Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Grooves: The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

It's a little too good to start this musical discourse about vinyl with Abbey Road. Sure, The Beatles are great, blah, blah, blah, but this post is less about them and more about the vinyl experience. My love affair with the medium goes back to being a youngster. My parents record collection was a bastion for young research and my parents being Beatlemaniacs, it was no wonder that I immediately started my love of Abbey Road on the medium itself. It's easily the greatest record ever made. The technology was all analog and it had limitations. So the music itself is the perfect usage of the album as art to it's fullest potential. It's two sides are beautiful in their own respect. Side one a collection of the last Beatles songs we'd ever hear and side two, the fragmented medleys that work on a level unlike anything else I've heard. You can't make something like Abbey Road any other way.

Returning to this record is nothing but an excellent experience. No matter how many times I change the station when "Come Together" starts, I always look forward to it starting the album up. It's only an overrated Beatles song because classic rock radio has destroyed it. The slow rumble of McCartney's bass and the precession of Ringo's drums are something special. When "Something" comes next, we're treated to easily one of the greatest love songs ever written. Unlike the production of Phil Spector on Let It Be, George Martin's production here is what makes this song so gorgeous to the ears and heart strings. Surprisingly, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is indeed my least favorite track on the record, but it's whimsically dark bounce was a sign of McCartney to come. "Oh! Darling" is an explosively, passionate piano-centric ballad that is quiet easily McCartney's finest vocal performance on any Beatles song. The much hated and misunderstood "Octopus's Garden" may seem like a throwback to "Yellow Submarine", but it still shimmers in the ear drums. The guitar work is beautiful. And it makes it all the better when "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", the Beatles take on Psychedelic Rock, kicks in after the under sea antics. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is a rival for favorite Beatles song. With it's fantastic bluesy guitar, heavy riff and ultimate crescendo into silence that ends Side A, it's a beast of a track. The cut-off makes the song perfect. It's an action packed first half of a record.

Side B starts off with "Here Comes the Sun" which feels like a sunrise in musical form. Again, Harrison brings his A Game to the table with a beautiful and uplifting track. But immediately following it is the dirge "Because", things turn from sunny to sinister in a flash of synthesizer gloom. Then a final complete track of sorts, "You Never Give Me Your Money" works as a prelude to the fragmented end of the record. It's signals musical moments to come and is one of my all time favorite songs, possibly my favorite on the side. Then we are treated to the two medley's. The "Sun King" medley is more of Lennon's undertaking. Its a psychedelic walk down a street of random weirdos, far superior to "Penny Lane." "Sun King's" psych glow of gibberish into the more plodding "Mean Mr. Mustard" and the intense "Polythene Pam" are all fragmented and last all of a minute and a half before the longer of the parts of the medley, "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" takes over. Then the "Golden Slumbers" medley comes to steal the show. McCartney's strung together fragments are less of parts of a whole and more movements in the best mini rock opera not written by The Who. "Carry That Wait" brings the call back to "You Never Give Me Your Money" back into the picture for a beautiful music moment. "The End" is a beautiful closer. Ironic as it is that this was the end of The Beatles, it makes it even a more perfect finale. A triple guitar solo with gang vocals singing "love you" can't be a better way to set up that famous of epitaphs. Of course, then there is "Her Majesty" to come and sweep the lasties blanket from under the medley's heels, but it's fitting for The Beatles silly side. It's a Monty Python move of sorts.

My vinyl copy was a gift from former band mate and brother in everything John Arena. It, along with another record on this list coming up, was one of the best gifts I've received. Funny that I didn't already own Abbey Road but it seemed rude to buy a new version from the one I had listened to and made mix tapes off of from growing up. Instead it felt right that my friend and drummer in a band Noringo (see the connections all over?!) gave me this excellent album. It sounds great and is in beautiful condition. It should be one of my framed records in my guest room, but I want easy access to it as it's easily one of my favorite vinyl experiences. Not many other albums rival it in it's magical way.

Next Up: A return to an old groovy friend. Santana.

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