Imagine my confusion when, on a whim, I browsed the music section of my local Best Buy and saw Abbey Road, new, on vinyl. At first I assumed it had to be some kind of calendar, but no; handling it and turning the iconic cover over confirmed it was, indeed...a new copy....of Abbey Road....on vinyl...for $15. Still stunned into disbelief, I--no exaggeration--looked up at the ceiling, as if it had fallen from heaven or this was some trick. Surely this odd serendipity must be some sign that I'm supposed to review the album, so here we go.
Sure, you've listened to the Beatles. You've listened to them over and over until their music has become part of your DNA, until you're able to pick out even the non-single tracks when Muzak versions of them are played out in the world. But how long has it been since you really sat down, turned off your iPhone, TV, computer(s), and all those other modern distractions so you could actually hear the Beatles? Specifically, let's focus on Abbey Road. Bring to mind your memories of the album, then we'll continue. No rush; I've got all day.
The run from Rubber Soul to The White Album justly gets the most attention and discussion, but I've always held a soft spot for Abbey Road and Let It Be in my heart. The former, in particular, is an album that I'm not sure has ever gotten its due. For example, the dizzyingly rich vocal harmonies on 'Because' are arguably the best they ever did. And 'Octopus's Garden' is a fun nautical Ringo ditty that hearkens back to his similarly themed spotlight turn on 'Yellow Submarine', complete with bubbly effects and all.
Abbey Road is the quintessential late-period Beatles album. It contains the best bits of both the sprawling, weird White Album and the throwback, classicist pop/rock of Let It Be. From the former camp we have the epic jam ballad 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)', as well as the famous suite of songs on side two that have always felt "of a piece" with short White Album novelties like 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' and 'Wild Honey Pie.' Meanwhile, the Let It Be elements arrive with the cool grooves of 'Come Together' and Paul McCartney's soulful, raw throated performance on 'Oh! Darling.' Knowing, as we do now, that most of Abbey Road's songs were extant (albeit in early forms) during the White Album and Let It Be sessions, it's still worth appreciating how well Abbey Road manages to capture the feel of both of those fairly different releases while still holding together as a whole.
Abbey Road is neither what I consider the best Beatles album nor is it my personal favorite. Moreover, I wouldn't even call it their most underrated. However, I could see someone making a strong case for any of these positions. Setting aside the confusing chronology of its release in comparison to Let It Be and all the background politics behind its recording, I suggest you take the 48ish minutes to give the album a fresh listen with your full attention. You just might find yourself being that person, arguing those positions.