KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord’s take on the box sets to buy this holiday season. Albums are rated on a five-point scale.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (Apple/Capitol/UMe)
It’s heresy in some circles, but Abbey Road was never one of the best Beatle albums. I was less than thrilled when hearing it would be next to get the 50th-anniversary box set treatment. (Will we really have to wait for the 60th anniversary to get deep dives into Rubber Soul and Revolver?). What turned out to be their final album always had a one foot out the door feel in terms of material. Do we really need alternate takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Octopus’s Garden”, “Oh! Darling” or Polythene Pam”? While the extended thunder of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is a rush, it’s not exactly “Strawberry Fields” or Norweigan Wood”. True, the Beatles had set their own songwriting bar very high. And Abbey Road is not without its peaks. George Harrison, sensing his opportunity, shines here like on no other Beatle album, with two of his strongest contributions, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”. “Because” is a Lennon gem, as is his Chuck Berry inspired slow-groove, “Come Together”. McCartney’s at his best with his songs (sometimes fragments) in the long medley he conceived, including “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, two tracks complaining about their legal mess at Apple, “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Carry That Weight”, and the thrilling (and largely instrumental) finale, “The End”. Expertly produced, the album sounds spectacular. But held up against other Beatle classics, there’s less cohesion, more weak spots. Lennon, sidelined after a car crash, doesn’t even appear on numerous tracks. Not surprisingly, this carries over to the three discs of demos and alternate takes contained here as well, which seem somewhat thin following all the revelations from the “White Album” sessions. There are some great moments. On the demos, both McCartney and Lennon’s vocals seem strained and appealingly raw. The two play a charismatic bare-bones duet on “The Ballad Of John and Yoko”. There’s a whacked-out alternate version of “I Want You”. And it’s fun hearing them assemble and navigate the tricky changes of the medley. Largely sidelined for the Let It Be sessions, George Martin, famously told not to try “all his producing” on the “White Album”, was coaxed back for Abbey Road in order to do just that. His work here is sublime. The final two session tracks are his synchronous orchestrations, which make a strong case as any for his vital contribution to this group. George’s son Giles again remixes the original album, more faithfully than his (sometimes criticized) work on Pepper and the “White Album”, preserving the album’s warm analog bite. And the massive accompanying booklet is painstakingly assembled, full of rare photographs and track by track commentary. Though no one said anything out loud, the end was near when this extraordinary group gathered one more time, frayed nerves and all, to make another record. That it came out as well as it did is no surprise. Even at less than their best, the Beatles towered above their peers.
Buy Abbey Road here.