By John M. Borack
Abbey Road, the final album recorded by The Beatles, is a true classic in every sense of the word, from the now-legendary album cover photo shot outside the recording studio to the well-crafted and thoughtfully arranged songs, which included George Harrison’s two finest Beatles compositions and the seamless, multi-song medley that occupied most of side two of the record. Possible titles discussed for the album included Four in the Bar and All Good Children, until Ringo Starr allegedly declared, “F**k it; let’s just step outside and name it Abbey Road.”
In a 1969 interview Paul McCartney said, “I like 'Come Together,' which is a great one of John's. I like George's song 'Something.' For me, I think it's the best he's written.” John Lennon agreed with McCartney’s assessment of “Something”: “I think it’s about the best track on the album,” he told journalist Tony MacArthur upon the album’s release. McCartney’s contributions included the ‘50s send up “Oh! Darling” and the wonderful “You Never Give Me Your Money,” an underrated gem that lyrically poked at The Beatles’ then-current financial situation. Ringo Starr took the lead vocal on his solo composition “Octopus’ Garden,” although Harrison is said to have assisted with the song’s creation.
As The Beatles’ recorded swansong, Abbey Road is a testament to the band’s immense talent and proof that personality clashes be damned, when they stepped into a recording studio that magic feeling was never far away. While it might be nearly impossible to choose the cream of the crop from Abbey Road, here are five songs that stand out from the rest (in alphabetical order):
“Come Together” - “I think it’s pretty funky…I dig it,” Lennon once said of Abbey Road’s leadoff track, which was paired with “Something” for an outstanding double A-side single. Kicked off by Ringo’s rolling tom-tom fills (“Abbey Road was tom-tom madness,” Ringo has said) which give way to a solid 4-4 beat on the verses, the musical bedrock is certainly bluesier than most Beatles numbers. Lennon once deemed the lyrics to be merely “gobbledygook,” but they resonate as an earthier counterpart to his stream of consciousness verbiage on “I Am the Walrus,” with self-referential nods to Ono sideboards, Bag Productions, and walrus gumboot.
“Here Comes the Sun” – Penned by George Harrison using one of Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitars, “Here Comes the Sun” (along with “Something”) went a long way toward proving that “The Quiet Beatle” had stepped out from behind the rather large shadows of Lennon and McCartney and was ready for his moment in the spotlight. John Lennon—who did not perform on the track, as he was recovering from a car accident when it was recorded—claimed the song reminded him of Buddy Holly, and its hopeful lyrics and sprightly melody have helped it stand as one of The Beatles’ most enduring tunes.
“Oh! Darling” – McCartney’s rocked up doo-wop pastiche features one of his best-ever lead vocals, and one that nearly rivals Lennon’s “Twist and Shout” vocal for sheer throat-shredding intensity. (In one of his final interviews, Lennon told Playboy Magazine, “I always thought I could have sung [“Oh! Darling”] better…it was more my style than his.”) The Beatles began working on the song during the Let it Be rehearsals in early 1969, and McCartney recorded multiple takes of his vocal before finally settling upon the final version. Starr’s drumming and Lennon’s piano—both underrated aspects of the song—have new life breathed into them via the 2019 remix.
“Something” – No less of an authority than Frank Sinatra called this George Harrison classic, “The greatest love song of the past 50 years.” Whether it was written for Harrison’s wife Pattie or some higher power (Harrison vacillated between both explanations over the years), the bottom line is that it’s one of the guitarist’s greatest musical achievements. Ably supported by McCartney’s typically stellar bass work and Starr’s creative drumming, Harrison tops things off with perhaps his best-ever lead vocal and a beautifully fluid guitar solo. “Something” is also notable for being the first Harrison composition to grace the A-side of a Beatles single.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” – This one finds McCartney pasting together several different musical themes, a trick he would later use to great effect during his solo career on numbers such as “Band on the Run” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” “YNGMYM” provides a four-minute musical snapshot of why The Beatles were the greatest band ever: there are more of McCartney’s always-inventive bass runs (check out the little riff after the line “…soon we’ll be away from here”), some stinging lead guitar courtesy of George Harrison, lovely vocal harmonies throughout, Ringo going all-out on those tom toms and some classical-styled and ragtime-like piano from Paul, as well as a lead vocal which runs the gamut from sweet to powerful. A mini-masterpiece, pure and simple.
Take a sneak peek, below, at Goldmine's Abbey Road issue, on newsstands (select Barnes & Noble and Books A Million) until November 6.