Deconstructing Abbey Road, Side 1

Deconstructing Abbey RoadScott Freiman has presented several lectures about various Beatles periods. I’ve gone to see his talks on the early Beatles, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and the white album at the Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. These presentation are always augmented with analyses of how the recordings were put together, and I found them worthwhile.

I had heard he was also doing presentations on DVDs and in movie presentations of his lectures. The Spectrum 8 Theatre in Albany had one showing of Deconstructing Abbey Road, Side 1. I wasn’t sure seeing something hitting on a half dozen songs was worthwhile, especially since half of them are not among my favorites.

But my wife was paying, so why pass on it? Abbey Road, as most Beatles fans know, was the last time that the Beatles recorded together at EMI Studios, soon thereafter renamed Abbey Road Studios. George Martin only agreed to produce the album because the group agreed to allow him to do his job.

Frieman laid out the historical framework of the Abbey Road, right after Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman, and John Lennon married Yoko Ono in March 1969. Many of the teenage girls were heartbroken when the “cute” Beatle and the photographer got married on the 12th.

The song The Ballad of John and Yoko documented the other honeymoon, after getting “married in Gibraltar, near Spain” on the 20th. The “bagism” event was covered by the press in the Amsterdam Hilton. Famously, only John and Paul were available for the recording, which was rushed out as a single though Get Back was still on the charts.

The B-side, Old Brown Shoe, was a George Harrison tune already recorded and showed the songwriting growth of the youngest Beatle.

As for Abbey Road proper, George Martin and the band now had access to eight tracks rather than four thanks to some new equipment. Some have said the album was overproduced. If it is – and I wouldn’t necessarily agree – it was the part of the learning curve.

Come Together, a Lennon track, ended up in a legal entanglement with Chuck Berry’s lawyers over the song You Can’t Catch Me. The pilfering is even more obvious when Freiman puts both songs up.

Speaking of stealing, James Taylor seems far less bothered by George Harrison’s purloining the first line of his song Something In the Way She Moves than I was. Still, Something is a great song. As Frank Sinatra noted, one of the best ones written by Lennon-McCartney (!).

Longtime roadie Mal Evans played the anvil sound in the chorus of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. It’s not my favorite track, and Lennon and Harrison also tired of McCartney’s perfectionism.

Oh! Darling was a second Macca song in a row. He wanted it to sound as though he’d “been performing it on stage all week.” I think that perhaps Lennon should have sung it, as he had remarked.

Octopus’s Garden was written and sung by Ringo Starr, though Harrison helped out on the former. “It was inspired by a trip to Sardinia aboard Peter Sellers’ yacht after Starr left the band for two weeks with his family during the sessions for the White Album.” It was too much like Yellow Submarine for my taste.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) was written by Lennon about his relationship with Ono. The finished song is a combination of two different recording attempts. “The first attempt occurred almost immediately after the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, in February 1969, with Billy Preston. This was subsequently combined with a second version made during the Abbey Road sessions proper in April. The two sections together ran to nearly 8 minutes, making it the Beatles’ second-longest released track.

“Lennon used Harrison’s Moog synthesizer with a white noise setting to create a ‘wind’ effect that was overdubbed on the second half of the track. During the final edit, Lennon told [Geoff] Emerick to ‘cut it right there’ at 7 minutes and 44 seconds, creating a sudden, jarring silence that concludes the first side of Abbey Road… The final mixing and editing for the track occurred on 20 August 1969, the last day all four Beatles were together in the studio.”

What’s astonishing is that the songs I like – the Lennon and Harrison ones, as it turns out, sound better when Freiman shares the component parts, especially the Preston organ on the early iteration of I Want You. The songs I like less, from McCartney and Starr, nevertheless sound better after his dissection.

As for Abbey Road Part 2, Freiman will live be at Proctors on Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 7:30 p.m., with Part 1 at 3:30 on the same day. Freiman on film will be at the Spectrum (and SEVERAL other places) on Tuesday, August 27 at 7 pm. Given the choice, I think I’ll opt for the in-person experience.