(Resuming my blog post about The Band and Abbey Road.)
Not surprised that the “Paul Is Dead” hoax helped sell more of the earlier Beatle LPs, but I think Abbey Road would have sold well, regardless. “Something” was a No. 1 single, helping the album to No. 1 in the U.S., where it remained for 11 weeks; it was also the Fab Four’s biggest-selling LP in the States.
There’s a lot to like about Abbey Road, not the least of which is “Something,” written by George Harrison, John Lennon’s favorite song on the album, and McCartney’s favorite Harrison composition. No less than Frank Sinatra called it the best love song ever written.
The opening cut, “Come Together,” isn’t musically special, but the lyrics are challenging. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was one of the causes of the intra-band acrimony that permeated the sessions — Lennon called it “Paul’s granny music” and walked out. It probably was the first rock song about a werewolf, a decade before Warren Zevon.
“Oh! Darling,” another cause for tension between Lennon and McCartney, is fun, but not the best stuff on the album. “Octopus’s Garden,” like most of Ringo’s contributions to the group’s albums, is charming and kind of goofy, like its composer and lead vocalist. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” written by Lennon about new wife Yoko Ono, with its interesting structure, and ominous vibe, is the most powerful cut on side one — which it ends with a a crash, cut off because the tape was running out.
It sets up side two, which opens with Harrison’s wonderful “Here Comes the Sun,” critically acclaimed and one of the most digitally-downloaded songs of the modern era. “Because” is constructed around the chords of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” played backwards, and is enriched with Harrison, Lennon and McCartney’s three-part harmonies triple-tracked in the studio.
Then we get into the medley, the 16-minute masterpiece that — except for the “Her Majesty” ditty — wraps up the album. Its pieces were mostly unfinished song bits, some written in Rishikesh, India, when the Fab Four were studying with Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, some penned during the White Album sessions.
The lyrics, music and structures are all over the map, but the Beatles and producer George Martin tied them all together. The medley builds to a wonderful climax, Harrison, Lennon and McCartney’s dueling guitars setting up its conclusion: “And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”
Abbey Road initially got mixed reviews, some critics saying it was excellent at times, but overall not the Beatles’ best; others heaped it with praise, particularly the second side. Later reviews called it the Fab Four’s best album ever — a sentiment shared by the readers of Rolling Stone magazine.
That publication ranked Abbey Road No. 14 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Time magazine put the LP in its “All-Time 100 Albums,” and it was voted No. 8 in Colin Larkin’s third edition of “All Time Top 1000 Albums.”
Which takes us back to the subject of last week’s post, the other classic, late-September release, The Band. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 45 on its “500” list, Q magazine said it was the 76th-best LP of all time, and Time included it in its unranked Top 100. Robert Christgau, a tough music critic, rated it better than Abbey Road.
Which also takes us back to my comment at the start of the previous post, about the albums of 1969, which I blogged about earlier in the year. There are 21 albums from that year in the Rolling Stone “500,” including eight in the top 100: Abbey Road; Led Zeppelin (29); Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones (32); The Band; Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (60); Led Zeppelin II; Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield (89); and Tommy, the Who (96).
That year, though, wasn’t tops in putting LPs on the Rolling Stone list: 1972 landed 25 LPs 1970 and ’73 had 24 each, 1971 had 22 and ’68 also has 21. But 50 years ago produced a lot of my favorites.