The Album Project: Abbey Road

The cover of Abbey Road has no printed words. It is a photo of the Beatles, in side view, crossing the street in single file.By starting The Album Project with albums beginning with the letter “A,” I put myself at a distinct disadvantage. The first album in my list is The Beatles’ Abbey Road. I might as well just come right out and say it: I’m not a big fan of The Beatles, and Abbey Road is my least favorite Beatles album. (Followed closely by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I know. Go ahead and click away from here now, if you wish. I’ll understand.)

If you’re still here, I should warn you, it gets worse. Several of the songs on this album: “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” and “Carry That Weight,” to name a few, I know not from Abbey Road but from the 1978 soundtrack of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, the movie musical starring none other than The Bee Gees. Those songs are not on The Beatles version of Sgt. Pepper’s. The movie (and the soundtrack) was an adaptation by Robert Stigwood, producer of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, of an off-Broadway musical that tells the story, using music from Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s, of a band battling a music industry that is also hell-bent on corrupting their hometown.

In the summer of 1978, I turned nine. Grease and Sgt. Pepper’s were released almost within a month of each other, and (perhaps for my birthday, which was at the end of July), I managed to get my hands on both soundtracks. Although I am quite positive that I played Grease far more frequently than I played Sgt. Pepper’s (as evidenced by the fact that I can still to this day, much to my husband’s chagrin, sing every single word of every single song on the Grease soundtrack), they were both in heavy rotation for me that summer. I was an overly imaginative latch-key kid who was wild for movie musicals. Let’s just say there was a lot of singing and dancing, and my poodle Missy was a patient, if not appreciative, audience.

As a child I didn’t mind songs like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” so much–especially since on the film soundtrack it was sung by Steve Martin, who was at the height of his Saturday Night Live fame. Other artists on the soundtrack include Peter Frampton, Earth Wind & Fire, and Aerosmith. To be clear, we also owned “real” copies of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s. However, I cannot remember ever listening to them. I liked The Rolling Stones and Elton John and The Guess Who. (Are you still reading?) I liked Paul McCartney and Wings. I’m pretty sure there was a period where I thought Wings and The Beatles were the same band. I had gotten it into my head, in fact, that Wings was the band The Beatles became after they went on the run…because, you know, “Band on the Run” is a true story.

And so it was that I most likely did not hear Abbey Road in its entirety until my best friend Sharri played it for me in high school. By that point, I had firmly set myself in The Rolling Stones camp. I thought The Beatles were a bunch of lousy pop stars, mostly, and Abbey Road did nothing but confirm my opinion. “Octopus’s Garden”? Are you kidding me? But I had to admit I liked some songs. Sort of. “Because” was interesting. “Something” was kind of nice (although I didn’t know it was The Beatles at first. Having only ever heard it on the radio, I probably thought it was The Monkees or The Animals or…who knows? Todd Rundgren?). “Here Comes the Sun” I remembered fondly from the Sgt. Pepper’s soundtrack.

Sharri schooled me in all things The Beatles, so by the time I got to college I was at least not in danger of embarrassing myself when they came up as a topic of conversation (Paul is not wearing shoes! He’s been dead all these years! That’s how they bury them in England!). I lived in a dorm where the most popular posters to hang probably had at least one or more Beatles on them. But I still didn’t like them much. It wasn’t until much later, in my mid-20s, that I actually went out and bought a bunch of Beatles CDs, all the ones I still have now. I cannot fathom why I bought Abbey Road. I like about half the songs, but the other half I find twee and irritating. I find them twee and irritating, but I also somehow know all the words, which leads me to believe The Beatles are like asbestos. If they are anywhere in the air, they will get inside of you. It remains to be seen whether they are actually lethal. (Seriously, read about how Georgetown University brain scientist Josef Rauschecker used The Beatles to understand how the brain remembers music here.)

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