Beatles – Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Edition Remix) (Apple)
So good…it will make you cry
Abbey Road has always been my favorite Beatles’ album. It’s the one I remember begging my mom to play again and again on our console stereo system, while I lay in between the large wooden speakers, basking in the glow. The original album got so much love, it eventually developed skips, which I knew by heart.
But, as much as I love that album, it always bothered me sonically.
The original version kind of sounded like shit.
While that statement certainly smacks of blasphemy, let’s examine things a little closer. The original vinyl was mastered at a low volume, meaning all but absolute pristine copies are marred by pops and scratches, which overpower the music. There’s also tape hiss that even shows up on those original pressings (just replay a vinyl copy of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” for proof).
Things only got worse when the band’s catalog eventually moved to compact disc. Not only was all that tape hiss louder, but many of the tracks sounded tinny and brittle. How did this once-great album come to sound so lifeless?
All of that has been fixed with this glorious new remix by Giles Martin.
As the son of Beatles’ original producer George Martin states in his new liner notes, the goal of this project was to “peel back the layers and be as pure as we can.” They have done that and more.
Sonically, it is a massive upgrade. While we were critical of the somewhat heavy-handed approach of The White Album remix, there seemed to be a reverence surrounding this new project. The result is something that all but the pickiest of Beatles’ fanatics will be thrilled with.
One of the greatest triumphs is the spine-tingling remix of George Harrison’s “Something.” His vocals and guitar are warm, the bass – big and fat, and the strings engulf you.
A side-by-side comparison from the original CD version gives some insight into just how improved these songs really are. Take, for example, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which on the original album, was full of midrange frequencies and had instruments that were panned hard right and left. For this new remix, they were able to play Paul’s original piano track through speakers at the original Abbey Road studios, miking the sounds on the edges of the room, giving you the feeling that you are in the room with the band. Ringo’s drums have punch, and everything just sounds more human.
In this new mix, “Sun King” leaps out of the speakers. The chirping crickets are everywhere, while Paul’s bass is full, and less distorted, and Ringo’s thumping beat is enormous. The harmonies in stereo are a nice touch.
What about “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? The hiss is gone, and what remains is a testament to just what kind of a blistering band the Beatles could be. John seems to be working through some of the pains of his eroding band in the gritty vocals. Not to be outdone, this new remix really shows what a fantastic vocalist Paul was as well on the impassioned “Oh Darling.”
George’s other masterpiece is “Here Comes the Sun,” and everything, from the acoustic guitar, the strings, even the handclaps, are all upgrades in sound.
That glorious medley of songs that make up the original side two are made even more enjoyable by the new remixes. Everything seems to build from song to song, cresting with “Carry That Weight,” with the strings and brass really shining through. The guitar solos on “The End,” by Paul, George and John respectively, are more isolated, giving you a better appreciation for each’s approach to the instrument. After a lengthy pause, the brief “Her Majesty” brings everything to an abrupt close.
I wouldn’t be a Beatles’ fanatic without a couple of minor quibbles. There are points where Martin and company insert little “new” bits into things – there’s extra vocals and guitar parts at the end of the new “Come Together,” which to me don’t add anything. There’s also extra guitar fills at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” even ones that sound like mistakes. There’s also times where a different effect is used on the vocals, especially apparent on the “one sweet dream” part of “You Never Give Me Your Money.”
There are several different versions available to purchase. The two-disc set contains a second CD of rarities. Of note here is a demo version of “Something,” where you can really hear the song coming together (pun intended). There’s a fragility to this take which adds to its power. The other tracks are interesting to hear once, but nothing stands out as revelatory. Either the vocals are rough takes or the instrumentation breaks down.
The real treat on the 4-disc set is “The Long One,” a 16-minute early version of side two, which has “Her Majesty” not at the end of the album, but sandwiched in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” There’s also differences in vocals and instrumentation on every song. This is a nice addition, but you either have to purchase the more expensive version, or just stream it online. A demo version of “The Ballad of John & Yoko,” proves that just John and Paul played on the track, while Paul’s version of “Come and Get It” is very close to what Badfinger eventually released as their debut single.
There’s something always bittersweet about listening to Abbey Road. As great as the music is, it’s also the final recordings by the Beatles. A great deal of love and care has gone into this new remix. —Tony Peters