinary and far exceeds the 2009 stereo remaster. The relatively simple “With A Little Help From My Friends” sounds expansive, like its growing from the middle outwards. “She’s Leaving Home” is warm and tender before “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!” breaks in and somehow sounds louder. Never really a favourite of mine, this version sounds downright menacing and surreal. One of our favourite album tracks, “Good Morning” gets a rollicking version and Paul’s countdown in “Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise)” is as thrilling as ever. It’s amazing to think that even after the embarrassment of riches preceding it, one of the greatest songs ever in “A Day in The Life” closes out the album.
Oftentimes with these types of releases, the disc of extras may get listened to a few times before being filed away. Here, the extra disc is an absolute joy from beginning to end. “With A Little Help From My Friends” appears in an instrumental that does not sound too dissimilar to the theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds (Take 1)” is missing the chorus but it’s nearly impossible not to sing along to the empty space. There is a rawness to some of the recordings “Lovely Rita (Take 9)” and elegance to others “She’s Leaving Home (Take 1 – Instrumental)”. “Within You/Without You (Take 1 – Indian Instruments)” carries on from Revolver’s “Love You To” however in instrumental form it can start to drag. At the end of the day, it is a fascinating listen to some of the most talented musicians ever working through some of the greatest songs ever. The inclusion of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” in both stereo remixes and outtake form makes this an absolute essential purchase for fans of The Beatles either in this deluxe edition or the super deluxe.
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Disc 1 – 10/10 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Outtakes Disc 2 – 10/10