Abbey Road turned 50 years old last week. It’s always been my favorite Beatles album, particularly side two with its magical medley. It grabbed me the year that Lennon was shot and hasn’t let me go since. To be coming into my own as a young Beatles fan and then lose one of them was a gut punch at a time when I hadn’t taken a lot of gut punches yet.
Abbey Road ages well. From the first notes of Come Together to the surprise bonus track Her Majesty, the album is still an astonishing journey after countless listening. It’s The Beatles throwing it all out there to see what happens, as they’d done for each of their milestone albums since Rubber Soul. It would all end with Abbey Road, their last studio album, and the last song they’d ever collaborate on was Come Together. Surely they had a sense of irony?
George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, was at his creative peak with two of the best Beatles songs ever, his masterpieces Here Comes The Sun and Something. As a kid I latched onto Harrison as my favorite Beatle. Lennon and McCartney were just too big for me then. Harrison wasn’t flashy, he just got things done. And he surely was doing, er, Something. “Something in the way she moves” would be a line James Taylor would borrow from George for his own song of the same name, a tribute to the giants around him when he was recording at Abbey Road Studios around the same time.
If the album had great individual songs on side one, side two would become famous for that medley. How many radio DJ’s put the needle down on that medley and ran to the bathroom because they had time? All of them. Because, You Never Give Me Your Money, Sun King, Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, The End…. Her Majesty. Boom. Rapid fire, half finished songs blended together into one unified medley. Brilliant percussion from Ringo and Paul’s underrated bass guitar, John and George on guitar… and all of them harmonizing like they’d sing together forever. But this truly was the end.
One verse in that medley stands out for me the same back as a teenager as it does today, if the meaning has changed over the span of time;
“Any jobber got the sack
Monday morning, turning back
Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go”
– The Beatles, “You Never Give Me Your Money”
Surely the idea of nowhere to go meant something to The Beatles, having ground themselves to dust touring and then prolifically cranking out brilliant album after brilliant album. They were exhausted, sick of each other, burdened by business transactions gone wrong, wrestling with creative tensions, and incredibly, still in their twenties. Solo careers were just ahead for all of them, but they came together for this incredible album to give us one last gift. Let It Be would come later, but was recorded prior to Abbey Road. This would be it, but what a way to end.