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!

Paul Wasn’t Dead But The Beatles Were Finished

Forty years ago this Saturday, on August 8, 1969, this photograph was taken.

AbbeyRoad

The image served as the cover for the last recorded studio album by The Beatles, Abbey Road, released in the U.S. on October 1, 1969. It is arguably (but closer to indisputably) the most famous album cover photograph in rock history.

The shot was taken by photographer Iain MacMillan, the result of a 10 minute photo shoot session with the band.  They would finish their studio work on the album less than two weeks later.  The four would only be together a few more times in their lives.  Before Abbey Road hit the shelves, Lennon was already touring with the Plastic Ono Band.  When their final album Let It Be was released in spring 1970, McCartney had a solo album released and at least two of the members had suggested the band was done.  They dissolved their business relationship later that year.

I’ll have more to say about the album in October, when the 40th anniversary of the release arrives. Needless to say, it remains one of their most successful, and iconic. As an album, it is my hands-down favorite. In unique and unexpected ways it showcases the talents of each of the four, and that’s not even talking about George Martin, who was behind the controls. The album is something of a disputed artifact within fan and critical circles, seen by some as symbolic of the wave of “overproduction” taking hold of popular music and emblematic of the emerging “progressive rock” movement.

Most famously, of course, the above photograph inspired the “Paul is dead” rumors in late 1969.  The “rumor” began largely after the publication of a joke article written by University of Michigan student Fred LaBour.  LaBour read into every aspect of the photograph, leading others to do the same. The band crossing the street became a funeral procession, with Lennon the clergy, Starr the undertaker, McCartney the deceased, and Harrison the grave digger.  McCartney is carrying a cigarette, and is stepping out of synch with the others.  There’s even more that was said about the license plate of the VW, the cop car, and the back of the album.

When I studied abroad in England in 1992, I bought three posters to hang on my dorm room wall.  One was the picture of Cindy Crawford holding her breasts and looking lovingly into the camera, obligatory for my generation’s adherence to heterosexual norms. One was of Bob Marley’s pained face smoking marijuana, obligatory for being in college.  The other was of the cover of  Abbey Road.

Check out the recently re-released CD of Abbey Road (remastered edition); as for the poster, you can find it here.