Originally published October 2012, revised June 2016.
George Martin named Abbey Road his favorite Beatles album.
Well, there’s no accounting for taste.
In fairness to Sir George I do believe that Abbey Road was his greatest achievement as a producer, for the man worked wonders with seriously substandard material submitted by Messrs. Lennon and McCartney. He also had to work around irreparably damaged group dynamics, piecing together work that was often recorded by band members in separate studios to make it sound like The Beatles were having the time of their lives. In the so-called suite on Side 2, George Martin patched together a series of incomplete musical ideas with no lyrical connection whatsoever into something that resembles a coherent musical work.
But once you get past the production, you realize that there really is no there there.
Abbey Road has a terribly sterile, cold feel to it, but in this case the fault lies not with the producer but with the performers. Lennon is absolutely full of himself and of Yoko and comes across as a man with a highly inflated belief in his status as an artiste. McCartney is equally self-absorbed and out of touch, and his work on Abbey Road is consistently substandard. Even Ringo’s contributions flop, and his drum solo on the “suite” is one of his saddest moments as a Beatle.
George Harrison was the only bloke who showed up for work. “Something” is a love song for the ages (though I do cringe his use of the archaic word “woo”), featuring George’s most accomplished lead vocal and some of his sweetest guitar work on record. “Here Comes the Sun” is his most purely joyful contribution to the catalog, a beautifully simple work free of spiritual proselytizing and classic Harrison bite. The only other memorable performances on Abbey Road are Paul’s exceptional bass part on “Something,” the long, heavy fade on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” and the harmonies on “Because” (especially when sung a capella on Anthology 3).
Even with his two solid contributions, George could never carry the load by himself. While I’m sure he took some satisfaction in finally out-composing and outperforming the guys who always looked at him as the little kid, we’re only talking about two tracks in a package of seventeen.
That leaves a lot of room for crap.
Lennon’s contributions range from gibberish to more gibberish. “Come Together” is a cascade of nonsense lyrics (partially ripped off from Chuck Berry) building to his Christ-fantasy statement, “Come together, right now, over me.” The aforementioned “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” becomes palatable only when he stops singing and mumbling. The lyrics to “Sun King” sound like they were written by a very happy drunk or a very young child. “Mean Mr. Mustard” is a shadow of Lennon’s early wit, as is its truncated twin, “Polythene Pam.”
McCartney had been in serious decline since Sgt. Pepper, slipping in a few good singles here and there to mask the extent of his creative atrophy. He sinks to the bottom with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” one of the most pointless and stupid songs in history, a jolly song about a murderer who bashes brains. Lovely! “Oh, Darlin’” couldn’t even survive the horrid Get Back sessions, and at this point McCartney was so far removed from the kid who used to channel Little Richard, he should have . . . let it be. “You Never Give Me Your Money” opens with promise but quickly dissolves into a series of scattered fragments that leads to a “suite” of scattered fragments. As for McCartney’s other contributions, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” is an inside joke even the insiders didn’t get, and even the 17th century poem he “borrowed” for “Golden Slumbers” is a back catalogue poem.
And while no one likes to pick on poor Ringo, the truth is the man couldn’t write a song to save his life, and “Octopus’ Garden” defines the word “hokey.” When I saw Cirque de Soleil’s Love in Vegas and “Octopus’ Garden” started blasting through the surround sound near the end of the performance, I walked out.
I know the Baby Boomers are in complete denial about this, but The Beatles peaked as album artists with Sgt. Pepper. After that, they put out a few great songs, but their album work was inconsistent at best. The White Album, the Get Back/Let It Be fiasco and Abbey Road are all indications of a band that stayed together way past their prime. I listen to those works with the same sadness people must have felt while watching Willie Mays embarrass himself by hanging on for one year too long.
From Please Please Me to Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles had always tried to improve on what they had done before—to make the next album better than the last. Once the group dynamics began to shatter during the making of The White Album and the once-friendly competition between John and Paul turned ugly, the quality of their material declined precipitously. They had lost their drive and were running on fumes. They were able to get away with it because they were The Beatles, with legions of fans ready to pronounce anything they released as yet another triumph in a never-ending success story.
The album may say “Beatles,” but the Beatles were long gone by the time Abbey Road hit the shelves. The guys who had always tried to outdo themselves had become undone.
With a handful of songs that can stand on their own, Abbey Road is an example of something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As you note, that is owed to it being well well-produced and well-arranged, cutting and pasting some throw away snippets together to make a reasonably seamless piece of work. Like a sausage, people prefer it as a whole, ignoring the poor quality of some of the individual ingredients.
In relation to the anecdotes about the making of the album, I think enough time has past to recognise that most of the criticism of John and Yoko was (and still is) driven by conservatism, misogyny and racism. Sure, the heroin killed John creatively, but turning 30 does that to most rock and pop artists anyway.
Plain and simple, Revolver was the best, cohesive record The Beatles ever made. Something happened to the chemistry of the band in every way after 1966. Still can’t figure it out.
I love Abbey Road.. every single song on it. I loved it as a kid and still do. I don’t have time to argue with just about every point you got wrong. I’m a busy man. Suffice to say, your review will be buried in the sediment long before the music in this album will be forgotten.
In a cosmos filled with narrow-sighted, mind-numbing, collective praise for the fab four productions, your reviews are refreshing – you take a non-conformist stand, give an honest take, and infuse a healthy dose of skepticism or realism. An alternative view. Yes, you are perhaps right that there is some rubbish on the later Beatles albums, inexplicably mingling with obviously original, unparalleled musical creations that will forever define our culture and basically continue to enrich our lives and elevate our spirit. No point of giving examples, we all know them – the ones which are really good. There was, still is and always will remain much to be said about these four “lads” work. Their music has many unique qualities, one of them being that it is somehow… transcending; it is more than a simple tune or song, the message goes way beyond the actual lyrics, they work even when the words do not appear to make too much sense, and the sound they made makes you feel in a certain way that is very hard or impossible to explain (rationally…). Their good work is moving, impressive, effective, highly imaginative and touches your soul. They were able to transmit or infuse listeners with a certain state or mood, so many songs had a powerful uplifting quality and were also most often than not proofs that they found a masterful way of transporting/transmitting a certain state of mind or feeling through innovative combinations of rhythms, exotic sounds or instruments, rare musical modes or previously unheard orchestrations. They were somehow more then a rock band, more the rock stars or musicians; they were artists in the highest sense of the word, perhaps sound-sorcerers or shamans would be more appropriate. Obviously, there is not enough space here to even try to start to explain their magic away. It was indeed something like magic. It still works, on the younger generations. How were they able to cast their spells? What ancient or modern magical “tricks” they used? No one knows for sure. Sophisticated, classically trained musicologists are only starting to unravel some of their techniques. And it is mind blowing to analyze what they did, especially since they were not formally trained as musicians. I think we should treat them with the reverence they deserve. I did not plan to make a big deal out of it, but your iconoclastic take while refreshing and bitterly honest, is sometimes going overboard. You are dismissive of some of their best songs like “While my guitar…”, and you believe that Clapton’s solo on it is… “pedestrian” (not true…, it fits the song well and adds to it a new dimension), you are not impressed by the minimalist simplicity and masterfully cool “Come Together”; you bitterly depreciate McCartney’s contributions after Sgt Pepper…, like Hey Jude 1968, Let it be 1969/released in 1970 and Get Back 1969 are not worthy of consideration…(?) and many others. I happen to think that the ‘shou bee do bee ouah” Revolution 1 is a great song – it has a fantastic groove and coolness, and it sounds better than its screechy, noisy and dizziness-inducing-rushed single version. Many people dismiss the later albums because of the unfortunate acrimony growing between the grown-up Fab 4, sometimes palpable in their productions, but they fail to observe how cool, and before their time some of their good songs sounded in 1968-1969: take the second instrumental bass-dominated part of “I want you…”, the ending 2 minutes of “While my Guitar” that should have lasted as a jam… much longer, the underrated “Don’t let me down” also of 1969 and how much we all lost, simply because they could not find a way to work with each other after the Sixties ended.
Part of the problem when evaluating the Beatles records after almost 50 years is that it is getting harder and harder to HEAR them properly. When you listen to the Beatles on Spotify, streaming to your iPhone or to your iPad or to your Mac Book Air etc., you’re hearing shitty sound (even if those devices are connected to some boomy blue tooth speakers). No wonder so many kids are stumped and bewildered — “what’s so great about this lame sounding band?”
I like to conduct an experiment to whoever visits my house and is into passionately music. I play them some of the Beatles on the CD player, and then play the exact same songs on my turntable. The reactions are always incredible — people act as if they’ve seen a ghost after hearing, for the first time, how the Beatles should really sound!
I suspect the same problem exists here — the reviewer was listening to “Abbey Road” in the digital format, and concluded that it’s a ho-hum experience. But if she were to visit my house, and I play her the original 1969 pressing of “Abbey Road”, I GUARANTEE oodles of goosebumps! It’s been happening to many visitors to my house. They sit down to listen to the side 2 magnum opus, and they are left with giant goosebumps, some even in tears (after the last chords fade on “The End”).
You’re 100% wrong. My father has the original pressing, and that’s the one I listened to. Give it up.
I’m in total agreement with ARC on this one as I spent my childhood listening to an original UK vinyl pressing followed by the 1987 CD and the 2009 remaster on all sorts of systems via speakers and headphones. It fails to change how I feel about this particular album. I stand by my original comments.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice there is a lot of love for this album, but no matter how I listen and look at it, it’s still a hugely unsatisfying album for me. It seems like just because most rock critics laud this album we’re all supposed to nod dumbly in agreement. ARC’s review may be controversial but she’s far more grounded in reality.
Thanks for the support! I have to confess I’m getting tired of the “mansplaining” here.
Now I’m even more confused. I can understand someone listening to Abbey Road in digital format (CD, FLAC, or streaming mp3) and going “I don’t get what’s the fuss all about?” But to hear it on vinyl and to be left unmoved seems impossible (providing, of course, that you’re not listening to the 2012 vinyl remaster — avoid that reissue, it sounds incredibly dull and lifeless).
And of course, also providing that you’re not listening to it on some shitty $100 Walmart USB turntable. But I’m assuming that since you’re listening to your father’s original pressing, that you’re also listening on his decent turntable.
If that indeed is the case, and you remain unmoved by that album, I can only conclude that you have a lump of ice in the place where your heart should be. But give it time, eventually the ice will melt and you will understand the warmth and the love engraved in those grooves.
Hmm. You may want to self-reflect on your own inability to accept perspectives that differ from yours. Your tendency to engage in personal attacks is very Trump-like, so if you cannot express disagreement without resorting to insult, please refrain from commentary.
Thank you for your alternative views, and I mean that. What puzzles me about The Beatles later period is that they still had the talent but were too often obsessed with their growing personality conflicts to get over it. I mention this because some of their contemporaries had as much interpersonal dysfunction as they did (Cream, The Kinks) but managed to put their feelings aside to produce some great records. I get even more frustrated by it when I see film of the roof concert that clearly demonstrated they were still a very tight band—an instinct that dates back to Hamburg.
Actually, I love “Hey Jude” (see Past Masters Vol 2 review) and think it is one of the most perfect songs ever recorded. And my review of McCartney is somewhat favorable and generally empathetic. But I refuse to treat any human being with reverence—I respect and admire most of what they did, but I refuse to cross the line into adulation. You will find that I have written negative reviews about several of my favorite bands—The Kinks, The Clash, Oasis, The Stones and yes, The Beatles. No one gets it right all the time, not Mozart, not Beethoven, not Louis Armstrong, not John Coltrane, not The Beatles.
As for as Clapton’s pedestrian solo is concerned, I also think Stan Getz’ sax on Getz/Gilberto is pedestrian, a position that many would disagree with—but that’s what I hear.
With the Peace and Love message in mind, but also trying to preserve the matter-of-fact realistic take and the honest approach of the site, which I like, I am trying my best to avoid starting a polemic about songs or solos that we may like or not…, or going into parts of the songs that we may disagree on, but I feel compelled to respond since it seems to me you may be inadvertently… trashing, for lack of a better word, some of best pieces of rock music out there. Case in point: the guitar solo that Clapton, at Harrison’s invitation, contributed to While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Far from me to recommend blind adulation or even admiration, reverence is just one of the words that come to mind when speaking about some of the great pieces of pop-rock music ever made. “While my Guitar…” really stands apart on White Album, and it is an essential expression of its author’s work or creed, it like one the most representative pieces, an “author’s signature” or artist manifesto. Interestingly, part of its charm comes from his friend’s inspired intervention… so it is not entirely his but theirs; but even better so, and kudos to them [The Beatles + Eric Clapton] to have been able to make this collective artistic “effort”. By the way, they should have credited him. This solo is great, it is deep, expressing an intense feeling, of anguish, of longing, or even agony; notes go higher and higher to attempt to reach an almost paroxysmal “end” … which is actually never reached, it is like an musical expression of an asymptotic longing for the infinite, it’s perhaps simple in form, but magisterial as execution, it means something and it moves you. It fits well with the overall atmosphere of the song and elevates it. This is one of the greatest solos in rock guitar history!, I think Prince (Roger Nelson) would agree with me…!; he tried to take it to the N-th degree on that 2004 Hall of Fame performance. This is what I meant by… reverence, about this particular song. I think pieces of music like this one are so much liked and basically “honored” by musicians worldwide, so it is a bit surprising to see you take such a dismissive view of this particular guitar section. The concrete, dictionary definition of the word you are using (which is perhaps a bit over-used/abused throughout our site) “pedestrian” is lacking inspiration or excitement; dull, with synonyms like “boring, tedious, uneventful, unremarkable, tiresome, wearisome, uninspired, unimaginative, unexciting, uninteresting…(?)”. Please Excuse Me, but Clapton’s solo on this song is truly the opposite. It is one of the best, EXCITING and INSPIRED solos in the history of rock music and it stands apart and out even among Beatles or Harrison’s songs. It is fine to like or dislike…, a matter of taste etc., but when one makes a Judgment, like you do and use certain words,… as one revered book might say you invite a reaction, a correction or a judgment on your call, from fellow reviewers and/or Beatles fans. I am sure you are a big girl and you can take it. Thank you.
I’m all for negative reviews, but let’s not conflate gossipy reviews with serious negative reviews. This one is nothing but a pile of tabloid garbage, masquerading as incisive myth-busting review.
I suppose it could appear that way if one believes that anything The Beatles ever did is deserving of serious consideration. I don’t.
It’s not about the Beatles and the gossip surrounding them, it’s about the work they released — “Abbey Road”. You remain on the gossip path, which seriously devalues a lot of really good stuff you’ve created here. You’d do better if you stop obsessing about personalities and focus just on music.
Sorry, but it isn’t gossip to argue that the reason Abbey Road is a weak album had to do with their reluctance to engage in genuine collaboration and that their egos got in the way of the music. It’s certainly not the only time bands in several genres have produced substandard material due to conflicts in the studio or on the stage. Music is a human endeavor subject to human failings; that’s part of the story.
You are correct in observing the downfall of the Beatles as a band and as individual members; this downfall coincided with the creation of “Abbey Road”. But my point is that it makes it that much more remarkable seeing how a band in such disarray were able to pull their last amazing stunt and create such lasting masterpiece.
I know that you disagree, but that’s fine; one cannot expect better insight from a critic who thinks “Abbey Road” is garbage while “A Passion Play” is a masterpiece. Like, seriously?
So far, your absolute best review (of the ones I read thus far) is Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira”. Now that’s what I call inspired journalism! It’s almost like that review was written by a different, much more talented person than the review you’ve published here.
I have to work with the material presented by the artist. Hejira was a well-produced, cleverly-arranged work with rich lyrics and satisfying musical complexity. Abbey Road was a well-produced, technically well-arranged work with empty lyrics and endlessly predictable music, a sub-standard creative effort dressed-up to mask the nearly complete lack of originality.
I can see your point of view, and yet…I love this album and probably always will. While it is not as innovative as the Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Pepper trifecta, I enjoy listening to it just as much. Your review causes me to consider why it is that I like this album so much and continue to regard it as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, with room to spare. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Great Tunes. This is maybe the most difficult aspect of music to be objective about, but it is also the most important, at least when it comes to pop music. I think Abbey Road is full of great melodies and toe tapping rhythms. I think most of the songs are highly original, and although there are a few that may be somewhat derivative, I can’t identify the specific source material, if there is any.
Great Sound. You already mentioned George Martin’s great production work, but I disagree about the album sounding cold and sterile. I think it sounds as warm and pleasant as the summer day depicted on the album cover.
Good Feeling. The Beatles were certainly having their problems getting along at this time, but there were still moments when they supported each other and worked well together. Listen to Paul’s bass playing, even on the John and George songs. It does not sound like the work of a man who is hateful or indifferent toward his band mates. The same goes for the guitars, the keyboards, everything. It all blends together perfectly.
Great Drumming. I think Abbey Road was Ringo’s finest moment as a drummer. His soulful performance on “Something” is easy to notice, but on songs like “You Never Give Me Your Money” he negotiates all kinds of changes in tempo and feel, and he ties it all together rhythmically. As a bonus, I love his vocal in “Carry That Weight.” I’m pretty sure that was the only time that Ringo contributed prominent harmonies in a non-Ringo song, and he adds an earthy feel that is a perfect match for the words. As for the drum solo, it’s too short and simple to really be a solo. It is just a drum break, and it fits in fine, setting the stage for the album’s guitar-drenched climax.
By this time in the Beatles’ career, their status as superstars overshadowed the music, threatening to crush it. They had to look for ways to escape from this pressure, beginning with Sgt. Pepper, in which they toyed with the idea of having an alter ego. Magical Mystery Tour continued in much the same vein. With the White Album, they dove into parody and irony. By my count, there are only six songs on The White Album that do not contain a strong element of irony: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, I Will, Julia, Mother Nature’s Son, and Long Long Long. Let It Be was an attempt to be more straightforward, and it is probably not a coincidence that it was the least successful project of their later years. Trying to escape from their own legend was just too difficult.
I see Abbey Road as basically an extension of The White Album. They are back in the realm of parody. Arguably, the only non-ironic songs are Something, Here Comes The Sun, Because, and Sun King. While “Come Together” may be a “Christ-fantasy” statement in one sense, Lennon is really poking fun at the whole Christ thing. By the time he gets to the “Come together” line, he’s spouted so much nonsense that it’s impossible to take him seriously. It’s very much in the vein of “I Am The Walrus,” except it’s quasi-political instead of quasi-philosophical. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” seems to be a take-off on one of those nasty nursery rhymes with lines like, “And here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” And although the medley on side two does not make much sense lyrically, it has a freewheeling, anything-is-possible quality that is joyful and invigorating.
I suppose it is possible that I have been blinded by the Beatles’ legend, along with millions of others, and this has caused me to overestimate Abbey Road. But when I try to imagine what would have happened if Abbey Road, or an album very much like it, had been created by an obscure band of the time, rather than the Beatles, I can only come to one conclusion: It would have been a sensation. Many fans and critics would have claimed that this new group had usurped the Beatles as the greatest band in pop music. The sophistication of these songs, and the way they were all produced and assembled, would have been undeniable. The two George songs and “Come Together” would have been massive hits, and several other songs may have been hits as well. If this imaginary group never made another album, the members’ solo careers would’ve been scrutinized endlessly, just as the Beatles’ solo careers were. Had the group gone on to make more music, they would have had a hard time topping this one. That would certainly have been the case for the Beatles, and that’s why I think they broke up at exactly the right time.
You said that McCartney and Lennon had a decline in their songwriting after 1967 in your reviews of Beatles albums after that year. I disagree, I believe that what really happened is that they were saving some great songs that they wrote in that time for their solo career. Example: McCartney wrote Junk, Every Night, Maybe I’m Amazed, Another Day and also, if I am not mistaken, That Would Be Something still in 1968 and 1969. The Let It Be sessions had some truly great songs that could have produced a spectacular album if they still could work as a band and listen the other members. Abbey Road was great because they somehow knowed that was going to be their last album and decided that they wanted to make a last album that would honor the band’s history and also because they could not like more to be a band, but they loved and knowed the quality of the music that they could make together and wanted do it one last time, tough I can’t understand how McCartney, having those great songs that I mentioned before, choiced put Maxwell’s Silver Hammer instead! If you look for the early great songs in Lennon’s solo career, they were also written still in The Beatles years. All Things Must Pass by George Harrison is primarily an album of rejected songs in the Beatles years. Do you agree with my theory? One thing more: one of the things that make The Beatles have a so legendary status is that they broke early. We never had to hear a bad Beatles in the 80s decade, tough they still had gas to produce some spectacular albums in the 70s, as their early solo albums show. One of the reasons why their solo careers were not so great is not just that they were stronger together, it is also because every Beatles member reached its creative peak in the 60s. Every great artist of every art has a phase of absolute creative peak that, after passing this peak, can’t produce more masterpieces. The great material may still appear, but not with the same consistence. This fact isn’t detracting to the artist, much less something to have shame of.
Below: some interesting links that I recommend:
Nope, not convinced. I gave McCartney’s first solo effort a decent review, thought Lennon’s efforts were atrocious, and George a mixed bag. I’m not at all interested in exploring their solo careers further, as I’ve heard most of the stuff and found it shallow and sometimes annoying. Why bother with the solo careers of ex-Beatles when there were hundreds of artists making higher quality music?
The lyrics of Because may not be the cleverest, but the wonderful vocal harmonies in Because more than compensate, making the song became so beautiful and full of poetry in its simplicity. Wonderful what they did with Because and they knowed that it was going to be really special and did their best in the vocals.
One thing that I really like in this album is that flows so well from start to finish. It would be perfect if Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden were removed and some great songs that they composed in the same time, but only released in solo career, were put in place. It is fun and catchy, the most polished and at same time the more raw and unpretentious Beatles album.
You are in minority in your opinion Abbey Road, that is probably the most popular Beatles album. I love Abbey Road. This was the first Beatles album that I really listened from start to end. I loved this album almost instantly. In fact, even Revolver I did not love so fast, I needed more listens. For a long time, I could not decide what album was better: Abbey Road always sounded better and grab me faster, but Revolver was better lyrically, but it took some time for me really like songs as I’m Only Sleeping and Tomorrow Never Knows, while I fell in love with Abbey Road instantly. In the site RYM, where thousands of people rate music, that it is a kind of IMDB to music, Abbey Road is the best Beatles album, with an overall rating of 4.31 or 4.32, while Revolver have 4.30 and other Beatles albums have overall ratings of 4.20 or less. In the RYM Rough Guide, where users vote the best album by an artist, Abbey Road won the poll. In the site Best Ever Albums, Abbey Road is also considered the best Beatles album in public’s opinion with an overall rating of 91/100, with Revolver in second having an overall rating of 91/100 and Sgt. Peppers in third having 90/100. In a poll made with hundreds of Beatles fans of the foruns Beatlesfan and Steve Hoffman Music Forum, Abbey Road topped the list of Beatles albums. A whopping 80 percent of voters elected to give “Abbey Road” a perfect “10” rating. For comparison’s sake, about 77.5 percent of “Revolver” votes went for the top rating, while the rest of the top five hovered around 60 percent. Only four voters gave “Abbey Road” a rating of less than “7,” ensuring that it easily had the least variation of any album, with a standard deviation of just 0.78. It is an album that almost everybody loves. But keep calm, I think that Revolver is better, even tough I liked more Abbey Road at first. Abbey Road is better than Peppers.
Oh gosh, I really don’t care what the “majority” think and I have no problem being in the minority. My parents raised me to think for myself and I encourage my readers to do the same. I also think the concept of “best this” or “greatest that” is absurd.
Every great artist and album ever released has its detractors that call them overrated, including albums that you may consider masterpieces. I am just trying to say that no one’s taste is absolute. I don’t think that McCartney had really a creative crisis after Peppers, he composed some great songs in 1968 and 1969 that he only released in his solo career. But my primary reason of why I defend Abbey Road is that I don’t feel well seing things that I love being trashed. I am a guy with a very weak mind and I start to doubt my tastes and the quality of some things that I love are trashed by someone, even if I am in majority. I almost begin to love it less.
If you search in web, Abbey Road and Revolver are the Beatles albums that people more discuss about what was their best.
A good honest review I have to reluctantly agree with. Kind of a reality check since yeah yeah yeah, we’ve read all the hype, know all the tales and myths behind it and it regularly gets rated highly but peer below the surface, actually LISTEN to the music and weigh it up and it falls very flat. I LOVE The Beatles, still listen to them a lot but when it comes to the crunch, I have to admit, this is not an album I listen to very much and when I do listen to it… well…
There is no denying this album is lumpy, unbalanced and over-rated. I find it utterly impossible to listen to it in it’s entirety because some of those songs are so toecurlingly awful – I never ever want to hear “Maxwell” or “Octopus” again nor, dare I say it, “Something” which to me is pure aural sludge that induces insomnia more potent than the worst moments by The Moody Blues or the best of Eric Clapton solo! I do think “Here Comes The Sun” is possibly the best track here – it’s a very joyful song that is always a pleasure to listen to – an anomaly for George.
George Martin emerges trumphant as he definitely turned in a very sophisticated sounding album and managed to convey a sense of band unity that was rarely ever present in the studio, creating an illusion of Beatles magic. There ARE moments where the genuine magic shines through – I think “Because” is lyrically dumb but those three part harmonies double or triple tracked are sublime. I also think the infamous medley was well constructed given the many fragments since I sense an underlying feeling that all involved knew this was gonna be The Beatles’ final fling… it is a bit pretentious and cheesy – Paul being all holy on “Golden Slumbers” then for the finale of “The End”, each member doing their solo turns before in sweeps the orchestra, Paul’s final line (which is effective and meaningful), the harmonies and into the void The Beatles enter… the overall feeling I get listening to that sequence is one of sadness, the final acknowledgement that “the dream” was well and truly over.
John hated and slated the album decreeing it was a work of myth making, trying to maintain the fantasy that all was fine and dandy with The Beatles and by this point you can tell he had given up on Paul as a couple of years earlier, he would have had Paul scrap “Maxwell” in an instant – way too “granny shit” for it’s own good, but that’s the other sad thing about this album… it not only marks the end of The Beatles as a collective but gives plenty of warning signs of what was to follow – tons of self absorbed rubbish from John, and frivolous junk from Paul… George shows promise here that he failed to fulfil and as for Ringo… his drum solo and songwriting sets the tone perfectly for his solo career tossing off ineffective and irrelevant rubbish… though in his defence “It Don’t Come Easy” was a wonderful record but talk about a plunge downhill after that!
You are in minority in your opinion Abbey Road, that is probably the most popular Beatles album. I love Abbey Road. This was the first Beatles album that I really listened from start to end. I loved this album almost instantly. In fact, even Revolver I did not love so fast, I needed more listens. For a long time, I could not decide what album was better: Abbey Road always sounded better and grab me faster, but Revolver was better lyrically, but it took some time for me really like songs as I’m Only Sleeping and Tomorrow Never Knows, while I fell in love with Abbey Road instantly. In the site RYM, where thousands of people rate music, that it is a kind of IMDB to music, Abbey Road is the best Beatles album, with an overall rating of 4.31 or 4.32, while Revolver have 4.30 and other Beatles albums have overall ratings of 4.20 or less. In the RYM Rough Guide, where users vote the best album by an artist, Abbey Road won the poll. In the site Best Ever Albums, Abbey Road is also considered the best Beatles album in public’s opinion with an overall rating of 91/100, with Revolver in second having an overall rating of 91/100 and Sgt. Peppers in third having 90/100. In a poll made with hundreds of Beatles fans of the foruns Beatlesfan and Steve Hoffman Music Forum, Abbey Road topped the list of Beatles albums. A whopping 80 percent of voters elected to give “Abbey Road” a perfect “10” rating. For comparison’s sake, about 77.5 percent of “Revolver” votes went for the top rating, while the rest of the top five hovered around 60 percent. Only four voters gave “Abbey Road” a rating of less than “7,” ensuring that it easily had the least variation of any album, with a standard deviation of just 0.78. It is an album that almost everybody loves. But keep calm, I think that Revolver is better, even tough I liked more Abbey Road at first. Abbey Road is better than Peppers and only below of Revolver and it is not your opinion that will make me stop to love this album. Every great artist and album ever released has its detractors that call them overrated, including albums that you may consider masterpieces.
The lyrics of Because may not be the cleverest, but the wonderful vocal harmonies in Because more than compensate, making the song became so beautiful and full of poetry in its simplicity.
About Something, Frank Sinatra hated the new pop/rock that emerged in the late 50s, 60s and beyond, but he loved Something. Nancy Sinatra said that Something was the only Beatles song that Sinatra sincerely liked. A song receiving praise by someone that hates your genre is a very noteworthy feat.
‘Abbey Road’, for me, is a schizophrenic album. On the one hand, on side two, you have one of the greatest sides of an album a band has ever produced. But side one goes straight downhill after the opening one-two punch of John’s “Come Together” and George’s “Something”. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, in particular, gets my personal vote for the worst song the band ever recorded (I’m not counting “Revolution #9”, since it’s not really a song, just a sonic experiment).
This album would be perfect if we drop Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden and put in their place Maybe I’m Amazed and Every Night, great songs that McCartney wrote in this time. I don’t understand as some McCartney great songs that he wrote in 68 and 69, include Junk in this list, did not enter in the Beatles albums. McCartney was still at his peak as songwriter in the band’s final years and still delivering some spectacular songs.
I m back to congratulate you, after reading other reviews. I do not agree with all what you say, but smart personal comments should always be praised and ears, first of all, because it is rare and people rarely knows about they are saying… and only repeated ad nauseum nauseaum nauseum nauseum nauseum the consensus and prejudices of ignorance and lack of knowledge and competent investigation and reflections. Your taste here is pollemic but intelligent and personal.
[…] Abbey Road […]
The two major exceptions to the Clapton criticisms above are his work on the 1966 Bluesbreakers album and the expressive playing with Duane Allman on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Later on he did an lp called From the Cradle, which coupled some of his best playing with cringingly forced singing.
Thank you: I’ve been meaning to do the Bluesbreakers and I’ll put them higher on my list. I think his best years were the years he was a serious blues student.
To over-rated I would definitely add Eric Clapton (listen to Peter Green, Eddie Hazel, Shuggie Otis, Mike Bloomfield, & Buddy Guy for comparison).
Why “Clapton is God” was scribbled on London walls in the ’60’s escapes me. Sure he’s come up with a handful of great riffs, but in general I find him to be a pompous, overlong, and a rather mediocre vocalist …..
I have to agree. Clapton is a very precise, almost anal guitarist, and I’ve always found him lacking in “feel.” I could add quite a few guitarists to your list. I like his falsetto vocals with Cream but as a straight singer he’s really, really dull.
PS: Alt Rock Dad was on the money!
Also good points. John was certainly a man with a lot of problems. Yoko was a woman who knew how to manipulate those problems. There is a part in May Pang’s book where she literally tells May that because she went through primal therapy with John, she knows his deepest fears and how to use them against him. A goddamn monster. All the authors who aren’t in Yoko’s pocket paint a picture of a hellish marriage between two people who could barely stand each other. Double fantasy indeed. Incidentally, is your copy of the Lewinsohn book with the deluge of unnecessary detail the regular edition or the ‘deluxe’ edition that was marketed as having a deluge of unnecessary detail not found in the regular? I have yet to read it, but look forward to doing so eventually.
Whoa! I haven’t read May Pang’s book, but that sounds horrifying.
And thankfully, I just have the “limited” 931-page version of Volume 1. It contains more detail than I ever wanted to know.
It may be a cliche (and simplistic) to bash Yoko, I think the truth of it is not unfounded. Reading Mark Lewisohn’s ‘Recording Sessions’ (and other books) there is a distinct line apparent between pre and post Yoko. I.e. Between 1962 and 1968, there is barely an argument reported at a Beatles session. She appeared on day one of ‘The White Album’ sessions and it was downhill from there. Again, simplistic, but at the least, it seems she exacerbated certain tensions. It certainly did not help that she introduced John to heroin around this time -and from therein, seemed to encourage his most narcissistic, messianic tendencies.
But there is something definitely anomalous about the abrupt degeneration of relations between the Beatles that occurred around that time. In late ’67 they were planning on buying a series of Greek islands and living together communally; they were apparently quite serious and went as far as traveling out to inspect property. In early 1968, they were discussing plans for an Apple school for their families and the children of their employees. Lennon was the spearhead in both these ventures -and his subsequent ‘The Beatles were holding me back, I wanted out’ BS is all revisionism. That is to say, buying a communal island is not the action of a man or men who abhor each others company.
Abbey Road’ would be a better album for me if I (impossibly) knew nothing about The Beatles’ story and nothing about the recording of the album. As it is, the more I’ve read about the time period in their chronology, and the acrimony of the recording itself, the more difficult it becomes to separate it from the album itself. While ‘The White Album’ at least has the pretext of being a band recording, this is where they finally give up the ghost and reduce each other to glorified session musicians. The sense of sadness which you mentioned, is for me also, inextricable.
It is also inextricable from the image of Yoko in her King Sized bed, wheeled back and forth around Studio 2 while the band tried to record. Damnit John, bitch wasn’t even that fine.
Excellent points. I’m reading the first part of Lewinsohn’s trilogy (a deluge of often unnecessary detail that slows the narrative to a crawl), but my take on Lennon is that a.) he could never get rid of the chip on his shoulder and b.) because his childhood was rejection, he never felt comfortable unless he was in the act of rejection or feeling rejected. What better way to achieve that than to cling to a loser like Yoko, a universally despised figure? The frequent revisionism and deliberately outrageous statements fit the pattern . . . to say nothing of that fucking bed. I remember hearing one of my dad’s friends argue that John must have really loved Yoko because he could have had any woman in the world, and my dad just laughed at him and said something like “Quit trying to keep the hero alive. It was a publicity stunt by two maniacs.”
It is very hard to review any Beatle album and try to forget the context. They were as much a cultural phenomenon as a music group. I think they did some great stuff and some awful stuff that only they could have gotten away with.
I echo Michiel B.’s thought on this review and this album with the exception that I’ve not seen your bum. Which means either he knows you very well or there are parts of your site I’ve not gotten to. For me Abbey Road was their last hurrah where they pulled everything together one last time, albeit separately.
Bums pics were once more prominent. You can find the remaining sample in a link hidden in the text of my review of Poorly Formed by the Swingin’ Utters.
My mother has written a post that will appear next week, and she had to mention how wrong I was about Abbey Road, so you have a very strong force on your side.
[…] Abbey Road […]
Strange. As much as I disagree with you (I absolutely LOVE Abbey Road), there’s nothing in your review that doesn’t make sense. This means you are a very, very good reviewer! With a nice bum, but that’s got nothing to do with it.
[…] really want to see what a negative review looks like, I’d encourage them to see my reviews of Abbey Road, Let It Be and The White Album. I’d take Arthur over any of […]
[…] for this post, I was pleased to learn that, upon its release, Let It Bleed temporarily knocked Abbey Road out of the #1 spot on the U. K. charts. These little bursts of human sanity are tiny treasures I […]