The Beatles’ “Abbey Road”

The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album coverI’ve devoted the past week to the Beatles‘ 1969 album “Abbey Road” for what I can learn to improve my own craft as a songwriting musician. This album has long been my favorite Beatles album, though I must admit I’m not familiar with all of them yet. I’ve been looking forward to this week. It would be a challenge to keep it short, but it’s also been a busy week for me otherwise; I haven’t had a lot of time to write

As with the two Beatles albums I’ve already spent a week with, melody drives these songs. The band plays interesting accompaniment throughout, but it’s usually in support of the vocals. Between vocal lines, some other instrument often follows the melody path tying parts together. These songs provide a lesson in the importance of melody and focal point.

Come Together” starts the album with a classic bassline. This paired with percussion that rolls across hi-hats and toms creates cyclic coming and going groove. The effect is engaging, groovy, somewhat bluesy and even a little sinister. I can almost see the motion created by this rhythm. It’s one of the most rock n roll songs on the album. The verse are in a common rock I-V-IV progression performed in a blues style. Then the chorus hits with a vi#-IV- V that builds in intensity to drop back to the opening tonic bassline groove. I really enjoy the lyrics; I can’t say they mean much. It’s rock n roll injected nonsense.

Here Comes the Sun” bears a bright open optimistic feel appropriate to the lyrics. The song accomplishes this even with several moments of descending glissando on accompanying instruments. My favorite part of the song is probably the middle eight, which begins exactly at the mid-point of the song. I like the combination of use of the Moog synthesizer with very nature sounding handclaps.

I find the lyric to be a bit too cheerful hippie-dippy; Yet, I do appreciate the pastoral quality of lines like “Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here: Here comes the sun.” They sidestep excess elements of human society and modern life to focus on a basic and enduring fact of nature: the change of the seasons.

My favorite part of the album is the medley of songs that make up most of side two: “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End.” I’ve always had a thing for songs with multiple sections and side 2 of Abbey Road more than qualifies.

These were apparently unfinished songs written by the Beatles, therefore worked together to form a whole. Somewhat of an exception is “Golden Slumbers”, a song largely based on “Cradle Song” by Thomas Dekker. This poem from the 17th century read:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.
Care is heavy, therefore sleep you,
You are care, and care must keep you ;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

The main difference in the Beatles song is the addition of the lines “Once, there was a way to get back homeward. Once, there was a way to get back home.” which draws out the melancholy latent in the original. This beautiful tune with theatrical qualities leads into the burst of a ending march “Carry That Weight.” “Carry That Weight” repeats the melody of “You Never Give Me Your Money.” This ties the medley together. The lyrics then makes what I believe to an inverse reference to “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On” with “I never give you my pillow, I only send you my invitations.”

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