One of the world’s most influential and instantly recognizable albums of all time recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in a big way, with an all new remix and nearly two hours of demos and unreleased takes to boot, all in a “Super Deluxe Edition” box set.
The Beatles’ 1969 international smash hit Abbey Road celebrated its 50th birthday on September 27. To mark the occasion, the album was remixed by legendary music producer Giles Martin, son of longtime Beatles collaborator and the album’s original producer George Martin, to bring the album into the 21st century.
Martin went to the famous Abbey Road Studios, where the album was originally recorded and after which the album was named, in order to meticulously and lovingly remaster and remix each of the album’s 17 songs, totalling about 47 minutes of ‘new’ music for Beatles fans to listen to and enjoy all over again.
To say that Martin carefully poured over this all time classic is truly an understatement. When I heard each song for the first time my jaw would drop to the floor. Despite being a huge Beatles fan my entire life and having heard all of these songs hundreds of times over, it felt like a new experience.
The album opens with the Beatles’ classic “Come Together”, a smooth, subtle, bluesy song that really isn’t turned on its head with the new remix. A commonality throughout the album is that while Martin doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way with his modern mixes, he really provides a new polish, a fresh coat of paint to these classic tracks. “Come Together” is no exception to this; his new mix serves to amplify its warm sound. He drastically amps up the low end of the track, with the slippery bassline being brought further up into the mix, without feeling overbearing. While certainly the most low key of the songs on the album, the similarly bluesy, albeit much larger and more dynamically contradictory, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” benefits from similar changes to increase the back end of the song.
Another commonality throughout the album is that the drums are dramatically brought forward, something you won’t hear in any original mixes of Beatles’ music. This was most noticeable with “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, though it is a quality that brings the album into the 21st century.
Following “Come Together” is George Harrison’s “Something”, a soothing love song layered with a lush synthesizer pad and orchestral flourishes that have been highlighted perfectly in this new mix. While the song is dynamically low key for the most part, Martin was able to accentuate its famously grandiose bridge, while still allowing the song to feel cohesive. It feels more wispy and melodic than it did in the original mix, a clear realization of Harrison’s intended vision for the song. Despite this, Martin still is careful not to overproduce the song, or overpower Harrison’s songwriting genius and the song’s simplicity. This is the same as with other songs on the album, such as “Oh! Darling”, “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Golden Slumbers”.
This album has its fair share of classic Beatles silly songs as well, including “Octopus’s Garden”. While often considered a novelty or children’s song, it still benefits greatly from the new mix. The song’s jangly melody and bouncing rhythm are reinforced by bringing forward the rhythm guitar and the drums and percussion section. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Mean Mr. Mustard”, “Polythene Pam” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” benefited similarly by these and other changes, though “Octopus’s Garden” is certainly the stand out of the four. Sung by the underutilized Ringo Starr, it makes a worthy successor to “Yellow Submarine”, one with a bit more musical complexity and a more infectious rhythm, both of which are emphasized by the new mix.
Another common element of the new mix is the emphasis on the vocals and vocal harmonies in virtually every song. The Beatles were known for many musical innovations, though one that is perhaps most often overlooked is their mastery of the vocal harmony. All three voices come through crisp and clear in this new mix, yet blend perfectly, especially on vocal standout songs like “Because”, “Sun King” or “Carry That Weight”.
While most of the changes made to the mixes on this album are welcome changes, there is one song in particular that I think was made worse. Arguably their most famous song, “Here Comes the Sun”, is a cultural phenomenon. Written and sung by the impeccable George Harrison about his struggles with arrest, drug abuse and issues in his marriage, it is a beautiful song about looking forward when times are tough.
Don’t get me wrong, “Here Comes the Sun” is a fantastic song, and the issues I have with it are entirely the fault of this new mix. For starters, the whole song was really taken down a few pegs by the weakness of the acoustic in the new mix. The iconic opening guitar lick comes in faint and whimpering, only to be instantly overpowered by the synth line and Harrison’s vocals.
Arguably, the acoustic and the vocals are the two key elements of this song, but the guitar is nowhere to be found in the mix.
The orchestral arrangement lovingly crafted by George Martin is similarly weak, leaving the song feeling bare, save for the incredibly dated moog synthesizer line that I figured Martin would’ve buried behind the timeless acoustic and orchestration. The handling of this song baffles me given how the rest of the album seems to favour a more modern mix. The overall weak accompaniment left me wanting more, as the song is never able to reach its original heights in the bridge or by the last chorus as it had before.
The album ends with “The End” and the hidden track “Her Majesty”, now given its own track listing. To this day I have yet to hear an album end more perfectly than Abbey Road. “The End” is such a fun, high energy song. With a drum solo and three dueling guitar solos to boot, it’s jam packed with excitement and studio fun, something that can be heard throughout the Beatles’ catalogue.
However, where this song shines is in its final line, an iconic rock lyric that is still quoted to this day. “And in the end/the love you take/is equal to the love you make.” This is a perfect bookend to the catalogue of one the most influential acts in music history. 50 years later, this line and the album that it closes, thanks to Martin’s masterful production skills, rings truer and clearer than it ever did before.