Abbey Road at 50: (part 4)

In the past three parts, we looked at the origin of the album, the recording and artwork, and the original songs.  Now, we get to see the anniversary set and enjoy the the remixed songs and the unreleased working versions.

paul-mccartney-enjoys-a-beatles-reunion-with-ringo-starr-at-the-abbey-road-50th-anniversary-bash
Paul McCartney attended a party to celebrate the anniversary with his wife Nancy Shevell, while Starr was there with his wife Barbara Bach at the studios in St John’s Wood, North London.

 

The wait is over!

The Remixed Album

First, the remixed version of the 1969 album.  What do you hear that is different?

  • The sound is clean and vibrant, and there is great separation of the instruments.  Remember, it was recorded on eight tracks, which was cutting edge in 1969.  In this mix, the instruments snap and the vocals have more warmth.
  • Harrison’s guitar seems separated in the mix with more prominence. You can hear more depth in his style.
  • I notice more pop in the upper end, more clarity and power.

Come Together and Something sound superb. The original versions are great, how on earth can you improve them? It happens here.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, not the best of songs, has super clarity, it is punchier, particularly in the guitars.  This song always had instruments that were relegated with each channel, the mix doesn’t change that, only brightens the sound.  The vocals have more depth.

Oh Darling! Again, the instruments (piano and guitar) are divided between channels, right and left.  McCartney’s ragged voice is great, it is cleaner and more distinctive.  The drums and bass are more distinguishable.  The piano in the left channel is much more distinctive.

Octopus’s Garden has stronger guitar work, particularly in the left channel. There are several guitar tracks on the song and each one stands out.  I’ve not noticed these different tracks before. As with other songs on this album, the three part harmonies are beautiful and clear as crystal.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) improves Lennon’s lead vocals. They are clearer, you can hear the subtleties in his voice, and there are many.  This mix accentuates his emotional delivery, if that’s possible.  Billy Preston’s organ is riveting, it is freed from the old mix.  This song always had bite, the Beatles unleashed. In the second half of the song, the instrumental, the guitars as well as the bass, jump out of the speakers, the texture of the sound is intense.  This is symphony of guitars, bass, drums and organ.    It sent chills up my spine, more than ever now.

Here Comes the Sun is a bright and cheery song. The orchestral accompaniment is central, along with the synthesizer, in the new mix they are freer and more clear.  The hand claps and other minor fill sounds are punchier.  The main thing is this song breathes.

Because is about the vocal harmonies, but the harpsichord and guitar accompaniment are brighter.  The synthesizer is more distinctive when it comes in several places.  It actually sounds different because it is more clear.

On You Never Give Me Your Money, McCartney’s voice is more pure, particularly as he changes style several times.  The piano and guitar are in different channels.  The separation and clarity of the instruments are crisp.  The ringing guitars are exquisite.

Sun King features some excellent guitar work, the guitar work is great, particularly as it moves between channels.  It is pure and clean.  The vocals seem to have more bottom.  The instruments are sharper and have more depth.

The Mean Mr. Mustard mix has really great separation of the instruments, they are more upfront in the mix without crowding the vocals.  The guitar is more clear

Polythene Pam is not much changed, the sound is brighter and more separation of instruments.

She Came in the Through the Bathroom Window now has great separation of instruments.  Not much change, though McCartney’s bass is clear in the middle channel.  The acoustic guitars are in the left channel and the electric is in the right.

Golden Slumbers is just a beautiful song, and you can hear more of the supporting instruments in the mix.

On Carry That Weight, the four voices are powerful and clear.  The lead guitar has more definition.  The orchestra is much fuller and distinctive.

The End is about Ringo’s drum solo and the three guitars.  Originally, engineer Geoff Emerick placed eight microphones around the drums, knowing this was a unique performance and wanting to mix it in stereo, as opposed to how the drums were regularly recorded.  This mix shows off Ring’s performance. The three guitar interplay and solos are crisp and powerful.  The voices are pure.  The hair on your arms stands on end listening to the harmony of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison

Her Majesty, has a brassier intro.

Do these minor additions make much difference? Oh yeah.  I tend to use the same descriptions, brighter, punchier, more separation, clarity of instruments.  Current technology helps to unwrap the brilliance in these songs and arrangements.  The instruments are separated from each other so that you hear each, and discover sound qualities that were buried in the previous mix.  The layers of vocals, which is significant on this album have some air between the layers to better hear minor qualities previously not evident before.

Extra Tracks

Now, let’s look at the demos and working tracks.  Like with the Beatles Anthology and bonus tracks on Sgt Pepper and The White Album, you get to look into the recording studio at the rough versions.

Disc One

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – On this version, Billy Preston’s organ is upfront in the mix and he’s trying some things not in the official track. Close to the original but a jam version.

Goodbye – A McCartney track he gave to singer Mary Hopkin, a nice bouncy, folk-pop track.  A nice guitar and voice demo.

Something – Harrison’s demo, with guitar, piano and vocal.  Different lyrics.

The Ballad of John and Yoko – Features Lennon and McCartney on a demo track. The finished release, a Beatles single, would only feature Lennon and McCartney.

Old Brown Shoe – A Harrison song that ended up as a single B-side.  This is a working version, it had a lot of what the released version would have.

Oh Darlin! – A more stripped down version, although close in arrangment to the released version.  McCartney would vastly improve his vocal performance.

Octopus’s Garden – A snippet of the song and ends with a mistake.

You Never Give Me Your Money – A working version, just the boys, not the manic version you hear on the album, but you get the idea.  The song was being devleoped in the studio.

Her Majesty – Like the album version, just Paul on guitar, this is compilation of several attempts to nail the song.

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight – A run through with Golden Slumbers sounding pretty close to the arrangement used on the record.  Carry That Weight breaks down and resumes.  Mainly McCartney on piano with drums and someone playing bass.

Here Comes the Sun – Harrison on acoustic guitar, Ringo on drums, McCartney on bass, and Preston on organ.  Lennon was absent, since he didn’t care to play on Harrison songs.  This is a rough version but the instrumentation is coming together.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – A basic run through, the music is close to the finished version, but McCartney is still working on his vocals.

Disk  Two

Come Together – A work in progress, take 5, that sounds tight musically, but still developing vocally. The Beatles were always tight musically, and this is one of their hardest rocking songs. Even as a working version, the underlying blues is evident.

The End – Take 3, this is a pretty sloppy session, the Beatles were trying to get the music together for the drum solo and guitar attack.  Ringo nails his part, but the guitar medley is still developing, although you get a sense of the final product.

Come and Get It – Paul’s demo, the song he gave to Badfinger, sounds generally like the released version, which he produced.  This would have been an interesting Beatles version.  A great vocal by Paul.

Sun King – Take 20, pretty similar to the final version, with only a vocal guide, mostly the focus is on the music.

Mean Mr. Mustard – Take 20, a slower, waltzier version, Lennon not serious about the vocals.

Polythene Pam – Take 27, still rough, but getting closer.

She Came in Through the Bathroom – Take 27, pretty close to the final version musically.  McCartney’s vocals are not really usable.

Because – This Take is very close to the finished product. No vocals. As gorgeous as the vocal harmonies are, the instrumental does not disappoint.

The Long One (medley of side two) – Is the medley with Her Majesty stuck in the middle.  Not a great placement, glad it didn’t stay this way.  No orchestration.  The medley was taking shape, a good working version, except for Her Majesty.

Something – An entirely orchestral version, no vocals and no Beatle instruments.  Interesting version, orchestrated by George Martin.

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight – Another orchestrated version, no Beatles.  It shows how beautiful the composition really is, independent of the Beatles voices.

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Also included is a bluray audio disc of the album.  If you don’t have a bluray audio player, which I don’t, you wont’ be able to fully appreciate this sound mix.  No matter, the new, remixed album is awesome.

The anniversary edition also includes an album-sized book about the recording, track by track breakdown and the shooting of the album cover.

So, is the world a better place with a new edition of a 50 year old record album? A rhetorical question if there ever was one. Abbey Road is not only the Beatles pentacle of their recording career, it stands as their last work together, notwithstanding Let it Be, which would be released the following year. Abbey Road was their last project together as a group. The last glimpse of the Beatles magic.


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