Record #36: The Beatles – Abbey Road, 1969

A few posts back, I said that the best Beatles record had yet to come.

​And here it is. 

While released before Let It Be, it was record after, a true and fitting swansong by the greatest group to ever step into a studio. Every. Single. Song on here is great (EVEN “Octopus’s Garden,” don’t act like you don’t love it). From the classic blues waltz of “Oh! Darling” to the tender “Something” (John’s favorite song on the record and George’s first A-side single) to the menacing proto-Krautrock of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” to the more brilliant than brilliant rock medley that closes side 2 (Western pop music’s greatest achievement), everything here is Classic Beatles. I mean…this is the album with “Come Together” and “Here Comes The Sun” on it. What more could you want? It’s brilliant, back to front. I have this on cassette in my car, and sometimes I just let it stay in my tape deck for weeks before putting something else on, and when I do, let me assure you, it’s absolutely not because I’m sick of it. Becoming sick of this album is impossible. I dare anyone to try it. It won’t work.

The greatest mystery in rock in roll (if you ask me) is how Abbey Road followed The White Album and (the recording sessions for) Let It Be. Both of those albums show a band moving more and more towards being a shared solo project, fracturing at every point, whereas Abbey Road is the most collaborative effort the group had ever put to tape. John, Paul, and George sing as a single unit on two songs, Ringo joins that unit for a fourth, they jam through “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” like a group that loves nothing else but playing together, Ringo’s song isn’t treated dismissively by the rest of the group (check out George’s lead line!), and the three players used to guitars trade rapidfire solos (Paul’s is soooo nasty) in the bombastic instrumental section of “Carry That Weight” (which also features Ringo’s greatest drum solo ever). This doesn’t sound at all like the same four egos that nearly destroyed the Best Band on Earth on the White Album–it sounds like the same band that made Revolver again, finally achieving the greatness “Tomorrow Never Knows” promised.

In terms of songwriting, they’ve never been better. Paul’s obsession with pop traditionalism pays off big time with “Oh! Darling,” “You Never Give Me Your Money” (one of their greatest songs), and “Golden Slumbers” (OH! Golden Slumbers!). John’s relationship with Yoko Ono (for once) leads to some of his best leftfield compositions (“Sun King,” “Because,” etc), George is allowed a little more breathing room and offers two of his all-time greatest. And whatever must have been in the water spread to Ringo too, because his second composition under the Beatles moniker is actually listenable (see also: the inane “Don’t Pass Me By,” and compare). And the side 2 medley makes the best use of song-starts pop music has ever seen (oh! Side 2 medley!).

George later said that while no one spoke a word of it, everyone seemed to know that this was the last time they would ever work together as the Beatles, so they might as well go out with a bang. And Abbey Road is certainly an incredible closing parenthesis to the incredible career they had as The Beatles.

Record #31: The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

And then, the Beatles dropped acid/went to India/spent too much time in the record studio and got bored…
Revolver features a number of firsts for the group, all of them would go on to be Beatles trademarks, such as use of a sitar (George’s excellent Love You To), heavy psychedelic influence (I’m Only Sleeping, tragically missing from the US release), non-rock arrangements (the famous Eleanor Rigby), and studio noodling (the absolutely terrifying Tomorrow Never Knows, my favorite Beatles song of all time).

Beyond that, the songs are all just plain excellent. From Taxman to She Said She Said to Good Day Sunshine to Tomorrow Never Knows, there’s not a single bad song on the record (except Yellow Submarine, against which I am severely biased). The already great songwriters, composers, and performers had been for years placed in a context to nurture those skills, and along with producer George Martin (nicknamed the fifth Beatle) grew to legendary proportions.

The album also features three George Harrison tunes, more than any other Beatles offering prior, and those three songs happen to be three of the best songs on here. The three Lennon-led omissions on the US release (thankfully the last time Capitol would meddle with playlists) make for an interesting lack of John, with him only singing two songs, George his three, Paul five, and Ringo one. Although, the two Lennon tracks that made the cut (She Said She Said and Tomorrow Never Knows) are among his best.

And can we just talk about Tomorrow Never Knows for a second? This song is high and above the most ambitious thing the Beatles had ever done at that point, but more amazing than that is the fact that they actually pull it off without sounding too out there.

It’s still at its base, a three minute pop song. It just happens to be a pop song based around a single drone chord and filled with tape loops and reverse guitar solos. Appearing at the tail of end of the entire catalogue that preceded it, it’s the best transition into their more ambitious psychedelic period possible.

Whereas other songs here and there hinted at what was to come, Tomorrow Never Knows screams it. I can only imagine how listeners in 1966 would have reacted, hearing this completely otherworldly noise coming out of their speakers, with the sitars buzzing, loops squawking, and Ringo playing with more menace and power than he ever had before.

And when John’s voice comes in, howling through a rotary organ speaker (Parlophone had a word with them about the proper use of equipment after that one) singing “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”…There’s really nothing to do after that but to do what he says.

​And by the end of the track, the Beatles have made it clear–they’re capable of so much more than we could have ever imagined.