Got To Be Free

ABBEY ROAD

Abbey Road is a great album which still sounds great today for all sorts of reasons. However when it came out the non-touring Beatles were surrounded by loads of bands who, like them, were also “self-contained units” writing and recording their own material, but who also played live. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and the Who had all released double albums at least as interesting as the White Album, and new groups like King Crimson, Soft Machine and Free, to name but three I saw, were blisteringly good live. No longer were The Beatles effortlessly better than their peers. Ironically 1969 was arguably the most productive year the four Beatles ever had as they worked on 2 Beatles albums, 3 singles and a film as well as their solo work (3 albums and 3 singles by Lennon, 2 albums by George, film acting by Ringo and the production of Badfinger and others by Paul). To fans like me it didn’t seem like they were working hard at the time as the “Get Back” film was put on hold. Nonetheless Come Together was immediately  recognised as a great rocker and, after the Love remastering, even George Martin likes it. 

Then the first shocker on the album, George has written the best song! And it is the single, based on airplay in the US. For me Abbey Roads trumps the White Album because the Beatles had better songs, put in better, usually flawless, performances, and George Martin is on the top of his embellishing game. Is this the beginning of AOR? Maybe but it is note perfect, sublime even; probably the second best Harrisong on the album. Here’s the official video 

Paul’s best work on Abbey Road is on the medley but the Maxwell thing is the worst track in the Beatles recorded output. Lennon was in hospital after a car crash whilst it was recorded and none of the Beatles seemed to like it from day one. On the other hand Oh! Darling seems to presage 10cc by some years and is a great 50s pastiche and a typically good Beatles mid-album track with a ferocious vocal performance by Paul.

Ringo wrote his Startlingly good Octopus’s Garden, and in true Beatles workaholic style he wrote it whilst on holiday when he quit the band during the White Album. This is one of the highlights of the Cirque du Soleil show Love in Las Vegas because of its playful imagery. Cute home-made video to accompany this; there are thousands of them. A real chance for kids in the playground to sing-a-long; is that a criticism?

Sean Hagen in the Mammoth Book of the Beatles makes the great point that Abbey Road is a ‘mood album.’ In the right mood both Octopus’s Garden and I Want You She’s So Heavy sound wonderful, but they can leave you cold on the wrong day. Personally I love I Want You. It was one of those tracks where the Beatles picked up what their contemporaries were doing and excelled at it first time out. That was the essence of their genius; maybe they were bored with the ease of it. This is a riff track when riffs, post Cream and Led Zeppelin, were huge. But the simple lyric and riff are varied subtly throughout, with great playing by all The Beatles, a Moog Syntheiser wash, white noise and brutal cut off. Brilliant. Sounds fantastic on the remasters. Video by AbbeyRoadForever if you want more 

Side Two of Abbey Road is arguably the best second side in the Beatles catalogue. I first heard Abbey Road when it was played to a specially made film on BBC2’s Late Night Line Up forty years ago today on September 19th 1969, a week before the album was released. The track I remembered best at the end of the film was Here Comes The Sun and I still think it is the best of the two Harrison songs (I mean Patti left George or something) on Abbey Road. Bright, cheerful and friendly it hooks you in like early Beatles songs but was full of George’s positive spirituality rather than the rather misogynistic lyrics of their earlier work.

Lennon’s Because was so good that they used it to introduce the whole Beatles back catalogue on the Love mashup album. Possibly the best three part harmonies the Beatles ever produced. Here is an acapella version so you can enjoy those harmonies.  

On the album the sequencing is brilliant and we move into the break-up medley on the final album recording by the Beatles. Part of Abbey Roads quality comes from the fact that it is one of only two (?) albums conceived as an album. Paul’s lament at Allen Klein’s influence, ironically recommended to them by the Rolling Stones and the cause of their break up (hmm), sets up the Medley with sad brilliance; funny papers, now there is a pun. This video is a live studio take that runs longer than usual (normal version here).

Beautiful bell-driven segue into the blissed out Sun King emphasising the mood quality of the album, and a bit of a Bealt magpie pinch from Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross. Earlier version on this  video, enjoy!  

The next two edits are into two rocking tracks that pick the whole side up and push the quality of the medley right up; “mark that as fab” says Paul. Mean Mr Mustard immediately made me think of the board game Cluedo but was apparently a random Lennon newspaper headline, but it picks the tempo with an obscene linkup into the wonderful Polythene Pam, a scouse rocker that makes the New of The World and then we are linked by George’s guitar into Paul’s best track on the album  She came in through the bathroom Window. Paul is as laconic as Lennon at his best and his bass playing, as it is throughout Abbey Road, is full fat and on the phone to the other tracks. Here is a video of this sequence. 

They couldn’t get Paul off the piano in Abbey Road and another Joanna introduction sets up the vaguely medieval Golden Slumbers which, with Carry That Weight, becomes elegaic with the warning that it is The End. The End is quite brillaint brief. As a swan song at the dawn of progressive rock and it’s endless solos the irony of Ringo finally have a drum solo, which lasts all of 15 seconds, followed by John Paul and George having gorgeous duelling guitars sequence lasting all of 55 seconds before Zep, the Allman Brothers and other Masters of Rock introduced their own concept of timeless guitar solos is hugely amusing. As ever, been there mastered that, good night. Here is a nicely edited video that captures the final three tracks as a medley.

George observed that John and Paul were forever having brilliant ideas for songs and so had lots of Beginnings to songs but didn’t always finished them. So, as they weren’t working with each other, they knitted them into a sequence of brilliant starts rejecting just one; Her Majesty. Stuck at the end of the Master tape by the tape op it pops up 24 seconds after the end of the, a little found reject coda. Great post about Her Majesty with a video on Song of the Day. Here’s a live studio version.

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One Response to “Got To Be Free”

  1. […] on a high and George has the most tracks in the Poll! There is a YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album. View This Pollpoll Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Beatles in BlackAnd Then […]

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