Abbey Road: Still iconic 50 years on

By James Waddington |

The original cover photo for Abbey Road (1969) | Image: Ian Macmillan

On the evening of August the 29th, 1969 John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all gathered in Studio 2 of Abbey Road studios accompanied by George Martin as they worked on some final bits of mixing and editing for track “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Little did anybody really know that this would be the last time all four Beatles ever worked together. The group released the track on their penultimate album that September. (Although Abbey Road is commonly regarded as the last Beatles album Let it Be was released a year later in 1970 despite being recorded prior to Abbey Road.)

The Famous Abbey Road studios in 2019 | Image: Pixabay

Earlier that month, after many weeks of dispute over where the band should shoot the cover photo for the album – originally planning for a photoshoot in the Himalayas, the four stepped out across the now famous zebra crossing outside Abbey Road studios, now a site of pilgrimage for Beatles fans. Iain Macmillan took 6 photographs of the group walking across the road, they then named the album accordingly, and the rest, well… is history.

Last Wednesday marked 50 years since the fab four released the masterpiece which was of course the iconic Abbey Road, the best-selling album of their (only) decade-long recording career. To mark the occasion the band released a remastered ‘Super Deluxe’ edition of the album including previously unheard demo versions and studio outtakes from the recording sessions for Abbey Road. The project which was mixed by Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George) gives the record a completely new lease of life and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by a new generation of fans as well as those that remember its original release.

The band arriving in the U.S. in 1964 where they famously ‘broke America’ | Image: Wikimedia Commons

To many, the idea of tampering with something so widely celebrated for its artistic greatness might seem like sacrilege, and Martin mentions in interview that the pressure of trying to improve on perfection was very much on his mind throughout the process. However, having listened to Abbey Road in its original glory more times than I can count, I honesty do feel that Martin et al have achieved the impossible by – dare I say it – bettering the original.

Personal highlights were the remixing of the vocals on Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” to sit in the middle of the mix (yes, if you couldn’t already tell, I’m a huge Beatles nerd) and Martin’s work on “The End”, where Lennon, McCartney and Harrison’s  respective guitar solos were altered to pan incredibly in stereo format which gives the song a much fuller feel. The demo version of Harrison’s ballad, “Something” included on the Super Deluxe edition is also really special and the more stripped back format, showcases Harrison’s songwriting prowess, which insofar had lived largely in the shadows of Lennon and McCartney.

Fans mark the occasion at an Abbey Road mural by Paul Curtis in the bands hometown of Liverpool | Image: James Waddington

Abbey Road gains its iconic status in the history of music for a number of reasons. At this stage in their careers Lennon and McCartney were already globally established as the songwriters of a generation, with McCartney contributing perhaps his best vocal of their entire discography on “Oh! Darling”. Lennon likewise gives the now anthematic groover “Come Together”. But Abbey Road also see’s Harrison contributing two of the records biggest songs on “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something”. Even Starr, who’s songwriting capabilities were largely dismissed by critics, turns in his finest tune yet in “Octopus’s Garden”.

The technology used in the album’s recording is also like none seen on any of the Beatles’ previous albums: The production of Abbey Road saw the group move from a four to an eight track recorder, it was also the first and only Beatles record to have used a solid state mixing desk. The record sees further innovation in its prominent use of the Moog synthesiser, still heard on many records today. Furthermore, Abbey Road was also the first Beatles album not to be issued in mono. The groundbreaking innovations seen on Abbey Road set the template for recording some of the most influential albums throughout the 70s and beyond. 

Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono pictured shortly after the release of Abbey Road | Image: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’ve never listened to The Beatles before in your life (is this possible?!) or can recite every lyric without hesitation. You should listen to the Super Deluxe version ASAP, preferably through a decent set of headphones – you will not be disappointed (and if you are the problem definitely lies with you.) Undoubtedly the 1969 original will always hold its place close to the hearts of many, but sonically the 2019 rework is unquestionably exquisite and does my favourite band the justice they deserve.