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Abbey Road at 50: A Tribute

Abbey Road at 50: A Tribute

A track-by-track homage by musicians and writers that celebrates Abbey Road’s semicentennial birthday.

Introduction and “Come Together” by David Harris (Editor-in-Chief, Spectrum Culture)

It all begins with Paul McCartney’s bassline. Here we are, 50 years later, and that ubiquitous string of notes still signals the beginning and the end of something. The beginning of Abbey Road, one of the Beatles’ finest albums, the beginning of the end of this group of musicians who helped change the face of rock music. Covered by everyone from Ike and Tina to Aerosmith, “Come Together” is a sea change, a musical juggernaut that kicks off some of the Beatles’ most adventurous music.

Just take a look at those lyrics. What the hell are “joo joo eyeballs”? Did you know that John Lennon is muttering, “Shoot me” during the song’s intro and after each chorus? And does it matter that Lennon wrote the song for Timothy Leary in his quest to beat out Ronald Reagan for the California governorship? Leary is dead, Lennon is dead, (Paul isn’t), “Come Together” has transcended time and meaning.

More a swansong than a celebration, Abbey Road is the final album recorded by the Fab Four, even though Let it Be was released five months later. So, it is appropriate we begin this feature with “Come Together.” The idea was a gathering of musicians and writers who love the Beatles, love Abbey Road, to create a track-by-track homage that celebrates its semicentennial birthday.

As you peruse the tributes from the folks below, a rogues’ gallery of dreamers, adventurers, monkey fingers, holy rollers and jokers, you will see how the LOVE (not the Cirque du Soleil deal) for the Beatles and for Abbey Road is still strong after so many decades. I’m pleased to present the Spectrum Culture tribute to Abbey Road on its 50th birthday.

“Something” by Casey Neill (Musician, Casey Neill & The Norway Rats, The Minus 5)

I’ve always gravitated to musicians who were introverts – Nick Drake, PJ Harvey, Chan Marshall, Elliott Smith and, of course, George Harrison, the patron saint of quiet rock stars. Like most of his work, “Something” rides on pop concision and honeyed melodic guitar hooks that seem plucked from the clouds. Over all of it hangs a deep sense of mystery. It’s straightforward enough for Sinatra to make it a signature number for decades as well as an abstractly mystical portrait of a lover. Like whatever it is that Bob Harris says to Charlotte at the end of Lost in Translation, or what is said to PJ Harvey in her gem of a song “You Said Something,” there is no answer given in “Something.” The woman George is singing about is maybe Pattie Boyd but he pushed back against this literal reading of it. Songwriters tend to create composite muses, or fictional ones loosely based on actual people. The truth lives somewhere in between and you wouldn’t want to know it anyway. Certainty breaks the spell.

As a little kid in the ‘70s, New York City was a fantastical world. The time period evokes the touchstones of historical memory and cultural nostalgia – The Treasures of Tutankhamun at the Met, Thurman Munson, Son of Sam and Lennon’s New York years. That city doesn’t exist anymore but you can find traces of it between the modern sheen of the place today. It can leap out at you unexpectedly or there are places you can just go visit like Strawberry Fields in Central Park. This section of the park is indelibly linked to John and his former residence at the Dakota of course. About six weeks after George died, I was back in Manhattan and went to the Imagine circle. There were memorials, pictures, paintings and lit candles covering the mosaic. About 15 people sat in mourning on a weekday afternoon. I’m guessing all former quiet ones themselves.

To kids, the whimsy of the Beatles is intoxicating. As a teen interested in expanding your perspective on life, they offer other gifts. To a musician, it’s an endless well of “how the hell did they do that!?” – deconstructing chord changes, lyrical details and reading about their studio innovations. It’s so unfathomable that despite my agnosticism I am certain they were touched by the divine. It seems like the more you try and understand them, they just become more elusive. It’s something in the way they did it. It remains a mystery. A dark horse.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by Anton Barbeau (Singer-songwriter)

I was a Beatles baby, thanks to my parents and their record collection, but Abbey Road came to me during a second wave of mania – maybe it was 1974 – when my dad picked it up on cassette at the start of a California road trip. It was the soundtrack for days at the ocean, glorious sunshine with strawberry incense and carob bars (ugh!) in the mix as well.

I picked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to write about here knowing that it wasn’t a fav amongst at least three of the four Fabs. “I hate it” and “so fruity” and “worst track we ever had to record” are words I remember reading. But as with everything on the album, it just sounds gorgeous. And to my child-like lizard brain, it’s a brilliant grownup children’s’ song. I’m no fan of hammer-heading, but in the hands of Paul McCartney – and in the form of a sweet pop song – I can make an exception. There’s a sorta groovy, swinging London anything-goes nursery rhyme vibe that I adore. Paul had a way with story-songs, and this one has a great little lyric.

I don’t think I registered the synths when I first heard the song/album and I always claim it was Gary Numan who kicked me into gear as a musician, but the Moog on this track is beautiful, no? Utterly tasteful, not showy. And the guitars… yum! I’m a pretty deep Beatles geek, but I only discovered today that it’s George on bass here. Huh! And no John on this track at all, despite being flopped out in bed in the studio.

I have the slick, new Abbey Road set waiting for me at my dad’s in California, and am spinning the song – in its plain old remastered glory – from my laptop in Berlin over and over again. I’ve got the Anthology version onboard and a bootleg track as well. I wondered if spending so much time with one track, and a “hated” track at that, would start to wear on me. Nope. As with anything and everything them kids came up with (well, ALMOST anything – give me a few more years to develop deep love for “What’s The New Mary Jane”), the more I listen, the deeper I dig, the more I love it.

“Oh! Darling” by James Stevenson (Guitarist, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Alarm, more)

Angst, talk about angst. You can hear it in McCartney’s voice so clearly on this one. The first time I heard the album I was about 10 years old, and I knew Paul really meant it, he was in pain. For one band to be blessed with two of the greatest singers in rock ‘n’ roll history is quite something, but Paul really pulled out all the stops on this one.

My favorite track on the album is actually “I Want You,” with that killer guitar riff and Paul on the Hofner bass – on “Oh! Darling” it definitely sounds like the Ricky 4001S bass – Paul always kills on the bass – he’s one of the all-time great bass players unquestionably. There were no weak links in the Beatles of course – and George is constantly underrated in my view. On my solo album, Everything’s Getting Closer to Being Over on the final track, “I”ll Know Where I’m Going When I Get There,” – I reference George: “I think you made God look like a fool.” I stand by that. Sorry, Eric.

Abbey Road was the second album I bought as a keen 10-year-old having saved enough money while on holiday in Spain working behind my gay uncle’s bar. I remember going into my local record shop in Richmond, west London – One Stop Records – to get it – eagerly fingering the sleeve on the way home on the bus. Looking at the pictures and credits.

I wasn’t sure about “Octopus’s Garden”, though I got the humor as I got older. But “Oh! Darling” jumped out.

On the Wiki page for the song, John Lennon is quoted as saying this “’Oh! Darling’ was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought I could have done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it.” I would have to disagree with the mighty Lennon on that one.

“Octopus’s Garden” by Joe Adragna (Musician, The Junior League)

I first heard The Beatles while pretending to drive a car on my dad’s lap in a 1975 Ford Granada. The radio was always tuned to a station out of New York City called WCBS-FM. It was the first of its kind; an “oldies” format that mainly played the hits of the 1950s and 1960s. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came on, and I was immediately transfixed. Something about it took hold of me, and for the next few days all I wanted to do was sing that song. My parents bought me the Rock and Roll Music compilation that had come out the year before. Thereafter, every holiday, birthday, or milestone in my life was marked by a gift of Beatles: LPs, 8-tracks, 45s, shirts, cake toppers or otherwise. I learned to play drums playing along to their records; they were my friends when I felt I didn’t have any; everything about them felt good to me. They were inspirational.

The Beatles have remained one of the only things in my life that never grow old for me. I still read, listen and consume all things Beatle as though I was still a kid, discovering all of this for the first time. The recent Abbey Road reissue and remix is no exception. Listening to this new reissue, I was reminded that the great lesson of the Beatles is that the sum is greater than the parts. No song better exemplifies this than “Octopus’s Garden.” Here is a song that, if we are being honest, isn’t really the greatest song of all time. So why write about this one? Well, because it’s great. How so? Each Beatle, wanting their friend and bandmate to succeed, gave 110% to this song: George helped write it and contributed some fantastic lead work; John played his great picking style on the Epiphone Casino that he learned off of Donovan in India; Paul contributed bouncy jangle piano and his trademark brilliant bass lines; and all three sang angelic harmonies. Ringo Starr, the author of the song, played in perfect Ringo style: solid, inventive drum fills, and impeccable timing. In addition, he sang the damn thing pretty well, too! The lyrics are relatable, if not deep (if you care to dive in—I mean I’d like to be under the sea away from the crazy on land too!!). Everyone worked together and brought their “A” game, and created a GREAT track out of what could have been, well, average.

I never realized it before, but that’s what I love most about the Beatles. I don’t need to have a favorite fab. They are ALL my favorites, because each of them was and are special in their own way. When they were working together, it was magic—a magic that continues to inspire me to this day.
The Beatles: George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by Glenn Mercer (Vocalist/guitarist, The Feelies)

There’s been speculation that the Beatles knew in advance that Abbey Road would be their final record. After all the discourse they had endured during the making of Let It Be, it seemed as if they weren’t even sure if they wanted to continue. Apparently, producer George Martin had to be talked into returning to the studio with them. The end result was that all involved agreed to try to keep the mood positive and to leave behind the previous sessions’ heavy vibe. Songs such as “Here Comes the Sun,” “Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam,” “Octopus’s Garden” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” all helped to keep the mood light and somewhat whimsical; along with those beautiful ballads: “Because,” “Golden Slumbers” and “Something.” In contrast, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” stood as a dark and primal plea for Love at its most basic level.

This John Lennon song is essentially two songs stuck together – A bluesy shuffle and a circular, droning loop. It’s a song that I often play on guitar while warming up or practicing. The guitar parts cover a variety of techniques such as string bending and arpeggios and includes a few awesome riffs that are fun to play. I love that the song is very minimal and basic, but contains some strong emotional impact. The simple, direct lyric is repeated until it becomes mantra-like. For most of the song, the vocal follows, in unison, the melody being played on the guitar. The guitar arpeggios in the opening segment take on a more menacing tone when repeated in the final section when the heavy riff, played on bass and guitar, is introduced.

The album was the only record by the band done with solid state recording equipment, which was state of the art at the time. The results yielded a super clean sound with reduced analog buzz. But they then decided to inject a dose of ‘white noise’ from their new Moog Synthesizer to add to the ominous atmosphere, creating a swirling, hypnotic, undercurrent that ends the song and closes side one. Considering all the tension in the band’s backstory at the time, it’s quite a remarkable achievement that the Beatles were able to rise above all the drama and create such a strong musical statement as Abbey Road.

“Here Comes the Sun” by Freddy Trujillo (Singer-songwriter, The Delines)

Hard to believe we hit 50 years of Abbey Road. So many great things to say about this record. I am here to talk about George Harrison’s song “Here Comes the Sun,” one of my favorites of the album. I could give you my reasons backed by a boring music theory analysis, but instead I’d rather take a personal approach and try to relate to what George might have been going through at time he wrote it.

“Here Comes the Sun,” in my opinion, is one of George’s finest compositions. The song is without a doubt a beautiful melody and displays some interesting time signature changes. Two elements that make it so great. But I want to concentrate on the lyrics. The song is a simple hopeful message about coming out of the darkness. The Beatles were hitting a breaking point in the late ‘60s. Particularly the unfocused Get Back (later renamed Let it Be) movie project at Twickenham Studios in January of 1969. The project was quite a drag for the band but especially dark for George. At the time John Lennon was falling short creatively due to heroin use and Yoko Ono’s presence. Without his leadership and with Brian Epstein gone, the band was unbalanced. Paul McCartney, who was always prolific, did his best to make up for this lack of leadership, but ended up looking very condescending and pushy in the footage, particularly toward George. George was at a creative peak and deserved more respect than he was getting. John was outwardly rude to George about his songs not fitting his vision. John was suggesting a simple rock ‘n’ roll approach, even pushing the idea of Yoko joining the band. George gets frustrated and quits the band temporarily. Let’s note that much of Abbey Road was realized during these sessions. This brings me to “Here Comes the Sun,” which came later. It is told that George wrote the song that following spring while walking around the garden at Eric Clapton’s house during a break from band drama. I can only imagine how inspired he was that day. Making music for me has always been a healing process. This song has a very healing message. The Sun is a very healing and energizing element. I relate to this song in so many ways. From being in bands and overcoming drama to just loving the rejuvenating properties of the sun and spring.

Being in a band can be familial. George never overcame that kid brother role in the Beatles. He showed great maturity at the end though. I think the rest of the Beatles could have taken some cues from this composition. Sometimes it is easier to give in and look forward. “The Long and Winding Road” is often talked about as the most significant song to the end of the Beatles, but I think “Here Comes the Sun” is just as telling.

“Because” by Tim Perry (Vocalist/guitarist, Ages and Ages)

When I was a kid, pop music had been reduced to big hair, limousines and shitty lyrics with synthetic instrumentation and mountains of glossy production. I didn’t realize how much everything sucked at the time because, like most kids, I didn’t have a lot of context. I just thought it was normal to feel disconnected and uninspired by most of what I heard and saw on MTV.

In the early ‘90s, I gravitated to hip-hop because it represented something far beyond the sprawling, manufactured Mountain Dew commercial in which I had been forced to grow up. Rap music was raw and innovative, unapologetic and experimental and it explored every topic from the playful to the social and political. Artists were making the genre up in real time, without a template or a formula. Not yet radio-embraced, its mere existence was a “fuck you” to the same glossy gate-keepers who insisted it was a fad.

At this time, hip-hop was shifting from drum machines to samplers and entire albums were being created by vast collages of samples from every genre of music imaginable – slowed down, sped up, overlapping, played in reverse…whatever. My first instrument wasn’t a clarinet or a guitar, it was a Radio Shack mixer with a cross fade, a piece of felt I bought at a fabric store, and a turntable I found in the basement. From there, I raided all of my friends’ parents’ record collections, in a long and winding search for all the perfect samples. It was through this search that I discovered music’s ability to teleport me to parts of myself I didn’t even know were there. Hip-hop is what brought me to Abbey Road.

By the time I made it there, I was a lonely 16-year old kid. Having explored the record from front to back more times than I could count, I had become fixated on the second half. If you read a review of Abbey Road, they tell you that the infamous medley on side 2 begins with “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Maybe that’s how the Beatles intended it too. But for me, “Because” is the door that opens that whole sequence. As in, I used to start the needle on “Because” and imagine it like a literal door opening up on the last triple-tracked, three-part harmony, taking me across the chasm that separated me from where I was to where I actually wanted to be.

In the coveted hour I had after school – before the rest of my family got home – I would start with “Because” and experiment singing along with each harmony, walking through its door into the rest of the record, matching every word and note I could with a voice I had never thought to explore until then. It was a raw and imperfect voice, and it would likely never make it through the glossy gate-keepers. But it was all mine to make up in real time.
The Beatles - Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon

“The Medley” by Johnny Hickman (Guitarist, Cracker)

“The Medley” as the Beatles themselves referred to this group of previously and partially written songs encompasses side two of the timeless classic and final Beatles album Abbey Road. Although Let It Be was released afterward, it was actually recorded before Abbey Road. The record, which they titled after the recording studio where they had spent countless hours over many years, seems to have been made with love and joy, the musicians perhaps knowing that it would be their last together as a band. Leave it to the collective musical and conceptual genius of misters Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr to manipulate, edit, overdub onto, splice and successfully re-purpose a hodgepodge of unfinished songs into a suite of sorts that became the swan song on their grande finale album.

At the time of its creation and subsequent release, the “Medley” was innovative, bold and eventually regarded as an iconic piece of work as a whole in its own right. Some of these songs were leftover demo sketches and rough drafts, dating as far back as pre-White Album and even earlier. In addition to changing a few keys, snipping and or extending song lengths, adding some of Ringo’s best ever drumming and adding some beautiful orchestration and more of their legendary, astoundingly beautiful vocal harmonies to glue it all together, they arrived at this miniature master work. All three guitarists John, Paul and George contributed stunningly good, passionately improvised solos back-to-back following a tribal, concise drum solo from Ringo to bring the piece to a climactic and thrilling finale topped off with the fitting “The End” which was followed by moments of silence and then we hear the lighthearted, mere seconds long “Her Majesty” by Paul as the last music the Beatles ever collectively produced. The “Medley” along with and apart from the rest of their stunning farewell album holds up as a masterpiece to the day.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” by Marty Marquis (Multi-instrumentalist, Blitzen Trapper)

Here is where the twilight of the Beatles’ recording career gets memorialized forever: a plaintive, elegiac acknowledgement of unresolvable financial and interpersonal relationships giving way to nostalgia for the good old days, which then transmogrifies into a fantasy of escape and transcendence. It’s quite the epic musical arc and both introduces and works as a key for the swan song of a medley that follows, wherein the Beatles are translated out of the tawdry world of quotidian worry into a realm of pure light and energy.

The song begins with a near-verbatim quote of Joseph Kosma’s 1945 standard “Autumn Leaves,” a lonely piano cycling through the circle of fifths, stripped of its jazz elements here, sparser and sadder, Sisyphean. The sun hopefully rising at the beginning of side B is now in its gloaming, the winds are whipping, the tree limbs bare. The Beatles are near their end. The narrator sings of hopeless complications, impossible demands, miscommunication.

But then there is a rupture, a moment of revelry: the harmony descends suddenly to the relative major and replete with tack piano a jaunty, old-timey tune erupts from all the melancholy. The lyrics reminisce of being young, educated, underemployed before the “magic feeling” of youthful rootless freedom is lustily invoked over a double plagal cadence (the familiar “Amen” of liturgy–let it be so).

This wistful longing for carefree, shiftless life is answered in the next section by a harmonic change so bizarre in the context of pop music that it feels like a genuine breakthrough to some new plane of existence. Phantasmagorically, under a short ripe guitar solo, the chords drift upwards from C to D to Eb to G before crashing into a fantastic A major chord and taking a wild ride around the harmonic horn by minor thirds back to A, the parallel major to the A minor in which the song begins. This portends the tension between A major and C major/A minor, which, as Alan W. Pollack had noted, is the major harmonic theme throughout the rest of side B.

And now we are in the midst of a veritable dream come true. All one has to do to flee this complicated existence is to hop in the limousine and dry those tears–how simple! Because the limousine in this instance is Abbey Road itself. And as the song ends with a long fade out over a harmony descending again from C to A, there is a feeling of triumph over every concern. At the last a nursery rhyme invades the music and becomes a kind of mantra or litany, All Good Children Go to Heaven: buy the record, put on your headphones, drift away off into the Better World. The Beatles are going away, are already gone, but via the catechism and hymnal of the recording industry we can always share this one sweet dream.

“Sun King” by Al James (Musician, Dolorean)

I was in high school in the mid-90s in rural Oregon. After soccer practice I had a habit of scouring every Goodwill, St. Vincent De Paul and Salvation Army thrift shop in the Willamette Valley, looking to upgrade (i.e. downgrade) my grunge-approved uniform with the most deteriorated flannel shirts and threadbare pants I could find. The record stacks were also in my crosshairs. I was hungry for anything that seemed like it was a precursor to the bands that were in my orbit at the time—Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney anything on Sub Pop really—working backwards from a moment that was forcing millions of teens around the globe to question their direction in life and the authenticity of their peer group.

With this sort of record hunting you’d rarely find a single album, usually you’d hit a motherlode—a collection left partially intact. At a buck apiece it was the most efficient way to backfill entire decades of music in my collection. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, the Band, Led Zeppelin or Neil Young. It was just that I only knew the FM radio version of them. I knew the hits, I had no context on the album cuts, the song orders, A vs B side of the album, or the artwork. Most kids who had sane parents were raised on the Beatles, but not us. We were an Anne Murray and Crystal Gayle household, with occasional dips into Willie Nelson, Nat King Cole and the Mills Brothers.

So it was on a particular day, when I was 16, that I was mining and hit a vein at the St. Vincent De Paul—Bob Dylan, Freewheelin’, Another Side, Let It Bleed, Goat’s Head Soup, Meet the Beatles, Let It Be, Abbey Road. I spent less than $20 and got a life-altering crash course in the album as art form. It was glorious.

Abbey Road was a revelation at age 16, finally hearing the songs that surrounded and supported the more well-known tracks like “Come Together” and “Here Comes The Sun” —seeing how they fit together in the imperfect, yet perfect way. It solidified me as an “album track guy” (and I still am). It was the weird, tossed off tracks like “Sun King” and “Her Majesty” that stuck with me.

In fact, the first 50 seconds of “Sun King” is actually the only part I need. It’s has all the makings of a classic, hanging out in the studio, we all just got really stoned jam, almost like Link Wray’s “Rumble” on roofies. It’s pure Bruce Brown soundtrack material and I’ve always dreamed of that opening in vintage surf or skate sequence. I’ve always thought there would be no Yo La Tengo without some of these tossed off Beatles moments like the opening of “Sun King.” You could make an entire career exploring that vibe and thankfully some folks have. I can take or leave everything after the 50th second of the track, but it’s always reassuring to know that John and Paul were smart enough to know that singing goofy lyrics in a bastardized foreign language was way cooler than singing in Italian or Spanish.

Somehow we got from “Mundo paparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol” to “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido” and that made perfect sense to my teenage brain then and still does to this day.

“Mean Mr. Mustard” by Dale Crover (Drummer, The Melvins)

I’m skeptical of remixes. I absolutely hated Rick Rubin meddling with Queen’s songs, was bummed when ZZ Top updated their early records with triggered drums and prefer the Bowie mix of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power a million times over. Somehow, though, Giles Martin has managed to take classic Beatles’ records that are sacrilegious to even think about touching, and not fuck them up! Case in point is “Mean Mr. Mustard.” It’s not a vastly different mix wise. John’s vocals are brighter and wider in the mix. Paul’s oompah, fuzz bass is a bit more defined and the tambourine is nice and loud. Tambourine is always the last instrument to be recorded. You can tell because it’s always the loudest thing in the mix. John wrote this song off as a piece of crap that he wrote in India. The lyrics are not crap at all. “Mean Mr. Mustard” is dirty! It’s a great setup in the medley for his sister, “Polythene Pam,” who sounds even dirtier to me.

“Polythene Pam” by Martin Seay (Author, The Mirror Thief)

Though often praised for jewel box-perfect pop songs, the Beatles are most interesting when they’re messy, playing with fragments that lack clear boundaries, that crack and spill outward toward the past and the future.

In 1951, when John Lennon was 11, chemists at Phillips Petroleum developed a process that significantly reduced the cost of producing polyethylene—or polythene, as it’s called in the UK. It swiftly became a common material for bottles and bags and containers of every sort, displacing substances like glass and paper that had been familiar for millennia. Beyond its novelty, polythene’s intrinsic qualities—strong yet formless, organic but unnatural—made it seem disconcerting, even uncanny. In 1967 its sudden omnipresence lent a sinister charge to oft-quoted lines from The Graduate, wherein a family friend assures the film’s protagonist of “a great future in plastics.”

Two years later, the Beatles were recording Abbey Road. Paul McCartney and George Martin were adamant that the songs on the second side would be knit into a complex medley; Lennon hated the idea. He’d come to regard the studio confections that defined the group’s post-Sgt.-Pepper-sound as pretentious and inauthentic—“granny music,” he called it: cozy pastiches of old music-hall tunes—and in an impressive act of passive aggression he implanted a song that took unwholesome inauthenticity as its subject.

“Polythene Pam” references two women from Lennon’s past, neither named Pam. The first was a young fan from the Beatles’ Liverpool days, “Polythene Pat” Hodgett, dubbed thusly for her habit of eating plastic. The second, whom history records only as Stephanie, joined Lennon and the Beat poet Royston Ellis in an episode of group sex on the Isle of Guernsey in 1963, during which she dressed in polythene.

Although Lennon dismissed “Pam,” along with “Mean Mr. Mustard,” as “just a bit of crap I wrote in India,” it’s surprisingly dense, efficient in evoking an atmosphere of polymorphous perversity. Polythene’s ambiguousness as a material echoes Pam’s sexual ambiguity, and rhymes with the narrator’s attraction and repulsion. The song sneeringly insists on its status as trash, working in a reference to the News of the World—a UK tabloid then infamous for coverage of rock-star debauchery—that was sure to seem dated by the time the record hit the racks. By contrast to McCartney’s high-art aspirations, it’s an attitude that anticipates David Bowie and Roxy Music, punk and glam: pop that toys consciously with its status as commodity, as a product to be used and discarded.

Written in careless spite, specifically meant as a throwaway, “Polythene Pam” has proven truer to its name than Lennon could have imagined. Like the rest of Abbey Road, it remains with us forever, adrift in the vast Pacific of popular culture.
The Beatles - John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr

“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” by Doug Cornett (Author, Finally, Something Mysterious)

August 1918. In the dead of night, a small-time thief walks down Wellington Street in London’s St. John’s Wood section. He notices a ladder leaning against the side of one of the luxurious houses. Above it, on the second floor, is a cracked window. The thief scales the ladder, enters through the bathroom window, then noiselessly exits with a bag full of silver.

In January of 1922, across town in Twickenham, a midnight intruder climbs up a stack-pipe and forces open the bathroom window of a lavish estate. The owner of the house rouses from bed and finds the perpetrator sitting in his smoking room, a box of cigarettes open on the table beside him. He’s stolen nothing, the intruder insists; he’s simply “fed up” and hungry. The two smoke cigarettes and quietly wait for the police to arrive.

In December of 1952, a drunk man climbs 40 feet up the side of a boarding house for nurses in Hounslow and clatters through the bathroom window. One young woman sits up in bed and screams. Soon, he’s being chased by four or five nurses. “Eventually,” according to an article in the Times of London, “he was quietened by a nurse who struck him on the head with a shoe.”

A team of robbers break in through a window of the National Bank in Gloucester Gardens in July of 1964. They drill into the safe and abscond with over 21,000 pounds. Later that week, across town at the London Palladium, the Beatles perform at the Night of a Hundred Stars charitable event. Throngs of fans wait outside the theater for a glimpse of the Fab Four, but it is 42-year-old Judy Garland who steals the show, belting out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to close the concert.

Another mob of fans is waiting for John and Paul when they land at JFK airport in May of 1968 to promote their new business venture, Apple Corps. Two hundred more stand outside their hotel. While the two Beatles hold a press conference the next morning at the Americana Hotel in Manhattan, police investigators six blocks away pore over evidence of a bank robbery that netted the crooks over $235,000.

Back in St. John’s Wood, across the road from Wellington Street and a few blocks away from the Abbey Road Studio, a small group of devoted fans linger outside of Paul McCartney’s empty house. They spot a ladder in his garden. One by one, they climb in through the bathroom window. Inside, they try on Paul’s pants and riffle through his belongings. As a keepsake, one of them takes a framed photograph of Paul’s father.

A year later, in June of 1969, Judy Garland overdoses on sleeping pills in the bathtub of her London home, a few miles from Abbey Road studios. After finding the bathroom door locked, her husband climbs through the window to discover her.

A month later, the Beatles convene in the studio for one of the last times to record the medley section for their final album. In the waning measures of “Polythene Pam,” over an insistent and driving instrumental step down, John cries, “Oh, look out!” The tension breaks with a clattering of cymbals, and Paul sings out the first lines of the next song.

She came in through the bathroom window…

“Golden Slumbers” by Bertis Downs (Lawyer, R.E.M.)

“Golden Slumbers” sounds like one of the sweetest lullabies of all time. But the singer is not there to sing it to the child— traveling for work and career often doesn’t allow for that. So it is really a wistful lullaby, a little bit happy and a little bit sad, or a lot of both.

The key line in the song is the first one: “Once there was a way to get back homeward.” Clearly that way is no longer but the distant parent still wants the child to go to sleep happily: “Sleep, pretty darling/ Do not cry.”

As a father who all too often was away during my daughters’ formative years, chasing a dream and doing a job but also coming up with games and ways of trying to feel closer over the phone, I can relate. For us, staring at the moon simultaneously when that was possible was a favorite way: “See that moon up there? It’s the same moon I’m looking at right now.”

But we all know there is nothing like real human contact, cuddling and singing, gently rocking a child to sleep. So the underlying sadness of “Golden Slumbers” is that it is actually a joyously orchestrated lament, putting into words and music the eternal longing for that impossible in-person closeness that’s now gone.

Like other lullabies, perhaps the parent is singing it as much to himself as to the distant child. “Sleep, pretty darling/ Do not cry/ And I will sing a lullaby.”

Good night, sleep tight.

“Carry That Weight” by KAV (Happy Mondays, Blitz Vega) and Andy Rourke (The Smiths, Blitz Vega)

KAV:
Abbey Road is not a record you just stick on in the background. It grabs your full attention in every way. I feel this part of the album starting with “Polythene Pam” and finishing with “The End” is one of the first ever DJ mixes. It hits you immediately and takes you on a journey. The songs are mixed into each other in a very unique way for the time.

When you get to this part of the album you’re fully onboard; you’re in the zone. The way “Carry That Weight” follows “Golden Slumber” is absolute musical perfection; it picks you up exactly at the right time… after you’ve been sucked into a kind of dream state.

“Carry That Weight” comes in with a bang, with an undeniable catchy trade-mark Beatles chorus opening the song. Then just as you think it can’t get any better, they blow you away with one of the greatest melodies of all time. Bringing back “You Never Give Me Your Money,” from earlier in the album but played by a brass section.

The classical instruments give it so much depth, pulling at your emotions even more than most lyrics could ever do! The first time I heard this track was the time I realized I had a love for classical instruments. I’ve rewound/replayed that part more than any other piece of music. When George Harrison’s lead guitar follows, the song keeps getting bigger. It’s incredible.
I think George also played bass guitar on the track with Paul playing the rhythm guitar and piano. Ringo plays drums/percussion. Apparently, John was in hospital and joined the session a little later, adding vocals to the chorus.

The track sees all four Beatles singing the chorus together. It’s my favorite part of the album. It’s a masterpiece and complements every other song on the album. Yes, it’s short, but that’s why listening to an album as a piece of work is an important, incredible experience that should not be lost. The album is a journey, it’s beautiful & can be life-changing for anyone who genuinely appreciates music and art.

Andy:
“Carry That Weight” comes in so heavy (no pun intended) after “Golden Slumbers!” Straight into a chorus, then the brass section hits you, everything then pulls back, then arrives George’s beautiful guitar solo. It’s almost too much to take in, but take it in I did! It had a huge influence on my playing and my continued love for the Beatles. It’s a masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and of course the production by George Martin is key! All in all, one of my favorite songs ever.

“The End” by John Craigie (Singer-songwriter)

There’s a great lesson that can be learned from Abbey Road and the Beatles and the song “The End.” Abbey Road is the ultimate break up album because it is made by people who are currently breaking up. And they are celebrating it while they go out on top. I’ve always hated how we equate successful relationships with relationships that simply last. To me, that never was enough to constitute success. I mean who’s more successful, the Beatles or Third Eye Blind? Cause Third Eye Blind is still together?

The Beatles only lasted eight years and they have given us some of the best songs of all time and some of the most timeless music. Success is not determined by how long the relationship lasts, but by the love that is created while you are together. Sometimes it’s gotta end. Honor that. Make your Please Please Me, make your Sgt. Pepper’s, make your Abbey Road. Then go out and love some more. That’s what I learned from the Beatles.

“Her Majesty” by Marvin Lin (Editor-in-Chief, Tiny Mix Tapes)

The love you take is equal to the love you make: the perfect ending to the story of The Beatles. Who knew that veneer could shatter so brilliantly with a quick, 23-second accident?

I don’t mean that flippantly either. “Her Majesty” wasn’t even supposed to be on the final version of Abbey Road. Originally nestled between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” the fingerpicked ditty was spliced out of Side B’s medley by the studio’s tape operator John Kurlander per Paul McCartney’s request. McCartney instructed him to throw it away, but because Kurlander was told by the label not to discard any Beatles recordings, he added 14 seconds of silence to the album’s original finale, “The End,” and tacked on “Her Majesty” to separate it from the rest of the tracks. The next day, a lacquer version was cut at Apple with the song left on, but McCartney unexpectedly loved its surprise placement and decided to keep the mix as-is.

Which was an odd aesthetic choice: if McCartney didn’t even like its inclusion in the medley, could “Her Majesty” possibly stand on its own? Of course not. It’s a billet-doux to the Queen offered in abbreviated, tongue-in-cheek fashion; it doesn’t feature any Beatles member except McCartney; and, because it was intended for the medley, even its beginning and ending are awkward and abrupt. But it’s for precisely these reasons that make the song so intriguing. Sure, “Her Majesty” is essentially an off-the-cuff solo track that deflates the gorgeous, melodramatic ascendancy that concludes “The End,” but in its inelegant transience and clumsy presentation, it also better captures The Beatles’ fractured relationships and broken spirit. “That was very much how things happened,” said McCartney of the song’s accidental nature. “Really, you know, the whole of our career was like that so it’s a fitting end.”

“Her Majesty,” in other words, has always been most significant not for its formal musical qualities or its lyricism, but for what it unintentionally became: a metaphor for the Beatles’ decidedly less-than-pristine story, a sloppy precursor to the “hidden track,” a happy accident that forever renders Abbey Road harmonically unresolved.
The Beatles - Abbey Road - George Harrison, a barefoot Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Loved the “clattering of symbols”, lol. Very vivid, will use.
    Kisses to the editors;)

    Reply

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