Abbey Road – It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

The 2019 Remaster doesn’t mess much with success.

For many of us, The Beatles final foray in the studio has been imprinted in our DNA. But the magnificent treatment with this reissue broadens and deepens our appreciation. On the heels of similar expanded editions of Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, Giles Martin is back at the controls, where once his father George sat.

The first disc in the expansive box set is the remastered version of the original album. You will hear a slightly wider stereo separation (ironic, considering the band and George Martin spent days perfecting the early mono takes, then heading down the pub and leaving the subsequent mixes to others…famously resulting in the instruments in one channel and vocals in the other). Some of the guitars sparkle a bit more brightly, and the vocals are pulled forward. This will be less controversial than prior remasters

Macca’s suite that triumphantly closes side 2 loses nothing, and is even more stately than when I first dropped the needle on my vinyl copy when the album was originally released. The brass in “Carry That Weight” is sharper.

One of the great moments of the album (and likely of almost any recording) is after Ringo takes his first ever drum solo and the three guitarists stand, for perhaps the last time, and trade solos. The ten thousand hours they had accumulated perfecting their craft reaches an apogee in those last moments of side two, poignantly and perfectly titled “The End.”

Is the break before (the first ever hidden track?) “Her Majesty” a bit longer now?

Once you have revisited the album, it is time to dive into the extras.

“Last chance to be loud,” John observes wryly in the first batch of extras. Whether referring to the neighbors in the leafy London suburb around EMI Studios, or the ending of the band’s existence, the four Liverpudlians hone the songs into the evening.

You can hear Ringo continue his excursion below the surface in “Octopus’s Garden” with varying degrees of success. “Yellow Submarine” had previously given him the courage to dive into singing. Look for a photo of him by a microphone with a straw and glass of water, adding sound effects.

The between song patter (previously only available via bootleg or in Vegas at LOVE) is fun to hear, from a fly on the wall perspective. The prior reissues gave us these audio clips; it remains a wonderful way to envision the lads’ banter. Despite the looming legal struggles (“You Never Give Me Your Money”), the four musicians buckled down and delivered a delightful album. Several critics at the time weren’t so sure, but steady sales (long after other contemporaneous album fell off the charts) is certainly one indicator of longevity.

By this point in their career, The Beatles were afforded almost whatever time in the studio they needed. They had a hands-on education in the evolution of studio technology, and as Giles Martin points out in his accompanying notes, this reissue was done on essentially the same equipment.

A couple included songs are notable for their pedigree, one of which is “Come and Get It.” Paul recorded a demo of the song in expedited fashion, handling all the instruments. He offered it to a band signed to Apple, with the proviso that the band change nothing. The Iveys did so, and rebranded as Badfinger they indeed delivered the hit Paul promised. I just received word that Badfinger’s Joey Molland is currently in the studio recording some new music.

 

The new Abbey Road packaging is excellent, and purists will appreciate the attention to detail. The two discs containing the full original album sport the green Apple label, whereas the other two discs of outtakes have the split Apple label, denoting the B side.

The hardcover booklet housing the four discs is packed with previously unseen photos, most by Linda McCartney.

By the time of the original release, album covers had long gone from cursory designs handled by overworked and often indifferent staff. Like all other aspects of the music business, The Beatles had much to do with wrestling for control of album covers. The deluxe box set goes into worthy depth about the creation of the album cover, which has slipped into global consciousness. (Like any visitors who make the trek to the studio, we availed ourselves of the permanent stop action camera that shoots punters like us in the zebra cross walk, doing our best to get in stride).

In this day of ubiquitous photography, it is thrilling to think that only six images were taken by Iain Macmillan for one of the most famous albums in history.

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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