English musician Robyn Hitchcock once described the unlikely genesis of The Beatles: “What were the chances that the four best musicians in England were all 5 foot 9, had straight dark hair, and knew each other?”
By 1969 the fairy-tale was drawing to a close, much like the decade the Liverpool band defined. The Beatles had spawned an almost endless string of hit singles, acclaimed and influential albums, and epoch-defining fashion and lifestyle trends, but The Fab Four were fraying. They had recorded tapes for a “live in the studio” album they were unhappy with (it would be released in 1970 as Let it Be) and, sensing the end was nigh, they didn’t want to go out with a damp squib.
“We ended up doing Abbey Road quickly, and putting out something slick to preserve the myth,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone magazine in late 1970. Lennon remained largely dismissive of the album for the rest of his short life, though perhaps his view was tainted by the bitterness and lawsuits that were overtaking the group. It is, to many Beatles fans, the band’s finest hour.
Using eight-track tape for the first time across an entire album, they were able to produce the most adventurous and polished sound of their career. The 17 tracks included the raucous opening of Come Together, exquisite layered harmonies in songs such as Because, an ambitious medley taking up most of side two (of the original LP), and the brace of songs many cite as George Harrison’s finest (Something and Here Comes the Sun).
The iconic front cover was claimed by some as the first not to include any text. The full frame photo of John, Ringo, Paul and George (in that order) walking across the pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road outside EMI Recording Studios was considered sufficient information. To highlight the impact of the image, and the album, the recording studios were renamed a year later. They would henceforth be Abbey Road Studios, and the site remains the most famous recording venue in the world.
Never one to miss a commercial opportunity — or to cater to the seemingly insatiable demand from Beatles fans for physical products, and not just streaming music — the Apple label will today release no fewer than six 50th anniversary editions of the album, designed for every price point and every level of fandom. Following a template set with the 50th anniversary of 1967’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, these are built around a newly mastered version of the basic album, remixed by Giles Martin, son of the original Beatles producer, George Martin.
This has been done using the original stereo mix as a guide, but via all the latest technology. Based on the success of the Pepper and White Album anniversary editions, the new Abbey Road should sound cleaner than we’ve ever heard the album before. “Our quest,” says Giles Martin, “is simply to ensure everything sounds as fresh and hits you as hard as it would have on the day it was recorded.”
There are CD and vinyl versions with extra tracks and features (one-CD, two-CD, one-LP, three-LP and picture-disc versions), culminating in the Super Deluxe box set. This has 40 tracks, including remixes and outtakes, over three CDs, plus a Blu-Ray disc containing high resolution stereo and surround sound versions, and a 100-page hardbound book.