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The Beatles announce multiple 50th anniversary editions of ‘Abbey Road’

August 21, 2019
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The Beatles announce multiple 50th anniversary editions of ‘Abbey Road’ (photo by Iain Macmillan)

As tipped in these pages last spring, The Beatles plan to issue a variety of remixed and remastered editions of “Abbey Road” this fall to mark the 50th anniversary of the album many fans consider the group’s magnum opus.

On September 27, Apple Records will release a super deluxe box set with three CDs containing 40 tracks newly remixed from the original session reels by Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) and mix engineer Sam Okell. A Blu-ray disc will contain a remix of the original album in several audio formats: Dolby Atmos (an immersive audio format ordinarily reserved for film projects), DTS-HD 5.1 surround, and 96kHz/24-bit high resolution stereo. A 100-page hardbound book will provide context and numerous unpublished photographs from the 1969 recording sessions (some taken by Linda McCartney). The deluxe set will also be available for download.

Also planned is a limited-edition vinyl box set containing all 40 tracks from the super deluxe box, a 2-CD version pairing the stereo remix with select sessions and demos, a single CD and vinyl album version and a limited vinyl picture disc version featuring the front and back album art images on each side.

1969 was a year of trial and triumph for The Beatles. In January – less than six weeks after the release of the band’s self-titled double album (AKA: “The White Album”) - they convened inside Twickenham Film Studios in London for a month of filming but no clearly defined objective other than demonstrating they could still play together as a band without the aid of studio production.

Inside four weeks, cameras captured some 55 hours of rehearsals and band interaction. There were moments of inspired performance and (in John Lennon’s opinion) drudgery. Cameras captured the group laughing, joking and reminiscing but also arguing over song arrangements and the prospect of a project-ending live performance (Paul McCartney was the only member strongly in favor). George Harrison left the band for 10 days and only agreed to return if his conditions were met. In the end, the group rallied on the roof of their Apple building on Saville Row for a chilly but thrilling surprise lunchtime performance. It was their final public performance as a band.

The result of that tense month of filming was the feature film “Let It Be,” directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and an accompanying album initially overseen by producer George Martin but (in Martin’s words) “over-produced by Phil Spector.” Both were finally issued in May 1970 – a month after Paul McCartney utilized the release of his first solo album to uncork the news of the band’s breakup.

Just over three weeks after the January 30, 1969 rooftop concert, The Beatles gathered at Trident Studios in London to record what would become the first track committed to tape for “Abbey Road” – Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s so Heavy).” When the band added some finishing touches to the song at EMI Studios (later renamed Abbey Road Studios) on August 20, it was the last time the four of them were in a studio together.

“It was a very happy record,” George Martin said of “Abbey Road” during an interview for “Anthology.”  “I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last.”

Blocks of studio time were reserved for the next six months as The Beatles mutually agreed to record one great final record. Interestingly, they elected not to share the news with their record company that it would be the last. Just days before the release of “Abbey Road” (September 26, 1969 in the UK; October 1, 1969, in the U.S.), the band negotiated a new record deal granting them a considerably higher royalty rate. Cheeky devils.

“Abbey Road” contains some of The Beatles’ most enduring music, including two peak George Harrison songs in the sublime “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” Lennon’s anthemic “Come Together” and Beethoven-inspired “Because,” Ringo’s charming and sweet “Octopus’s Garden” (technically, an uncredited co-write with George) and a side two medley that deftly bridges nine otherwise disparate – but otherworldly in their beauty - Lennon and McCartney originals.

“Abbey Road” was an instant commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic but received some shockingly mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release. Most recognized brilliance in the album’s songs and wrote glowingly of the lushness and timelessness of the record’s production, but others weren’t sold on the material and felt the production was an overblown attempt at putting a shine on a sneaker.

Today, the album is largely considered a bona fide classic and is remembered not only for being a high point in The Beatles’ catalog but as probably the greatest example in music history of a band going out on the highest of notes.

The band whose singular creativity evolved at such a breathtaking clip and had set the tone for its time didn’t need to include their name or even the album’s title on the sleeve for “Abbey Road.” Label execs at EMI blew their collective stacks when that demand arrived from Apple’s head office, but The Beatles always won.

On the morning of August 8, 1969, The Beatles crossed the street outside EMI Studios three times for photographer IainMacmillan. As a policeman held traffic at bay, six photographs were taken, including the iconic and prescient cover image for “Abbey Road,” depicting the four band members walking away from their home of seven years.

The years immediately following the release of “Abbey Road” were anything but harmonious as The Beatles sued each other to dissolve their partnership and mutual business interests, but during a few extraordinary months in 1969, they managed to channel the original magic that brought them together.

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