Womack humanizes and demystifies the mythic status of the album and of the four Beatles, but not by diminishing their achievements.
As most people know, the story of the Beatles has two musical endings.
One of those is Let It Be, the penultimate album to be recorded and the last to be released. The sessions were notoriously fractious and disjointed. Ultimately, the album was left in the hands of Phil Spector – no walk in the park himself – to bring unity to an otherwise disparate set of contributions, made under trying and unharmonious circumstances for the group.
The other, of course, is Abbey Road, recorded after the Let It Be sessions but released prior, the group’s true swan song. The album could not be further from Let It Be. Whereas Let It Be disguised the lack of connection between its members by making itself sound spontaneous (snippets of in-studio dialogue and whatnot), Abbey Road cannot be mistaken for anything other than what it is – a grand, cohesive, impeccably performed opus from the greatest, most influential band of all time.
And yet, as any listener knows, the creation of this kind of dichotomy between the two is, well, artificial. Let It Be is overshadowed by listeners’ awareness of the tension and lack of vision that went into its making, as well as the animosity between the members, marring our sense of the album’s grandeur. Likewise, the masterpiece status accorded to Abbey Road makes us think that, to have achieved that status, it must have a certain cohesion, whereas in truth the album is as wildly eclectic an album as any in the Beatles’ discography.
In Solid State: The Story of “Abbey Road” and the End of the Beatles, distinguished Beatles historian Kenneth Womack brings his considerable acumen and impeccable credentials to the task of documenting the making of the Beatles’ greatest work, which also happens to be the band’s farewell. In this concise, accessible account, Womack shows how the group managed the impossible, overcoming its internal antagonisms long enough to produce a masterful set of songs, collaborate effectively without letting their arguments get overly disruptive and contribute to (and improve on) each other’s work.
Beyond the Fab Four, Womack also highlights the signal contributions of Geoff Emerick, who employed a solid-state (hence the title) transistor mixing desk to make even the Beatles’ wildest dreams into reality, achieving all the complicated overdubbing and subtle transitions that make Abbey Road the fluid, almost dream-like thrill of a listening experience that it is.
In the process, Womack humanizes and demystifies the mythic status of the album and of the four Beatles, but not by diminishing their achievements. Rather, by showing them to be the wry, inventive and forward-looking musicians they were, pushing the limits of available technology (as well as emergent instrumentation such as the Moog) as far as they could to achieve the best results, Womack reveals to us the true genius of the Beatles, a childlike willingness to play. In this, Solid State is as fine a tribute to the Fabs as one could hope for in 2019.