The Beatles’ ABBEY ROAD: The Shining Star of Progressive Pop

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our men walk into a recording studio. They proceed to make a record like no other that they have made.

Fifty years ago today, on 26 September 1969, the Beatles—George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr (and joined by George Martin and Billy Preston)—released their penultimate album, Abbey Road. The sessions were the last that the group recorded together, although their last album would be Let It Be, released roughly seven months later. They continued the experimentation that started with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but this time, they took it to extremes. The seventeen-track record combines pop, rock, blues, jazz, and progressive rock to make a conglomeration that would only come from experienced musicians.

Side one begins with the broody, bluesy, Lennon-penned “Come Together,” which was released as a single (with Harrison’s ballad “Something”) that hit #1 on the United States Billboard Hot 100. McCartney sings a ditty about a Maxwell Edison and his silver hammer, then wails out his feelings on “Oh! Darling.” Starr delivers a children’s song, “Octopus’s Garden,” his only solo songwriting and vocal credit on the album. Side one ends with Lennon’s eight-minute “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” an unusual track for the band because of its sparse, repetitive lyrics, longer length, and raw emotion from Lennon’s voice.

Side two begins with Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” While the folksy and happy piece did not do as well as “Come Together,” it garnered Harrison respect for critics that had been given to Lennon and McCartney, the primary songwriters of the band. After Beethoven-inspired “Because” (featuring three-part harmonies and the then-new Moog synthesizer), the rest of the album is a medley of eight short songs; only one has a length of over two minutes and thirty seconds. The final three tracks, “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End,” are the better-known portion of the medley—McCartney has performed this part for over forty years on his tours. The record ends with the hidden track “Her Majesty;” at twenty-three seconds, this is the shortest song the Beatles have ever released and was cut from the medley.

Of course, Abbey Road has gone down in history as the Beatles’ greatest album. Rolling Stone placed it at number 14 on their 500 greatest albums of all time. What started as a boy band in 1960 evolved into mature musicians with reflective and biting lyrics and a contention-fueled passion for music. It would be interesting to see what the Beatles might have released in perspective to this experimental, chart-topping album—had they continued.

As Abbey Road turns fifty, a Beatlemaniac can expect a reissue, complete with alternate takes and demos from the original studio sessions. It will be re-released on triple CD and Blu-Ray, double CD, triple vinyl LP, and a CD, LP, and picture LP bundle on 27 September.