Abbey Road Turns 45

Billboard has published a track by track review of all of the songs on Abbey Road. They set the table as to what was going after the frenzy of the prior decade led to the band imploding:

“On Sept. 26, 1969, 45 years ago today, the BeatlesAbbey Road entered the world and closed the recording career of rock’s most celebrated band.

The existence of Abbey Road is practically a miracle — when the Beatles emerged from the Let It Be sessions, the group was fraught with tensions and on the verge of breaking up.

They were arguing not only over music — their unhappiness with the mixing of Let It Be held up its release until eight months after Abbey Road came out — but business as well. Their Apple Records label was proving to be a professional time suck, and the group was bitterly torn over who to hire as their new business manager.

But by most accounts, the recording of Abbey Road was relatively painless and drama-free — perhaps because the Fab Four knew it would be their last album together. “Nobody then was sure it was going to be the last one, but it felt like it was,” producer George Martin recalled in The Beatles Anthology. George Harrison agreed: “Once we finished Abbey Road, the game was up, and I think we all accepted that.”

Despite originally mixed reviews, Abbey Road is a masterpiece: Brilliant innovation, spectacular song writing, and a creative studio production result in a transcendent collection of music. Side 2’s medley has become legendary.

You should check out Billboard entire song by song review, but here is an excerpt from the medley section:

“You Never Give Me Your Money”

The first song in the greatest medley in rock history is practically a medley in itself. Opening with several pensive piano verses, the song kicks into Chuck Berry mode with the “out of college, money spent” segment before the “oh, that magic feeling” bridge. A more contemporary guitar riff heralds the “one sweet dream” segment, which is given a fascinating melodic counterpart by the “all good children go to heaven” nursery rhyme. “You Never Give Me Your Money” is a microcosm of the complementary counter melodies and sudden stylistic shifts that will characterize the rest of the album.

Lyrically, “You never give me your money” is often seen as a commentary on the intergroup tensions over choosing a business manager. Similarly, McCartney later said the “pack up the bags, get in the limousine” line was a reference to trips he and Linda McCartney would take to the countryside to escape Beatles-related tensions.

“Sun King”

“Sun King” is a breather of sorts before the medley kicks off in earnest. While fans opine the Sun King might be a reference to France’s Louis XIV, it’s possible the song is just nonsense — Lennon says the group randomly tossed around words in Romance languages for the song’s lyrics, with no thought given to deeper meaning. Musically, the song is as oneiric as Lennon’s laconic delivery, with the reverb-laden guitar moving between left and right stereo channels. This makes the entrance of Ringo’s drum fill at the start of “Mean Mr. Mustard” all the more arresting and startling.

“Mean Mr. Mustard”

With Lennon taking lead vocals and McCartney singing backup, the Beatles introduce the character of a cheap old miser who keeps a “ten-bob note up his nose,” inspired by a newspaper article Lennon read about an old man who hid money around his house. “Mean Mr. Mustard” kicks off a three-song story arc starring a bizarre cast of characters.

While many of the Side 2 medley tracks were half-finished songs the Beatles stitched together, “Mean Mr. Mustard” was written as a standalone song running four minutes. For the medley, it was shortened to 1:06 and the name “Shirley” was changed to “Pam” to provide continuity for the next rack.

“Polythene Pam”

With Lennon singing in an exaggerated Liverpool accent, the band tears through another minute-long rocker. “Polythene Pam” was inspired by two real-life people: “Polythene Pat,” a girl who ate plastic that the Beatles knew from their Cavern Club days in Germany, and a woman who wore polythene clothes that Lennon met through British beat poet Royston Ellis.

“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”

The end of “Polythene Pam” bleeds into the this track, which is characterized by angular, clean guitar lines, a thumping bass, snappy percussion and cooing background vocals. Here we meet another character inspired by real events. In this case, “she” refers to multiple Beatles fanatics who broke into McCartney’s house (via a ladder to the window) and stole some of his pictures and pants.

 

 

“Golden Slumbers”

After the one-two-three-punch of “Mustard”/”Pam”/”Window,” “Golden Slumbers” takes a break from rock for a contemplative piano-and-strings ballad. This song also drops the narrative arc pretense. Instead, McCartney seems to be self-consciously addressing the end of the Beatles — “Once there was a way to get back home” is the lyric of someone who knows they’re bidding goodbye to something special that they can never return to.

Additionally, the lyrics are based on the 1603 poem “Cradle Song” from Thomas Dekker, which begins with the following stanza: “Golden slumbers kiss your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise / Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry / And I will sing a lullaby.”

“Carry That Weight”

Recorded in one piece with “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” features a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and a booming chorus with Ringo’s voice at the forefront. As with “Golden Slumbers,” McCartney seems to be speaking to the end of the Beatles and acknowledging the burdens of fame and business that will plague them for “a long time.”

 

Hat tip Patrick!

 

 

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