Abbey Road at 50

Abbey Road turns 50 years old today! The Beatles’s eleventh studio album was released in the UK on September 26, 1969. It dropped in the US on October 1.

Abbey Road was the last studio album recorded by the group (though 1970’s Let it Be–––recorded before Abbey Road–––would be the last studio album of the group ever released). The boys recorded it from February to August of that year, at the same time the group was breaking up. As the story goes, the group was done just before Abbey Road was released. John Lennon had already told the others he was leaving. When Paul made the public announcement in April 1970 that he was done, the world knew The Beatles were over.

Abbey Road is a special album for me and my son. It’s our favorite, and some of the songs–––”Here Comes the Sun,” “Something,” and the ending medley of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End”–––have been a part of his life since he was a newborn. I used to play “Golden Slumbers” to him every night after bath time, while I dried him off and put on his lotion. I still think of those times when I hear it.

But it’s our favorite album for a whole lot of other reasons. It opens with a classic John Lennon song (“Come Together”). Some of the best George Harrison songs are on it (“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”). It’s got Paul McCartney at his bluesy best (“Oh! Darling”). And not to be out done, Ringo Starr gives us a classic, too (“Octopus’s Garden”). I think the thing that always brings it all together for us is the fact that it’s the band’s last. They know they’re ending their time together and they use the album to say goodbye, not only to their fans but also to each other.

If I were trapped on the proverbial deserted island, and I had only one album of music with me to play, I would hope that album were Abbey Road. That’s not because I think it’s the greatest album ever made. Heck, I’m willing to admit it might not even be the band’s greatest album. But it is my favorite of theirs and, more importantly, it’s something that has marked the relationship of my son and I in big ways. This album has my heart.

So happy 50th birthday to Abbey Road!

Friday Five: March 1969

5. “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
Tommy Roe was more than a one-hit wonder. He had eight gold records and two number one pop hits——”Sheila” in 1962 and “Dizzy” in 1969. That’s an interesting spread considering the evolution in pop music in that time period. This song sat at the top of the charts for four weeks and sold more than two million copies in the US. It became a chart topper in the UK and Canada, too. I hope he’s still living off some of that success today.

4. “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose” by James Brown
James Brown was making some amazing music in the late 60s and early 70s and this hit is no exception. It hit the top of the R&B charts in March 1969. It has that soul groove that just sounds like the soundtrack for young, urban, Black folks on the move. Without many words he manages to communicate heaps of meaning when placed in the context of the moment.

3. “The Weight” by Aretha Franklin
I love that Aretha is covering songs that haven’t even been out that long and hitting the charts as she does. The Band released “The Weight” in August 1968 as the first single from their debut album. It started to make them a known entity in the world of rock but it didn’t do much in the US (it peaked at #63). Aretha released it the next spring and went to #3 on the R&B charts with her cover. It might be The Band’s signature tune, a reflection of their rural storytelling lyrics and, in the original, the raw beauty of Levon Helm’s voice and the group’s exquisite musicianship. Aretha makes the song her own, aided by her sheer force and presence, and the guitar work of the legendary Duane Allman behind her.

2. “Time of the Season” by the Zombies
I wasn’t alive in 1969 but this song makes me think I can feel what it was like to have been. The bass and off beat clap got it going on. Add the guitar riff, vocals, and keyboard, and you’ve got quite a little sample of psychedelic pop. It peaked at #3 in March 1969.

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension
Talk about feeling like the 60s. Although this one is more contrived than the other. It’s a medley from a broadway production about hippies sung by an African American vocal group. I’ll leave it to somebody who was around back then to explain the rest. It peaked at #4 in March 1969 and reigned at #1 for six weeks between April and May. The Beatles would finally knock them out of the top spot with “Get Back.”

Elvis at 34

Elvis Presley died 34 years ago today. What better way to remember the King than to look back at his 34th year of life?

Elvis turned 34 in January of 1969. The once reigning King of popular music had become something of a pop cliche by the 60s, known best for his string of simple but pleasing feature films. In 1968, his now legendary “comeback special” (which aired in December on NBC) reminded the world that not only was the man an amazing talent, but that he still “had it.”

On the heels of his resurgence in popularity, Elvis took to the stage again for his first live performances in almost 8 years. In July, he opened at the International Hotel in Las Vegas for an extended stay, playing his first show to 2000 adoring fans who couldn’t have imagined the historic scope of the event they attended.

In that audience was a young baby named Tomás.

No! Just kidding. I wasn’t born yet. But when I entered this world three years later, the Elvis stage performances which began in those weeks of the summer 1969 had been honed and perfected. In terms of his stage presence, he was never better in his post-50s period than he was from 1969 to 1972. By that time, however, the excesses (food, drugs, and production design) regularly overcame the talent, as the King became little more than a cardboard cut-out of his once great image.

But we’ll always have 1969! Here’s the King in sound and (often) un-synched video from some of those 1969 shows.