It is the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road, and Sabina Dominguez shares her views on why The Beatles’ ground-breaking album is such a coveted treasure of pop culture.
Last summer, I was having lunch with a couple of friends when they started discussing The Beatles’ impact on music. One mentioned they were “the most overrated band of all time”, while the other fiercely claimed that they were “the most influential band in history”. Indeed, it’s been over 55 years since The Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and opinions still vary with each subsequent generation over the significance of their influence, from “The Beatles are the greatest band in history!” to “Why should I care about an old-fashioned band like them?” I must admit, I didn’t have a strong opinion on the band until my friends’ debate, so I decided it was finally time to put my headphones on and delve deep into The Beatles’ back catalogue. Here are some of my thoughts on the significance of The Beatles in music history and my personal favourite album Abbey Road, which is this week re-issued to mark its 50th anniversary.
The immense musical production of The Beatles all occurred within a period of less than 10 years. Take as some examples the following songs: Love Me Do, Eleonor Rigby, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Across the Universe, I Am the Walrus and Twist and Shout. It’s amazing how diverse in style these songs are, which shows that The Beatles were maturing (musically and compositionally) as fast as they could – faster, indeed, than any other existing rock group. For example, listening to a Rolling Stones album from the 1990s is not so different from a record from the 70s, or even the 60s. Similarly, other iconic bands, such as Pearl Jam, U2 or Pink Floyd, amazing as they are, have been producing (or produced) music within well-defined styles. The Beatles, however, experimented with complex harmonies, synchronized vocals and even new instruments in just a short few years. In fact, their innovative rhythms and versatility explains why their music is timeless and can be considered modern to this day. For these reasons, The Beatles have inspired and influenced many other bands, such as Radiohead, Oasis or Led Zeppelin.
For many Beatles fans, including myself, Abbey Road – The Beatles’ final studio album – exists as a culmination of the band’s achievements, with their songwriting, musicianship and technical knowhow reaching their zenith. Rolling Stone magazine called it “complicated instead of complex”, while The New York Times suggested that individually the songs are “nothing special”. However, history has been much kinder, with many citing this as their favourite Beatles album. By June 1970, Abbey Road had emerged as the band’s bestselling American LP, with more than 5m units sold, and by 2011, the album had sold over 31m copies.
Abbey Road is a revolutionary album. In addition to being the first Beatles album recorded explicitly for stereo realised, it also marked the band’s first and only experience with solid-state electronics. The result was a wider sonic spectrum and a warmer, brighter quality in the recordings. The powerful Come Together, which was an idea Lennon originally conceived for a campaign against Ronald Reagan, is one of the greatest opening album tracks of all time. Then there are the two George Harrison masterpieces: Here Comes the Sun and Something, the latter in which Frank Sinatra praised as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”. Likewise, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) featured one of the band’s heaviest sounds to date and demonstrated how much they had progressed, willing to take risks in sound, form and subject. The Beatles’ 50th anniversary edition of Abbey Road is not to be missed, since it is the first time the album has been remixed and presented with additional material. It contains 40 tracks, which are an essential chronicle of the band’s final years.
Taste is indeed subjective. It is perfectly acceptable that someone prefers The Who, Metallica, or Britney Spears. However, it is undeniable that The Beatles are one of the most influential bands in the history of music and it is difficult to believe that any musician, solo or band, will ever surpass The Beatles’ incredible legacy.