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(Credit: Alamy)


The Beatles album that was called "an unmitigated disaster"


During the short but expansive career of The Beatles, the Fab Four achieved what very few if any, have ever achieved. It is slightly absurd to think that The Beatles were only around for just over eight years. 

The Fab Four released 13 albums during their time as a band. Around the time they got to their 1965 record, Rubber Soul, the group decided that touring had become somewhat pointless for them. They had conquered the world through relentless touring, which culminated in a sold-out performance at Shea Stadium in New York, forever changing the landscape of the business. Everyone knew who they were even by then.

By this point, the band decided to dig a little deeper within themselves and spend more time in the recording studio. This meant more in-depth songwriting, greater mastery of analogue technology in regards to tape manipulation and the use of musique concrete and sound collage. This was especially exemplified in their 1966 record, Revolver, and matured during the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

The Beatles were also very unique and somewhat alone in another regard. The band rarely got bad reviews for their albums after a certain point, during a time when reviews became more important alongside the development of the ‘album’ as a distinctive art form. 

Of all the albums by the Beatles that were reviewed, Abbey Road has been the most prone to being bemoaned. If there is anything known for certain, that is that the Beatles were on the brink of breaking up; Lennon would depart from the band for six days during the recording process, and McCartney publicly declared the end of the group a few days before the release of the album.

Fatefully and fittingly so, the last ‘movement’ of the 16-minute medley on the record is called ‘The End’. The medley has been largely credited to McCartney as he contributed four of the pieces. That said, George Martin has claimed that a lot of this had to do with him, having said he “wanted to get John and Paul to think more seriously about their music.” He also wanted to work with the band similarly as to how they used to do it on their earlier records.

Of course, it is worth noting that George Harrison played a significant part in shaping the overall sound of Abbey Road as he introduced the Moog synthesizer to the band. 

Even in the case of Abbey Road, most of the reviews were positive; perhaps some here and there had something bad to say about the medley section. Probably the most cutting review the group ever received at any point in their career, was one from The New York Times.

“There are four beautiful bars during ‘Golden Slumbers’, and a brief passage of Merrill E. Moore barrelhouse piano on ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’,” Nik Cohn began in his review. “Apart from that, it’s all pretty average stuff. Most of the melody lines have been used elsewhere, and some of the lyrics are quite painful. Still, for three main reasons, it works,” he added. 

“The first reason is just that it’s brilliantly produced: the Beatles know as much about recording as anyone outside of Phil Spector, and the whole medley is perfectly paced; it builds just right.”

While Cohn goes back and forth between somewhat niceties and pretty hurtful words, the overall tone of the review is negative. “The great drawback is the words. There was a time when the Beatles’ lyrics were one of their greatest attractions. Not any more. On Abbey Road, you get only marshmallow.”

Then, Cohn goes in for the kill; “That’s all changed now. On Abbey Road, the words are limp-wristed, pompous and fake. Clearly, the Beatles have now heard so many tales of their own genius that they’ve come to believe them, and everything here is swamped in Instant Art.” 

Not forgetting the final blow, of course: “Still, I shouldn’t grouse. Lyrics and all, the Abbey Road medley remains a triumph. Having said that I must also say that the rest of this album is an unmitigated disaster.”