The last recorded album by The Beatles is filled with a sense of things coming to an end, but also has the feeling that the band still had more to say. Unfortunately the lads would go their separate ways, but thankfully give us a few more decades of new work with new friends. As with any of the last 3 or four Beatles albums it is a mixed bag- glorious highs, infuriating lows, and a mixture of sounds and influences. In many ways it is a back to basics album, low on experimentation but remaining high on invention. The first half is traditional single songs while the second consists of a combined medley of sorts, a few short songs tied together as one piece. Although the band new this would probably be their final album, the signs of a new age are marked by Harrison’s contributions- his songs here are stronger than by the other Beatles and there are more of them than on other albums. There are more ballads and pop songs than the heavier Let It Be, and it isn’t as angry as The White Album. It suffers similarly to Let It Be and The White Album by having a few unnecessary songs. There were better songs written at the time which could have been included instead. Along with Sgt Pepper and Revolver, this has one of the most famous cover pictures ever, looking back now it can be taken as signifying a band in transition, or a band leaving the studio for the final time.
‘Come Together’ opens the album, a bluesy Lennon song with some great lyrics. It has a famous bass riff, some nice guitar work but I find the verse melody too repetitive and prefer the Michael Jackson version. A favourite of many fans it is one I usually skip.
‘Something’ is Harrison’s first song on the album, opening with a fairly famous guitar part. It is Harrison’s most famous work and one of his most praised, by fans, critics, and band mates. A mellow love song with a Pink Floyd feel, it breaks into heavy chorus followed by mellow middle part with strong guitar playing.
‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is McCartney’s nonsense story of murder, filled with good lyrics and a jaunty Ringo-esque rhythm. It is a catchy song that the rest of the band were not particularly enamoured with and it sounds more like something from Sgt Pepper.
‘Oh Darling’ has a fifties rock’n’roll feel which McCartney screams through. It has a fairly typical blues feel moved along by some strange guitar sounds and heavy single piano notes.
‘Octopus’ Garden’ is one of Ringo’s most loved songs- it has the Ringo rhythm, but has a few nice melodies played over the top along with decent vocals from the drummer. The lyrics are gentle and picturesque, the drowning voices and bubbles adding the cosmic underwater feel.
‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is a long, deliberately repetitive song by Lennon. Lennon sings with a heavy angst, and the song reeks of desperation, lust, and blues. Unfortunately it is just the same short song repeated over and over with not enough new parts each time. The sudden end is a nice touch, ending the album without warning; it just comes 5 minutes too late.
‘Here Comes the Sun’ is possibly my favourite Harrison songs, and one of the best from the band. It is a perfect pop song like many of their older tracks; it is bright and uplifting with a superb guitar riff, nice synth work, and melodic singing.
‘Because’ is a Lennon ballad similar is style to ‘Something’, and with a similar structure to ‘I Want You’. The haunting vocals and the synth give a strange tone, one of longing, one of leaving which is expanded in the next song.
‘You Never Gave Me Your Money’ sounds just like ‘Perfect Day’ at the start before breaking down into a more rocking song. There is a good guitar solo chucked in before the song changes in tone and style again to more riff laden one. It is probably the most experimental song on the album, a medley in itself, and the first song in the overall medley of the second half.
‘Sun King’ begins in a mellow, twilight style with a riff floating between both ears. This is Lennon’s trippy twin of ‘Here Comes The Sun’ with gentle, drowsy melodies accompanied by organ. The lyrics break into faux Spanish for the last part and Ringo’s drum fill serves as an outro, and as an intro to the next song.
‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ is a quick, jaunty song by Lennon about a miser, mostly filler and linked to the following song.
‘Polythene Pam’ is based on one of the group’s early fans who happened to enjoy eating polythene. It is quick, short, with funny lyrics and sung in a heavy Scouse accent.
‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ begins seamlessly as the ending of the previous song rather like a lot of the prog albums that were around at the time. The song is slower, McCartney plays lead guitar while Harrison is on bass, and it is based on a time when some of their fans broke into McCartney’s house and stole some stuff. After this there is a soft pause before next part of the medley continues.
‘Gold Slumbers’ begins with soft piano and a growing string section before the bass and drums begin. The verse is in lullaby form, while McCartney growls the chorus vocals as the music surges. It is one of the best constructed songs on the album and one of their forgotten greats.
‘Carry That Weight’ again is a seamless continuation from the previous song, but mixes “You Never Gave Me Your Money’ in a perfectly fitting way.
‘The End’ feels like a rocking conclusion to the album, all chanting and heavy guitars, before a cosmic breakdown begins. This was originally meant to be the final song but due to the attitude of a few engineers, the next song was tacked on.
‘Her Majesty’ does feel tacked on and completely out-of-place. It is a filler which either should have been sandwiched into the middle of the album of left off completely. It spoils the ending of the album, but if looked at as The Beatles joking around it almost suggests that the fun isn’t quite over.
The Beatles would go out on a high, but not at their height. Abbey Road may be surrounded by sadness, but there is also celebration; celebration of what they had created here and what they had already left behind, as well as the belief that each would go on to solo glory. The story was over but the legacy remains for every new listener. This record has a few classics, not as many as on their best albums but is essential nevertheless. In only a few short years the band had become the most important thing to ever happen to music.