Welcome to Best … Ever, Matinee Culture’s recurring feature that takes a look at the finest hours of various pieces of pop culture. In this installment, Ryan explains why “Abbey Road” is the Beatles’ best album ever.
Conventional wisdom says it’s “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Some contrarians will tell you it’s “Revolver” or “Rubber Soul.” Fans of the Beatlemania years may swear by “Hard Day’s Night” or “With the Beatles,” and the fans of the Fab Four at their weirdest might make a case for the self-titled.
However, on “Abbey Road,” John, Paul, George and Ringo bring together all of the disparate elements that made up their success for a last hurrah that I contend is the real best album of the bunch.
Though “Let It Be” dropped a year later, most Beatle fans know that “Abbey Road” was the last album recorded by the band, an attempt to go out on a high note after the musical inconsistency and strife that marked the sessions of both “The Beatles” (known more commonly as The White Album) and “Let It Be.” Whatever they decided to do differently, it worked, making “Abbey Road” the highest note of the band’s short but productive career.
The first thing that stands out about “Abbey Road” is its cohesiveness. While an album like “Revolver” is jam-packed with great tunes, including George’s best song and some of John’s best non-singles, it never really gels as a single unit. Rather than having an obvious thematic and aural throughline, like “Sgt. Pepper’s” does, “Revolver” feels less like an album and more like a collection of songs the Beatles wrote in 1966. “Abbey Road,” on the other hand, has a first half marked by musical maturity and good song transitions and a second half that is essentially a giant meta-song. You can’t get much more interconnected than the medley.
And yet, the songs are standouts, too. Consider the aforementioned “Sgt.,” which has plenty of great songs that are all much better when listened to in the context of the whole (granted, listening to the medley out of order is pretty pointless). I mean no disrespect, but a song like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” isn’t meant to stand on its own so much as it is designed to fit into its album’s lushly melodramatic tapestry.
“Abbey Road” manages to populate a cohesive sounding album with kick-ass individual songs, opening the album with the No. 1 double a-side duo of “Come Together” and “Something,” kicking out gems like “Oh! Darling,” “I Want You” and perennial radio favorite “Here Comes the Sun” along the way to its grand, second-half climax. It’s all masterfully done, due in no small part to a more amicable collaborative effort than The White Album’s separate recording studios and “Let It Be’s” forced togetherness.
Finally, there’s the variety. “Abbey Road” plays like a Beatles greatest hits album made up of entirely new material. You’ve got a rock song with a nod back to the group’s hormonal, girl-crazy roots (“Oh! Darling”). You’ve got a mellow song with the Fab Four’s classic harmonies (“Because”). You’ve got pre-metal (“I Want You”), a ballad (“Something”), silliness without self-indulgence (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’s Garden”), introspection without preachiness (“You Never Give Me Your Money”) – and it’s all capped off with that wonderful, almost avant garde medley, which tosses out new ideas as quickly as possible, displaying a band so overflowing with musical excellence it deigned to only use snippets of songs that lesser groups would have milked for four minutes.
While the band’s other albums are all about musical progression, “Abbey Road” is a summit. It’s almost as if the individual Beatles realized that while they still had more to do, their ludicrously successful collaboration could never be matched again. “Abbey Road” is a statement: “We were the best. Goodbye.”
They were the best, and 50 years later, they’re still missed.