Last Wednesday at Orphans Treasure Box they asked me to “declutter”, something I had never done before. Decluttering meant sifting through two boxes and one full garbage bag full of used CD’s and DVD’s to find those a particular company was willing to pay more than 50 cents per item to buy. The box that I filled came to $25.00 and left me with dozens of unwanted items that seemed especially odd not to be wanted. Some very good movies went straight out to retail. I was astounded that the purchasing company did not want Abbey Road, the final (1969) studio album of the Beatles.
I have mentioned in these pages previously that I was not a Beatles fan during their active career, nor did I follow them much after they went their separate ways. I spent the Sixties in junior high and high school, and during the latter I worked six days a week. My sister was into the Beatles; I remembered trying to make a case for the Dave Clark Five with her, but she crushed me with little regard for my feelings. I was more interested in Bob Seger, The Who, artists with what I perceived to be a harder edge. I wasn’t much interested in their abilities as musicians. As I held Abbey Road in my hand, I knew enough to recognize it as an iconic album, whose cover art was perhaps as famous as the music inside. I also realized that I had no idea which songs were on this album, nor had I ever listened to it all the way through.
For 50 cents I took this 1987 “remastered” CD out to my car to play on the way home. As the songs rolled by, I recognized most of what I heard, though I had no idea it came from this album. I also had no idea this was the last studio album the Beatles recorded. John Lennon announced he was leaving the group one month after it was set down in August 1969. Yellow Submarine had been released in January of that same year, so Abbey Road kept the Beatles active in the charts. Let it Be had been recorded before Abbey Road but did not come out until after in 1970. By the time they went their separate ways, the Beatles were widely regarded as the Best Band Ever. I had no idea of how good they were as musicians until I read The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman.
Hartman details the careers of many studio musicians in Los Angeles in the Sixties when laying down tracks using studio effects became increasingly important in popular music. As Hartman points out, every major American city had a posse of studio musicians who made their reputations backing up all the big acts to come out of the city. Certainly Detroit had its share who performed on all of the Motown tracks. For example James Jamerson became legendary in the music world for the active bass lines he contributed to Motown’s simple rhythmic patterns. Jamerson came into the studio every day and laid down iconic bass lines that offered a kind of counter melody to the top line playing above. The Beach Boys didn’t play the music we all grew to love from Pet Sounds; the Los Angeles studio group known as The Wrecking Crew played all of that music, allowing Brian Wilson to claim he was keeping up with the musical innovations of the Beatles.
The Beatles brought in studio musicians on occasion to provide brass and strings but they played all of their own music. They worked very hard at providing layer upon layer of vocals on Abbey Road but it was all their own voices. John Lennon had been involved in a traffic accident before the band came together in the studio and he did not play on several of the tracks. When Paul switched to piano, George Harrison moved over to bass and covered. If Ron Howard’s movie The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years didn’t convince you of how talented each of them was, Abbey Road will. People revere the drummers from The Who and Santana for the amazing solos they would offer audiences in concert. Some of these same people (me included) bad-mouthed Ringo Starr for just sitting there keeping rhythm. When I listened to the song “The End” on this album, I realized Starr didn’t do solos because they were disruptive to what the Beatles sought to create, not because he couldn’t do them. I had spoken out of ignorance as I do all too often.
So here is my belated acknowledgement that the Beatles were the best rock ‘n roll band of all time, capable playing any kind of music required, and always ahead of their time. I confess the ignorance of my youth and thank God I was given a chance to right myself before it was too late. So let’s just continue to carry that weight and come together.
Last minute joke from one of my favorite readers, Keith: “A man had a terminal disease and began to plan his funeral. “My one non-negotiable wish is that members of the Chicago Cubs serve as my pallbearers.” This was going to be hard to arrange. Folks asked, “Why?” “So that the Cubs can let me down one last time.” Rim shot.