The Beatles Abbey Road – Listening in Depth

More The Beatles

More Abbey Road

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Abbey Road.  

Those of you who follow the site (or do your own shootouts) know that it’s much tougher to find great copies of Abbey Road than it is for MMT or Please Please Me. Most of the copies we’ve played just aren’t good enough to put on the site. For whatever reasons — probably because this recording is so complicated and required so many tracks — Abbey Road is arguably the toughest nut to crack in the Beatles’ catalog. 

Most of the copies we’ve played over the years suffer from too much grit and grain, particularly on the vocals. Not the best ones though. We just couldn’t believe how smooth and sweet the vocals were on our shootout winner last time around, especially on side two, without sacrificing any breath or texture.

The Power of Abbey Road

This is the final statement from The Beatles. To take away the power of this music by playing it through inadequate equipment makes a mockery of the monumental effort that went into it. Remember, the original title for the album was Everest. That should tell you something about the size and scope of the music and sound that the Beatles had in mind. In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Come Together

This track and I Want You are both good tests for side one. They tend to be smooth, but what separates the best copies is deep, punchy bass. Without a good solid bottom end, these songs simply don’t work.

Something

When the choruses get loud on this song, most copies will be aggressive. You’ll want to turn down the volume. With Hot Stampers, the louder the better. The sound stays smooth and sweet.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

Probably the toughest test on side one. The loud banging on the anvil can be pretty unpleasant if you don’t have a well-mastered pressing. Also, this track has a tendency to be a bit lean and upper midrangey on even the best copies.

Oh! Darling
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Listen to Paul’s bass on this track. When you have a good copy and the bass notes are clearly defined, you can hear him doing all kinds of interesting things throughout the song. I remember playing the MoFi not long ago and noticing how that pressing’s lack of bass definition robbed Paul of his contribution to so many of these songs. When the bass is blubbery it’s difficult to follow his parts.

Side Two

Here Comes the Sun
Because

The best pressings are full of TUBEY MAGIC here — sweet and smooth, but still present and clear. There should be no trace of grain or spi on their voices if you have a good copy. This is DEMO DISC MATERIAL. If you have the system for it, you can show people the sound of the Beatles in a way few have ever heard.

You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard

One of the toughest tests for side two, along the lines of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

Polythene Pam
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers

I’ve come to realize that this is a Key Track for side two, because what it shows you is whether the midrange of your pressing — or your system — is correct. At the beginning Paul’s voice is naked, front and center before the strings come in. The Mobile Fidelity pressing, as good as it is, is not perfectly tonally correct in the middle of the midrange. The middle of the voice is a little sucked out and the top of the voice is a little boosted. It’s really hard to notice this fact unless one plays a good British pressing like this one side by side with the MOFI. Then the MOFI EQ anomaly become obvious. It may add some texture to the strings, but the song is not about the strings.

Having heard a number of audiophile systems (especially recently) that have trouble getting this part of the spectrum right, it will not surprise me that many will not find the MOFI objectionable and may even prefer it to these good British copies. The point I’m belaboring here is that when it’s right, it’s RIGHT and everything else becomes more obviously wrong, even though it’s only slightly wrong.

For a while in my record reviewing system I had a relatively cheap Grado moving magnet cartridge. The midrange of that cartridge is still the best I have ever heard. It was completely free of any “audiophile” sound. It was real in a way that took me by surprise. I played Abbey Road with that cartridge in the system and heard The Beatles sound EXACTLY the way I want them to sound. Exactly the way I think they SHOULD sound, in my mind’s ear. Playing the very same record on much more expensive front ends, with much more expensive moving coils, was disappointing. It’s easy to lose sight of the heart of the music when the equipment dazzles us by doing so many other things well. Good moving coils are amazingly spacious, refined, sweet, extended, three-dimensional and all that other good stuff. But they don’t always get the heart of the music right. And it’s good to hear something that may be more crude but at the same time more correct in order to bring our listening journey back on to a truer course.

I think that people who listen to CDs exclusively — One Format listeners, as I like to call them — suffer greatly from a lack of a “comparison” sound. It’s easy to get used to the CD sound and forget that all that digital garbage doesn’t really belong there. Records have their own problems, but their problems don’t give me a headache the way the problems of CDs do.

Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty

Further Reading

We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

Rolling Stone Review

By John Mendelsohn
November 15, 1969

Simply, side two does more for me than the whole of Sgt. Pepper, and I’ll trade you The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour and a Keith Moon drumstick for side one.

So much for the prelims. “Come Together” is John Lennon very nearly at the peak of his form; twisted, freely-associative, punful lyrically, pinched and somehow a little smug vocally. Breathtakingly recorded (as is the whole album), with a perfect little high-hat-tom-tom run by Ringo providing a clever semi-colon to those eerie shooo-ta’s, Timothy Leary’s campaign song opens up things in grand fashion indeed.

George’s vocal, containing less adenoids and more grainy Paul tunefulness than ever before, is one of many highlights on his “Something,” some of the others being more excellent drum work, a dead catchy guitar line, perfectly subdued strings, and an unusually nice melody. Both his and Joe Cocker’s version will suffice nicely until Ray Charles gets around to it.

Paul McCartney and Ray Davies are the only two writers in rock and roll who could have written “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a jaunty vaudevillian/music-hallish celebration wherein Paul, in a rare naughty mood, celebrates the joys of being able to bash in the heads of anyone threatening to bring you down. Paul puts it across perfectly with the coyest imaginable choir-boy innocence.

Someday, just for fun, Capitol/Apple’s going to have to compile a Paul McCartney Sings Rock And Roll album, with “Long Tall Sally,” “I’m Down,” “Helter Skelter,” and, most definitely, “Oh! Darling,” in which, fronting a great “ouch!”-yelling guitar and wonderful background harmonies, he delivers an induplicably strong, throat-ripping vocal of sufficient power to knock out even those skeptics who would otherwise have complained about yet another Beatle tribute to the golden groovie’s era.

That the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite, as they’ve done on side two, seems potent testimony that no, they’ve far from lost it, and no, they haven’t stopped trying.

No, on the contrary, they’ve achieved here the closest thing yet to Beatles freeform, fusing more diverse intriguing musical and lyrical ideas into a piece that amounts to far more than the sum of those ideas.

“Here Comes the Sun,” for example, would come off as quite mediocre on its own, but just watch how John and especially Paul build on its mood of perky childlike wonder. Like here, in “Because,” is this child, or someone with a child’s innocence, having his mind blown by the most obvious natural phenomena, like the blueness of the sky. Amidst, mind you, beautiful and intricate harmonies, the like of which the Beatles have not attempted since “Dr. Robert.”

Then, just for a moment, we’re into Paul’s “You Never Give Me Your Money,” which seems more a daydream than an actual address to the girl he’s thinking about. Allowed to remain pensive only for an instant, we’re next transported, via Paul’s “Lady Madonna” voice and boogie-woogie piano in the bridge, to this happy thought: “Oh, that magic feelin’/Nowhere to go.” Crickets’ chirping and a kid’s nursery rhyme (“1-2-3-4-5-6-7/All good children go to heaven”) lead us from there into a dreamy John number, “Sun King,” in which we find him singing for the Italian market, words like amore and felice giving us some clue as to the feel of this reminiscent-of-“In My Room” ballad.

And then, before we know what’s happened, we’re out in John Lennon’s England meeting these two human oddities, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam. From there it’s off to watch a surreal afternoon telly programme, Paul’s “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” Pensive and a touch melancholy again a moment later, we’re into “Golden Slumbers,” from which we wake to the resounding thousands of voices on “Carry That Weight,” a rollicking little commentary of life’s labours if ever there was one, and hence to a reprise of the “Money” theme (the most addicting melody and unforgettable words on the album). Finally, a perfect epitaph for our visit to the world of Beatle daydreams: “The love you take is equal to the love you make …” And, just for the record, Paul’s gonna make Her Majesty his.

I’d hesitate to say anything’s impossible for him after listening to Abbey Road the first thousand times, and the others aren’t far behind. To iy mind, they’re equatable, but still unsurpassed.