I made sure to write this post before we talked about Abbey Road on our upcoming podcast, since I didn’t want to be burned out on the album before having to write in-depth about it. Especially considering it’s already hard enough to write about The Beatles without sounding tired or clichéd. Or maybe it isn’t, since at this point it almost seems like rock critics have become afraid to write about The Beatles for fear of sounding tired or clichéd.
Album: Abbey Road
Artist: The Beatles
Release Date: September 26, 1969
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Triumphant Farewells
I know Let It Be wasn’t released until 1970, but Abbey Road was the last album The Beatles ever recorded together, so I choose to regard it as the last thing they ever did. And since I like to think that most Americans tend to get pretty sentimental about giving their favorite entertainers fitting farewells, I have to think that most people like to think of this as the last Beatles album as well. After all, it serves as an appropriate finale for a band that always prided itself on pushing the boundaries of what you could do with an album. That’s not to say that Let It Be isn’t also great – which it is – it’s just that it’s kinda messy and not quite a masterpiece, which Abbey Road almost certainly is.
Another reason I think this is The Beatles’ best-selling studio album is that it actually had some hits on it. The Beatles were a band that were so effortless at crafting hit singles that they usually chose to leave their hits off the proper albums, though they occasionally threw a few of them onto their soundtrack albums. Abbey Road on the other hand, has a pair of number one singles with “Come Together” and “Something” on the album’s first side, while side 2 has that great medley that everyone with half a heart absolutely loves. So I think a big part of this album’s appeal is that it gives you the best of both world’s – The Beatles as a great singles band, and The Beatles as a great album band.
Also, this might sound kind of stupid, but I think you can attribute at least some of this album’s enduring popularity to its cover. I mean, right? Ok, just let me paint this scenario for you: If you’re a fifteen year-old kid walking into the CD section of your local electronic store, and you’re looking to buy your first Beatles album, which one are you gonna buy? I mean sure, you can’t loose with any of them, but I think you’re probably gonna go with the one whose cover has been permanently etched into the public’s consciousness more than any other image that’s associated with The Beatles. It’s gotta be the most iconic album cover in the history of rock music, with maybe Nevermind or Dark Side Of The Moon giving it a run for it’s money.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
Yeah, I don’t know how to answer this question without sounding redundant. Because of course it deserved to be popular. It’s fucking Abbey Road by the fucking Beatles for Christ’s sake.
It’s an album that’s great because for one it sees the Beatles firing on all cylinders and also working together as a team for one last time. Sure, it isn’t that hard to distinguish a “John song” from a “Paul song” or a “George song” on this album. But it’s nice to hear these guys actually turning their own individual efforts in to something cohesive rather than a bunch of guys doing their own separate things but putting it on the same slab o’ wax the way they did with Let It Be and The White Album. It almost gives you an idea of what The Beatles would’ve sounded like in the ‘70s if they had been able to work through their personal differences and record an album with each other every once in a while.
Also, if I had to point to one thing that makes this album such a classic, it’s gotta be that medley. The Beatles were bold enough to turn the last side of the last album they’d ever put out into this collection of short songs that make up this grander thing — and there’s still nothing quite like it. You would think there’d have been at least a few other bands that would’ve tried to copy this approach in building an album’s narrative, but I really can’t think of any other rock artist that has pulled it off. The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away” is really the only thing that comes close, but it’s about half the length of the Abbey Road medley, and actually came out a few years before. But as it is, that medley still stands as a singular achievement and proof that to the very end The Beatles were doing things that people still have yet to equal.
Yeah, I guess it was inevitable that this devolved into me suckin’ on a giant Beatle dick. Sorry about that.
Would I Pay Money For This?
I sure would, though I don’t think I have yet. As far as I remember, my first exposure to Abbey Road was my sister getting it on CD as a birthday present. I believe she listened to it once before I essentially stole it from her and listened to it, well, a lot more than once.
As for now, I’d love to own it on vinyl as long as I could find a copy for under 15 bucks (Beatles vinyl has the weird distinction of being not very rare, but usually pretty pricey. Damn you, record store clerks!)
Next Time On The People’s Albums: We’ll see if I really am whatever I say I am when the real Slim Shady stands up on Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.