By Andre Gardner
As all Beatles fans know, Abbey Road was the Fab Four’s true swan song. Sure, Let It Be was released after Abbey Road. Abbey Road, however, was the last album they’d record together.
The Let It Be sessions of January 1969 were famously tumultuous, and by the end of those sessions the group’s future was in doubt. Within months of their legendary rooftop performance on the penultimate day of sessions, their publishing catalog was sold out from under them by their former manager’s mother, two Beatles were arrested in questionable drug busts, John and Yoko would be involved in a nasty car accident and there were fractious business meetings over who’d manage the group. All of these circumstances created fractures within the fabled Beatles unit. It was obvious that an era was ending.
Paul McCartney, arguably the most consistently motivated of the Beatles, knew that the band’s legacy shouldn’t end on such a sour note. After convincing the other three to hit the studio one more time, he went to George Martin, and asked him to produce — really produce — an album for them. No longer would they run roughshod in the studio at all hours of the day and night. This would be a properly-produced album with regular daytime recording session times, and Martin would have plenty of input. He agreed, and those sessions led to the classic Abbey Road album. The album was released in the U.K. on September 26, 1969.
The various reissues of Abbey Road will be released this Friday, September 27, 2019, fifty years and one day after the LPs original street date. I was able to sang a copy a few weeks early and am thrilled to tell you about it.
The Super Deluxe Edition comes with 3-CDs, including the remixed album, outtakes and rough mixes, plus a DVD of high-end audio mixes of the album. Also included is a beautiful 100-page book detailing the album’s creation, chock full of session sheets, handwritten lyrics and amazing photos. There are a few shots of them crossing Abbey Road that have never been published before, taken by Linda McCartney. Those alone are worth the price of this set!
Like the expanded box sets for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (aka “The White Album”), the anniversary editions of Abbey Road have been totally remixed from the ground up by Giles Martin (the son of George Martin), and you can absolutely hear the differences, for better or worse. I say “worse,” because I find that remixing Abbey Road, or any other Beatles album for that matter, is totally unnecessary. It was mixed perfectly, and sold millions, the first time, with all of the Beatles’ involvement: why try to “improve” on that? Admittedly, there is a clarity in the Giles Martin remix of the album that is not present on the original release. If you know every note of every song on the album, you will be quite surprised by what you hear, as there are many subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the two mixes (go no further than the fadeout of “Come Together” to hear what I’m talking about).
For me, like the other Beatles Anniversary Edition releases, the highlights of this set are the outtakes. As they did on Sgt. Pepper and “The White Album,” the team at Apple Records arranged the material chronologically so you can follow along with the album’s progress.
It’s amazing to hear rough mixes of the huge medley on side two of the LP (known as “The Long One”), but to also hear the outtake recordings of the individual songs in the medley, to see how they brilliantly the Beatles and George Martin brought them together in the mix. Before the nature sound effects that connected “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Sun King” were added, you get to hear that a simple organ note, a temporary solution, was played to connect the two. “Her Majesty,” originally in the long medley but cut out at Paul’s request, is back on one of the rough mixes, right between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” and it sounds like it belongs there. And speaking of “Her Majesty,” all three takes of Paul’s quick solo tune are also separately included in the set.
In addition to outtakes of the album’s tracks, alternate versions of “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and “Old Brown Shoe,” the A and B side of their late spring 1969 single, are also here, as are two Paul demos he gave to Apple artists to record during that era. The first demo, “Goodbye,” was a song Paul wrote for Mary Hopkin to release as a single, and although it’s great that this demo is on here, I was surprised by the sound quality. I have bootlegs that have a higher quality version of the “Goodbye” demo than what’s included on the set. It’s really the only negative on this whole set of outtakes.
The second demo on the disc is “Come And Get It,” which Paul wrote for Apple band Badfinger to release as their debut single under their new name. A version of this demo was mixed by Geoff Emerick and used in 1996 on the Beatles’ Anthology 3 but, for the first time, the original 1969 stereo mix of the song is included on this new set and it is amazing!
Not only are the musical portions of these outtakes awesome, but so is all the chatter among the bandmates between takes/songs. It shows the band in great spirits throughout, laughing and joking with each other, trading comments about the structures of the songs and really working as a cohesive unit, just like old times.
One wild bit of audio occurs at the beginning of the outtake of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” That song was not recorded at Abbey Road Studios but rather, at Trident, a studio in a rather seedy (at the time) section of central London, surrounded tightly by businesses and residences on a narrow alleyway called St. Anne’s Court. As the end of a take breaks down, you hear engineer Glyn Johns ask John and the boys if they wouldn’t mind turning their amps down because someone complained about the noise! That, coupled with John, Ringo and Paul’s responses, is priceless!
Another one that cracked me up was at the beginning of “take 27” of “Polythene Pam.” Ringo is playing some serious floor tom-tom action and it prompts John to say Ringo’s playing “sounds like Dave Clark.” I laughed out loud when I heard that.
The outtake of “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” is also wonderful to hear. It’s just John and Paul on the recording, and the conversation before the outtake starts will warm your heart.
I don’t want to give anything else away, but spending the last week soaking in this set and hearing all the new material has been a beautiful experience and, if you’re a Beatles fan, it will be one for you, too.
Andre Garnder is a DJ on WMGK in Philadelphia.