Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Abbey Road Medley

Abbey Road (working title, Everest, after the brand of cigarettes engineer Geoff Emerick smoked), which some consider the Beatles' finest LP (I would call it their most polished), was a bit of a miracle. After the disastrous Let It Be sessions and Apple's downfall, no one, not the Beatles or George Martin thought that there would be another album, and yet at Martin's encouragement and a vow that he'd only do it if the Beatles cooperated, production began on February 22, 1969, at EMI Studios. It was the Beatles' longest recording session, ending August 22, six months later. (The LP was released September 26 in the UK and on October 1 in the US.)

Side 1 of Abbey Road was all about John, who wanted a more traditional LP, and for this writer, it remains one of those perfect album sides (give or a take an "Octopus's Garden"). Side 2 is a Paul thing and continues in a manner reflective of Sgt. Pepper, seemingly picking up where Pepper left off. Consisting of snippets of songs and compositions that weren't on The White Album, the Abbey Road medley is the most ambitious collective work the Beatles ever tackled. Beginning with track 3, "You Never Give Me Your Money," the production of the medley took from May 6 through August 23 (the Beatles rehearsed "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" during the Let It Be sessions on January 22; feel free to add that into the timeline).

"You Never Give Me Your Money" contains the medley's binding theme. Opening with a piano intro that ends the side sixteen minutes later, Paul creates a mini-medley with piano, biting guitar solos, nursery rhyme vocals, and a mix of honky-tonk and vaudeville. 

"Sun King," is a trippy Lennon track originally titled "Here Comes the Sun King," a play on Harrison's piece. Multiple layers of vocals and harmony include a bit of often incomprehensible Spanish lyrics.

"Mean Mr. Mustard" features Ringo's impeccable backbeat, though Lennon referred to the track as "a bit of crap I wrote in India" (when did Lennon ever really like anything he'd written?). John's snarky existentialism, or is it pessimism, is on full display in "Polythene Pam," on which Harrison's solo dominates. Bar "Why Don’t We Do It In the Road," "Polythene Pam" is the Beatles' quirkiest, most sexually motivated track, and as Lennon explained, is about a groupie and her sexual escapades in a plastic bag. "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" is an upbeat pop single with a contagious chorus (covered by Joe Cocker in 1970). Paul purportedly wrote the track after a burglary in his home. 

From there, "Golden Slumbers," based on the 17th Century poem, "Cradle Song" by Thomas Dekker, is an orchestral masterpiece. Violas, cellos, trumpets, and trombones showcase a lullaby that McCartney etches deep into one's soul. It's still a Beatles' song that brings me to tears, more so now than ever.

Bringing it full circle, which of course is the genius of the medley, is a reprise of "You Never Give Me Your Money." The Beatles come together for a final sing-a-long chorus and a broken guitar riff leads emotionally into "The End," which includes Ringo's only drum solo and features the magic of the Beatles when in perfect harmony. Killer guitar solos, a propulsive backbeat, and an intricate song structure make for one of the great moments in recorded musical history. 

Amazingly, The New York Times called Abbey Road and the medley an "unmitigated disaster." Rolling Stone said  it was "complicated instead of complex." Nonetheless, the LP topped the charts for 12 weeks and remains one of Rolling Stone's top ten albums; guess they changed their minds.

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