Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to take on the age-old challenge of choosing one piece of music they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a deserted island. It’s an absurd notion, but also irresistible. See all the different approaches they took to the challenge right over here.
While there are albums that come out every year and make huge splashes, there are those albums that stick with you for years and decades after their release. These classics resonate because of timeless qualities and impenetrable melodies. When I’m stranded on a desert island, I’m going to want an album that has a little bit of everything while also being exceptional in its own right. As we near its 60th anniversary, let’s take a look at why Abbey Road by the Beatles remains one of the greatest records ever made in the rock genre.
By 1969, the Beatles were at each other’s throats over business and financial hardships, but they still had one more ace up their sleeve. While their first attempt at a final album, Let it Be, had ended disastrously, the band reconvened and decided to make an album that would be their final hoorah before each member journeyed into their prosperous solo careers. What they emerged with were some of the greatest pop tunes to ever come from John Lennon and Paul McCartney as well as showing glimmering hints at things to come.
“Come Together” starts off the record with a bluesy swagger courtesy of Lennon’s songwriting and McCartney’s down and dirty bass line. Prior to this record, Lennon’s contributions were either potently political or sonically experimental. This track got the band back to their roots, and every other song in the track listing seems to add another imaginative sonic detour. But Lennon does not skimp out on the experimental songcraft. His songs “I Want You” and “Because” both show radical departures for the group, with the former being a sonic precursor to metal music and the latter being a spellbinding foray into classical music based upon a piece by Mozart.
McCartney’s songs on this record are also delightful, with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” telling a jaunty tale about murder, while “Oh Darling! ” evokes McCartney’s shouting vocal heroes like Little Richard.
The most drastic shift in the quality on the record comes from guitarist George Harrison. Instead of playing second fiddle, or guitar rather , to Lennon and McCartney in terms of songwriting, Harrison came through with compositions that equally matched Lennon and McCartney’s output. While his taut guitar lines give each song an almost-classical flourish, his compositions “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are not only great Harrison songs, but some of the Beatles’ greatest. The aforementioned“ Something” is one of the greatest love songs of the past century.
Last but certainly not least, Ringo Starr’s in-the-pocket drumming gives each song its necessary pulse, and while his song “Octopus’s Garden” isn’t the most groundbreaking, it happens to feature one of Starr’s best vocal performances and an irresistible quality in the group’s backing vocals and guitar work.
All of these songs culminate in the greatest moment in the Beatles career: an 18-minute medley to the finish, which starts with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and runs through the album’s hidden track “Her Majesty.”
While these Lennon/McCartney songs have little to do with each other, the band finds a way to string them together in a completely natural manner. Lennon’s “Sun King” is the group at its most serene while “Polythene Pam” is a stomper. McCartney’s “You Never Give Me Your Money” makes cynicism sound so good and “Her Majesty” is a sonic snippet which shows his genius for producing concise melodies.
The real end of the medley — starting at “Golden Slumbers” through the imaginatively titled “The End” — display the Beatles strengths, startingwith a prayer like quality and building up to tradeoffs of guitar and drum solos.
The album concludes with McCartney’s famous line “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” which marked a perfect end to the Beatles career.
Abbey Road truly has something for everybody, and each song is a drastic tonal shift from the other. This accomplishes the goal that every album should aim for: a collection of songs that are vastly different but work best together.
I never have to be in the mood to listen to this record and it holds up as an album I would take to the grave. So if I had no resources on a desert island and only had my music, Abbey Road is definitely the album that I would choose.
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