Thursday, August 28, 2008

Faves: Abbey Road, The Double White Christmas Album

Sooner or later I was going to have to deal with the Beatles.  Let's do it now.  Abbey Road and The Beatles are two of my alltime favorite albums.  Abbey Road is the only album I invariably listen to in its entirety.  IMHO, the finest work they did individually and together can be found on The Beatles.

After the Beatles broke up, Abbey Road was long considered their best album, apart from Sgt Pepper which had instantly gone to the top of the pantheon and was no longer discussed in comparison to anything else.  As time went on, through the mid-late 70's, opinon shifted with The Beatles being favoured more highly.  Nowadays, Rubber Soul and Revolver are more highly thought of.

At the time it came out, Abbey Road was a sensation for side 2.  Nobody, as far as I know, has really tried something like it, at least not with any success, until Jesus of Suburbia by Green Day.   Anyway, I like Abbey Road because it is so comfortable, cozy, like your favorite comfy chair.  It really delivers a bit of everything the band did well.  No rough edges, no outraged political statements, no wild experimentation, just a good solid, thorough album from a band that had not actually tried to do this in some time.  Not to impugn their previous efforts, but they did have other things on their minds besides a solid, professional, fast-ball-across-the-plate type album.  As it turned out, this was their last release.  How many other bands have delivered such a great last album?  Not a lot.  Just a note that although Abbey Road came out in 1969 and Let It Be in 1970, Abbey Road was recorded after Let It Be and released before.  She's So Heavy was the last track all four recorded together.

Until sometime in the '80's, I had never heard The Beatles referred to as anything except the double white christmas album, or the white album.  It came out in December 1968 and its length was considered by fans to be a present from the band.  Younger readers may not remember how tumultuous 1968 was.  It started out with the Tet Offensive and went downhill from there. A lot happened.  But the year of epic upheaval ended on an epic high note with the excellent white album and Apollo 8 orbiting the moon.

The funny thing about The Beatles was that they evolved into a backup band, backing up each other.  This arrangement worked pretty well, and never better than on the white album.  Sexy Sadie, Revolution, Back in the USSR, Blackbird, Helter Skelter, Mother Nature's Son, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Long, Long, Long; these are among the best songs the three wrote.  For an album so contentious in its making, there are a lot of magic moments.  Not all of it stands up, particularly John Lennon's material.  But the best stuff is among the best stuff ever by anyone. 

I like both of these albums better than any of the earlier ones, even the deified Sgt Pepper.  The only thing the earlier albums have is a 100% there John Lennon.  His sad life became an object lesson in the danger of drugs. Except for a few very notable exceptions, he went away some time in 1967 and never really came back.  By the time of his death, he was a shadow.  Nothing more than another self-indulgent, coddled junkie in a terminal stupor.  When asked his opinion of Elvis Presley's death in 1974, Lennon replied that Elvis died in 1957 when he went in the Army.  This was cruel, but entirely true.  The ironic thing is that John Lennon didn't die in 1980, he died in 1967 when he became consumed by drugs and Yoko Ono.