The 50th Anniversary Edition of “Abbey Road” Is Astonishing, Not Because We’ve Grown Old But Because It Hasn’t

So Giles Martin has done it again, hand cleaning the grime of 50 years off the Sistine Chapel. It’s incredibly emotional to listen to this perfected version of Abbey Road, not only because we have been listening to this music since it was released, but because of how it holds up and signifies artists at the top of their game working to achieve perfection before dissolving.

It is is frankly astonishing to think that Abbey Road was released a half century ago, not because we’ve grown old but because it hasn’t. Rock music, as an art form, should not have the staying power it has had, but because its conventions have taken such root in the culture, an album like this — a band like the Beatles — can sound all at once like the heralds of a distant past and utterly of the moment.

Two or three guitars, bass and drums, three- and four-part harmonies, no band to this day has done it better, which is why Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming The Beatles, released in 2017, is correct when he claims that the Beatles are, today, more popular than they were at the peak of Beatlemania.

Even though it isn’t the dominant musical form the way it was for 30 or 40 years, rock’n’roll music today connect fathers with sons, and mothers with daughters precisely inverted from the way, when I was a child in the 1960s, my parents’ love of Big Band music and Sinatra was a turnoff, a dividing line between us. The Beatles are the connecting thread, and this new and vastly improved listening experience of the 50th Anniversary version of Abbey Road proves why.

It’s sad to listen to, just as last year’s perfected release of the White Album was. Listening to the Beatles is like seeing the hand of God as it is withdrawn. Why did they have to go away? There’s a world of pain in the many dimensions of that thought.

We all know the story by now, how the Beatles, after squabbling through parts of the White Album sessions and then full on during the making of what became Let It Be regrouped, just weeks after the sessions for that album were completed, to make a proper record as a band, the conscious and unconscious thinking being to go out on a high. And they pulled it off.

The only thing we have in our culture that’s remotely similar is Bowie’s Blackstar, the final album he released days before dying, knowing precisely what he was doing. But that’s a decent album we won’t be listening to 50 years from now.

Oh, sure there are throughout history examples of artists struggling to finish their last painting or the final chapter in their book. But what the Beatles did in the studio in 1969 was such a powerful culmination, such a massive effort to go out on a high note, that it bowls us over all these years later.

“You’ve got to carry that weight a long time” was the near final refrain, and they’ve done it. Carrying the weight, in some cases posthumously, with a little help from their friend George Martin’s genius son Giles.

Listening to this incredible release — hearing on “The End” both Ringo’s drum solo and then the lineup of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon, in that order, playing their guitar solos — is to touch a nerve, to revisit the pain of the Beatles breakup all that time ago. We’re so glad to hear it, though, through the headphones of the modern era. In this remarkably pristine state, Giles Martin’s ballsy overruling of his father’s sensibility to produce an album that sounds this good is like a miracle we deserve for the pain of living in the current epoch.

It’s no wonder the Beatles today are the world’s most popular band. No one has ever done it better, nor likely ever will.

2 Responses to “The 50th Anniversary Edition of “Abbey Road” Is Astonishing, Not Because We’ve Grown Old But Because It Hasn’t”

  1. So well said.

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