The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)

In what is turning out to be a very expensive week, we have (in addition to some great new releases, i.e. the New Pornographers) some amazing reissues -- the Replacements box set (featuring an original, slightly less slick version of Don't Tell A Soul plus a slew of outtakes and a killer live show); the upcoming deluxe edition of R.E.M.'s Monster (not my favorite -- I'm pretty much an I.R.S.-era R.E.M. guy -- but definitely underrated); and this, a remastered Abbey Road beefed up with a couple discs of outtakes/demos/rough mixes.

Abbey Road has long been my favorite Beatles album, and part of the rotating cast that makes up my top 4 albums of all time (alongside London Calling, Murmur, and Big Star's #1 Record).  And I don't have a whole lot to add to the conversation about it, other than to say that side two of the album, and particularly the final third of the album that makes up the "Really Big Medley" (i.e."You Never Give Me Your Money" through "The End"), is perhaps the most stunning run of music ever recorded.  And it's particularly noteworthy given that most of the running time is comprised of throwaways or partial tracks, which Paul McCartney and George Martin somehow weaved into pure magic.

When I first heard this album back in my early teens, I was of course familiar with the Beatles' hits (I was a Blue Album guy), and I think I had bought the White Album already.  But the side two suite wasn't really played on the radio at the time, so it felt new to me when I finally heard it (courtesy of a summer camp bunkmate).  And in that 20 minutes there is about an hour of amazing songcraft, both silly and profound, compressed and completely without excess notes.  The final sweep of "Golden Slumbers" into "Carry That Weight" into "The End" is simply stunning, the sort of thing that when I first heard it I had to play it through a couple times, just to take it all in.  I still find it emotionally devastating.

Anyway, the new box set seems cool.  I can't say I'm hearing a huge difference in the remaster; the remaster from a few years ago was great, and I can't say how much this differs, though I'll need to spend some time with it. (In contrast, the recent remaster of Sgt. Pepper was markedly different and, IMHO, much better than the original version, really sharpening the sound so it sounded like it was freshly recorded.)  The rough mixes and etc. are all fine.  Though while I often enjoy hearing a work-in-process version of a favorite album, in this case I view the original album as so perfect I'm not sure how much I want to muck it up be hearing the rough drafts, which make it seem like the work of hard-working human musicians rather than a work of fully-formed perfection provided from on high by the gods.  (I did get a kick out of finally hearing the "The Long One," the original draft of the side two medley which includes "Her Majesty"; they definitely made the right call pulling that out of the medley and tacking it on as an album post-script after "The End," but it's fun to hear the original concept.)

Meanwhile, go buy the Replacements box set.  It kicks ass.

Anywhere, here's some animated "Come Together":
And here's McCartney doing the closing medley live: