Abbey Road: 50 years later
Published June 3, 2019
The Beatles are an international cultural cornerstone and have been since the early 60s. 2019 marks Abbey Road’s 50th birthday, an event I’m sure most find arbitrary, but an opportunity for me to talk about The Beatles, nonetheless.
The history and discography of The Beatles is a long, strange trip. Abbey Road is arguably the most iconic Beatles album — it’s been celebrated for the last half century and I’m going to continue the festivities.
Abbey Road is The Beatles’ eleventh — and penultimate — album. It is the start of the resolution to the Beatles’ story, following years of surreal experimentation and not to mention, their first and only flop, Magical Mystery Tour.
Their LSD-fueled releases of 1967 marked a shift for the band. In Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, the psychedelic themes fully reared their heads. They came down in 1968 with the White album — otherwise known simply as The Beatles — having changed, but remaining the same.
Before the trippy themes appeared, Paul, John, Ringo and George were the world’s sweethearts. They spread like wildfire, charming everyone and their mothers. Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour were changes of pace. The fresh-faced boys we all know and love evolved into the most notorious trip guides of all time.
The seven-year journey that was The Beatles ended with 1969’s Abbey Road and 1970’s Let it Be. These last two albums are an amalgamation of everything The Beatles were, ending on a comprehensive note.
Tracks like “Something” and “Oh! Darling,” hold the charming romance that kept fans in love with The Beatles, but the drippy guitar licks and musical disorientation of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour linger.
From “Oh! Darling” to “Octopus’s Garden” to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” Abbey Road never stops changing pace — back and forth between love and LSD. The Beatles’ didn’t make albums to be cohesive experiences, but an experience made up of several smaller experiences.
Each song is a different trip, one moment under the sea in an Octopus’s Garden in the shade, the next in golden slumbers. Everything — vocal techniques, instrumentation, lyricism, tone — changes from song to song. Yet, they belong alongside each other.
As the album comes to an end, they change their minds again. They carry “Golden Showers” into “Carry That Weight,” finishing with “The End,” beautifully flowing one track into the next using common chords and melodies, assisted by consistent tempo and alternating drums to bond the tracks. Listening to any of these three songs independently should be a crime.
Despite the title of “The End,” it isn’t the final song on Abbey Road. The album concludes with the short and sweet “Her Majesty” — what I call an “end-credits song,” one of which also appears on Sgt. Pepper. It sounds as if the album is over, they’ve said goodbye, but if you wait a moment, they’ve left you a gift.
Abbey Road was the beginning of the end for The Beatles. It’s a beautifully constructed and internally diverse album, but it is the preface to a goodbye.
Abbey Road’s 50th birthday is insignificant simply because the music will never die. Over the last five decades, The Beatles have influenced countless people and have transcended three-plus generations. As long as we listen, The Beatles live on.