Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Greatest Band: Part Four

After The White Album, The Beatles decided to record their next album as simply as possible, playing together as a band instead of using advances in recording technology to (in some cases) isolate themselves from each other.

At the same time, it was decided to film the recording sessions. The film was to document the recording of the album, but instead, it wound up documenting a group of people who really didn't like each other anymore.

This was Let It Be, an album (and film) title full of irony.

The recording sessions were, to put it mildy, a mess. The acrimony overrode every positive moment. George Harrison, at one point, quit the band (Starr had briefly quit during the recording of The White Album).

"Final" versions of the album were mixed at least three times, the last by Phil Spector in only a week (this was the version used for the album).

The music reflects the disunity. There are still outstanding individual songs--"Two Of Us", "Across The Universe", "Let It Be", "One After 909", "For You Blue", and "Get Back" are all terrific (sorry, I can't stand "The Long And Winding Road", which, along with "Your Mother Should Know" from Magical Mystery Tour, should officially mark the beginning of Paul McCartney's mostly flaccid solo career)--but there's also a generous amount of filler, more so than on any previous album. It was ragged, but not in the gloriously excessive manner of The White Album.

Here's another moment, though, when The Beatles displayed their absolute singularity in terms of their identity and their music. They knew the band had essentially dissolved--hell, they didn't even like each other, and there was no chance they would continue as a band--but they wanted to record a final album that was a worthy exit.

Are you kidding me? When has that ever happened?

So The Beatles recorded a final album, and from the opening seconds of "Come Together", it's clear that this is, once more, a band at the peak of their creative genius. Abbey Road is as tightly wound and focused as any album The Beatles recorded, and it's electric. It's funny and joyous and dark and incredibly moving, and as a final statement, it's never been equaled.

In addition to the outstanding individual songs (my favorite is "Here Comes The Sun", although there's not really a single song that should be excluded), the 16-minute medley on side two that begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money" is nothing short of majestic. It's a statement album, really: we may be leaving, but we're kicking total ass one more time before we go.

Abbey Road was a record that was, essentially, impossible, given the state of the band at the time. It's entirely cohesive and entirely unified, and how The Beatles put aside their individual differences (and, at times, hatred) to record this album is impossible to understand. In an artistic sense, I greatly admire The Beatles for their creative genius, but there's nothing I admire more than their decision to record Abbey Road.

As it turns out, even though Abbey Road was recorded last, it was released before Let It Be, which has often led people to think that Let It Be was their last album together, a dispassionate goodbye.

The real goodbye, though, was the scorching intensity of Abbey Road.

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