Where do you start with the Beatles? Apple and EMI are re-releasing their entire original recorded catalogue, subtly remastered to buff up the sound.And it’s all fabulous, a thrillingly creative journey through seven explosive years that set the template for modern popular music. But if you had to spend hard-earned money on just one, which would it be? Sergeant Pepper is the psychedelic masterpiece that turned pop into an adult art form; Rubber Soul and Revolver display the band at their most cohesive and cool; the so-called White Album is a fascinating double set of glittering individual gems. But, for me, Abbey Road is the greatest album ever made.
It is not a record that usually tops polls, perhaps because it came at the end of the line, when the Beatles had nothing left to prove but their own grooviness. It was their swansong, a farewell to a world they changed forever. Recorded in 1969 in the titular studio with long-standing producer George Martin, Abbey Road is the lushest, richest, smoothest, most epic and emotional album of the latter-day Beatles.
It bids farewell to the Sixties and simultaneously opens up whole new vistas of sound for the Seventies; prog rock taking hold in Paul McCartney’s extraordinary 16minute medley that concludes proceedings, and heavy rock exploding in John Lennon’s devastating blues onslaught I Want You (She’s So Heavy).
It’s a big album, swollen by judicious use of a prototype Moog synthesizer and harmonies multi-tracked to choral dimensions. The most modern of the Beatles records, it is particularly well suited to remastering. It’s got style (the slinky, bass groove of Lennon’s sly, post-hippy anthem Come Together), it’s got heart (George Harrison’s spine-tingling ballad Something), it’s got rock and roll (Oh! Darling features McCartney’s most blistering vocal and a stinging rhythm guitar) and it’s got the playfulness that (while it embarrasses hipsters) ensures even young kids connect to the Beatles (Ringo Starr’s delightfully absurd Octopus’s Garden). It’s got broad strokes and delicate details, a dazzling myriad of aural and lyrical pleasures.
If ever there was a testament to the genius of the Beatles, it comes in the bittersweet, singalong Carry That Weight, its classic, heartfelt chorus-line delivered as a brief snatch before being casually dropped, because they have the confidence and daring to move on to something equally enthralling. Abbey Road overflows with music, its joyous abundance only tempered by the All The Beatles’ albums