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Monday, April 9, 2012

ABBEY ROAD - side one

Abbey Road defies the odds.  By all rights, the Beatles should have gone their separate ways after the acrimonious Get Back sessions, yet they continued to work together on numerous tracks throughout the late winter and spring of 1969.  During this period, Glyn Johns produced the Get Back album which John and Paul had requested of him, but it was rejected by the group as sounding too rough and was considered to be unreleasable.  It wasn't until the summer that Paul asked George Martin to help the group produce an album "the way we used to do it."  With engineer Geoff Emerick also back on board, the team that had created the masterpieces Revolver and Sgt. Pepper managed to find the magic one last time.

After the raw, live-in-the-studio feel of the Get Back sessions, the decision was made to go to the opposite extreme and produce their most polished album.  In his book Here, There and Everywhere, Emerick opines that eight-track technology actually made it too mellow, and waxes nostalgic about the old four-track work they had done together, which required more creativity and problem-solving.  But, for good or ill, the production values achieved here set the standard for the industry well into the 1970's.    

Come Together
Something  - These two tracks were released as a single about a month after the album, so I will cover them in a later entry.  Suffice it to say that they get the proceedings off to a tremendous start with a brilliant one-two punch.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer - This cute little ditty by McCartney definitely falls into the "you either love it or hate it" category.  An early take is on Anthology 3, but the song was rehearsed at Twickenham Film Studios in January and appears in the film Let It Be.  At that time, assistant Mal Evans hit a piece of metal with a hammer on cue, but for the recording, an anvil was brought into the studio for Ringo to use.  Some new sounds that appear on the album came from an invention called the Moog synthesizer.  George Harrison had been among the first to acquire one for his solo album Electronic Sound.  Now, the group wisely resisted the temptation to go crazy with it, using it on only a few tracks.  The conventional way to play it is with its keyboard, but Paul, a musical adept, uses the much more difficult ribbon-slide for the harmony line he plays on this song.  John was present for the sessions for this track, but may not have participated at all.  The backing vocals are by Paul, George and Ringo.

Oh! Darling - A bluesy screamer by McCartney, in which he gives one of his greatest vocal performances.  He had debuted the song one day back in January during the Get Back sessions.  At that time, he sang it alongside a harmony vocal from John and some fine electric piano work by Billy Preston, as can be heard on Anthology 3.  The Abbey Road version was begun in April, this time with John playing the distinctive piano part.  It wasn't until July that Paul went into the studio every day for almost a week to attempt his lead vocal first thing before his voice was warmed up to get the raw feeling that he wanted.  It's too bad the rest of the track doesn't match that rawness, opting instead for slick backing vocals and the pristine production values used throughout the album.

Octopus's Garden - The second composition credited to Richard Starkey is a rockabilly joy.  Ringo got his inspiration for this song during his brief walkout from the "White Album" sessions while on holiday with his family in Sardinia.  In the film Let It Be, George helps him with the chords at a piano, so the tune was at least partially written by January of 1969.  The basic track was recorded in April with the full group involved.  The sound effects are reminiscent of Yellow Submarine, featuring water bubbles blown through a straw and high harmonies by Paul and George made to sound as if they are singing underwater.  But the trademark rockabilly guitar work by George is the standout work on the recording.  He and Ringo would team up on several tracks in this manner throughout their solo careers.

I Want You (She's So Heavy) - Side one comes to a close with this monster track by Lennon, which had also been rehearsed during the Get Back sessions.  He took some heat when the album was released because of the simplicity of the lyrics, but this song is all about the feel of the music.  The basic track was the first to be recorded for the album, at Trident Studios on February 22nd, less than a month after the Get Back sessions ended.  Billy Preston was still working with the group at the time, and provided the swirling organ part.  As he had done with Strawberry Fields Forever, John combined different takes of the song for the master, this time patching together three of them.  John and George added several layers of guitars to this master in April, on the same day that George completed his B-side Old Brown Shoe.  In August, John used the Moog synthesizer for a white noise effect during the extended coda.  The song received multiple mixes, and John decided to combine two of these for the final master, running just over eight minutes in length.  However, at seven minutes and forty-four seconds, John instructed Geoff Emerick to simply cut the tape, bringing the album side to an abrupt and unexpected end - a jarring effect.

Of the four tracks I covered above, only Maxwell's Silver Hammer was produced exclusively by George Martin.  The basic track for I Want You (She's So Heavy) was produced by Glyn Johns, and the basic tracks for Oh! Darling and Octopus's Garden were produced by Chris Thomas.                     

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