The Rip Post                             


by Rip Rense
(copyright Rip Rense, The Rip Post 2019, all rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permssion.)

               “Abbey Road,” when it was released in fall of 1969, was a sonic superhighway. It is fair to say that a portion of the album’s impact derived from the luxurious, detailed, warm sound of the record, something Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick attributed to, in part, a new solid state eight-track recording console.  
                Fifty years later, Giles Martin and Sam Okell have oh-so-carefully widened that superhighway with a superb, though not radical, remix---but that is not to say there are not a couple of bumps here and there, notably in the choice of outtakes and alternate versions in the 50th anniversary boxed set.  
                Overall, “Abbey Road” now has a gigantic breadth and depth, with greater detail, larger orchestral presence, and certain instruments dramatically more evident, resonant (like the synthesizer on “Here Comes the Sun”) than before.
                And by “before,” this means: the original (British pressing) LP, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab “Original Masters” version, the original 1987 CD version of the album, and the 2009 CD remaster. All of these releases (except, curiously, the rather flat “Original Master”) have their winning aspects, and stand as viable versions of “Abbey Road,” but none approach the sweep and scope of the 50th anniversary remix.
                And as many a reviewer has noted, the drums---as resonant and full as they have always sounded on this album---are now just magnificent. Ringo’s legendary, reluctant solo (on his then-new calf-skin heads) feels as if it is being played in your room, about twenty feet away. (Credit still goes substantially to perfectionist Emerick’s careful miking of each part of the kit.)

Yet not all the changes are so innocuous or logical. Giles Martin’s repositioning of the guitar solos of McCartney, Harrison, Lennon in “The End,” was, to borrow his own word, “presumptuous” and, in my view, reductive. 

              It is obvious that Martin had the greatest respect for the mix done by his father, Sir George, and that is as it should be. The important differences between the (still compelling!) original LP and the 2019 remix are general, for the most part---a matter of overall picture as opposed to specific revelation. Think: brighter, warmer lights on a loved painting. Yet there are some interesting new details. A few:
                *More Lennon vocals audible in the final seconds of “Come Together.”
                *George Martin’s gorgeous orchestration in “Something” is mixed higher. 
                *Ringo’s vocal in “Octopus’s Garden” is louder, to these ears distractingly so.
                *Harrison’s inspired guitar improvisation at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money” goes on significantly longer, but is still faded too soon for my taste. If you’re going to expand the solo, as Giles Martin did, then why make it difficult to hear?
                *The astonishing chorus of vocals on “Because” is somehow more lush. Perhaps this had to do with Giles Martin and Okell slightly staggering the start of each individual vocal (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison layered three different takes) a trick to subtly imbue the proceedings with more of a natural feel. (Just as Emerick slightly staggered the entrance of the horns when doubling them on “Got to Get You Into My Life.”) Does it diminish the precision with which John, Paul, and George sang? Not that I can tell.
                *The drum solo (edited together, by the way, by Emerick and McCartney from various Ringo takes), now sounds absolutely huge, but without sacrificing any of its charm or lyricism.         
                *The effusive, almost Brahmsian orchestral parts written by George Martin for “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” are more present, and the album ending (prior to the “Her Majesty” tag) is distinctly more symphonic in feel than the original mix (though not as much so, interestingly, as the remix of “The End” done by George Martin on “Anthology 3.”)
                Yet not all the changes are so innocuous or logical. Giles Martin’s repositioning of the guitar solos of McCartney, Harrison, Lennon in “The End,” was, to borrow his own word, “presumptuous” (context: some fans will object) and, in my view, reductive.  Where the solos previously had exactly the same center position in the mix---deliberately getting “equal time” in the spotlight---Martin has said in interviews that one is now left, one center, and one right. Incredibly, he was unable to remember which was which! (See Daily Variety, Sept. 26, 2019.) For the record, it’s McCartney (left), Lennon (center), and Harrison (right)---but. . .on my stereo, it is very clearly McCartney and Lennon on the left(!), no one in the center, and Harrison on the right. This kills the equal spotlight factor, which is especially degrading to Harrison, now shunted to one side. Bad move, in the realm of crackpot tampering. What’s more, it eliminates the amazing factor of all three solos sounding of a piece, as if composed to go together---instead of improvised on the spot, as they were.

Here is Giles Martin's quote: “They know this is going to be their last album. You can tell they’re going to make sure it’s a good one, and that everyone’s songs are going to get equal attention.” This is simply untrue.

               Which brings up the other bumps in the new “Abbey Road.” Sometimes the sumptuousness of the new mix takes a little bit of the edge off The Beatles’ performance. Perhaps this was unavoidable, as it is also something that Emerick said was the case on the original release(!), due to the new transistorized recording equipment. Another perhaps minor observation: as with Giles Martin’s mixes of “Sgt. Pepper” and “The Beatles,” some of the character and prominence of McCartney’s bass is simply not there. I can’t say this unequivocally, but it is as if the work Emerick did to make Paul’s bass more integral to the arrangement has been muted, some character lost. It sometimes rumbles where it once sang.
                Then there are the outtakes, the embryonic versions of songs on the two “Sessions” discs. Martin’s choices are, in the main, good, yet sometimes predictable and uninspired. And some things simply aren’t there, the most obvious missing-in-action item being George’s unusued electric guitar solo in “Here Comes the Sun” (that Giles apparently discovered, as can be seen in a video where he played it for his father and Dhani Harrison.) If his concern (or the Harrison Estate’s) was that it might replace the existing version of the song---or create confusion as to which is definitive---then just a brief excerpt containing the solo could have been included.
                Another item not included sounds fascinating, if not a must: the first formal take of “Something,” from April 16, 1969, with this remarkable line-up: Harrison (guitar), George Martin (piano), Lennon (bass), and McCartney on. . .drums! What a curio that is---much more intriguing than Harrison’s solo demo (which is included in the “Sessions” discs on the 50th anniversary package.) How many more such peculiarities were rejected, or not considered at all? I mean, why three---three---outtakes of “Her Majesty?” Gasp!
                Among the good choices, though (disc 1):
                Billy Preston’s fabulous organ solo on “I Want You,” which maybe defeats the minimalism that Lennon was after, but is so damn good you wish they’d put it on the final version; Ringo’s busier drumming on “Oh Darling!” much more interesting than McCartney’s vocal; Music Director McCartney giving directions to Ringo and George at the start of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’; In “Here Comes the Sun,” you can actually hear that point where Ringo works out what he’s going to play on the “sun sun sun” breaks;  “Ballad of John and  Yoko,” where John and Paul call each other George and Ringo (who are absent); “You Never Give Me Your Money” and other songs in the medley in early stages, because it shows how much they worked and worked on them; Paul singing “Golden Slumbers” without the screaming rock ‘n’ roll voice (I prefer this); of course, great to have Paul’s demo of “Goodbye,” though long bootlegged.

George Martin’s composition for “Something” is so opulent, so empathetic to the song that one wishes to hear a version with only orchestra and Beatle vocals (and George’s guitar solo.)

                And (disc two):
                Standout feature is the “Big One,” an early edit of the medley that included “Her Majesty” between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam"---and suggests that Paul worked out the entire “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/The End” alone, including the “Money” reprise (as opposed to collaborating with Martin); an early drum solo attempt by Ringo, much more drawn out, with fewer fills; Music Director McCartney telling George to save his best guitar work for later in “Polythene Pam” because otherwise “you give away all your best bits”; a curious moment in “Pam” where Lennon laughingly tells Ringo his drumming sounds like Dave Clark (of the Dave Clark 5)---which calls into question Emerick’s memory of the matter in his memoir. (Emerick said that Lennon criticized Ringo’s “Pam” drumming as being like Clark’s, and said that Ringo and Paul stayed up very late working out the drum part that was finally used. Yet Lennon’s quip is not critical on this outtake, but made in jest, and Ringo’s drum part is the same one used on the final version. A mystery!); the two George Martin orchestral compositions used for “Something” and “Golden Slumbers” etc. are a great treat; Martin’s composition for “Something” is so opulent, so empathetic to the song that one wishes to hear a version with only orchestra and Beatle vocals (and George’s guitar solo.)
                Perhaps the biggest bump in this “Road,” however, was not in the album content or mix, but in Giles Martin’s astonishing rewriting of history. Here is his quote, repeated in many an interview: “They know this is going to be their last album. You can tell they’re going to make sure it’s a good one, and that everyone’s songs are going to get equal attention.” This is simply untrue. Perhaps his father left him with this impression, as he has said, but there are no interviews where any of The Beatles said that they thought it was their last album, while they were doing it. None. And they are on the record as saying that no one thought this to be the case.
                What’s more, peerless Beatles authority Mark Lewisohn made the news at the time Giles was making his claim, revealing a tape of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison (made for Ringo, who was not present) in which Lennon planned their next album after “Abbey Road,” as well as a Christmas single! Now, everyone---even an official Beatles producer/curator---is allowed a mistake. But Giles Martin did not exactly admit the mistake:
                “To be honest, there’s no indication that they were thinking ‘Abbey Road’ was their last album on the session tapes,” he told “My hypothesis is that maybe they’d intended ‘Abbey Road’ to be their last album, but it was a good experience, versus the bad one they’d had on ‘Let it Be.’ So they decided to have a meeting about doing another album. But I think there’s no doubt that they all had a sense that it was coming to an end. . .So I think the likelihood is that they felt that if it wasn’t going to be the last time, it was pretty damn close to it.”
                “My hypothesis” is well and good, but it does not serve the interests of historical accuracy. This, coupled with Martin’s questionable judgement of outtakes on “Abbey Road” (and the “white album”),  and a couple of oddball mix calls on “Road,” makes me wonder about his overall judgement. His insisting that, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, they “had a sense” that it was the end, is just unbecoming.  
                Other than that. . .love you. . .love you. . .love you. . .love you. . .

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© 2019 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.