The bassline: Rewinding, recrossing Abbey Road

A comic portrayal of the cover of Abbey Road, with 4 people walking on a zebra-striped crosswalk.
Graphic by Annie Wu

The open D string that begins “Abbey Road” by The Beatles resonates like the shot heard ‘round the world. 

The Beatles made music out of memories and composed a heartbreaking rhythm to the serendipities and infatuations of generations that have been reinvented each time that record spins, from the flower child to the vintage hipster to the old soul reminiscing youth. 

On Sept. 26, 1969, The Beatles released “Abbey Road,” the last album they recorded together. Fifty years later, it’s still beloved by many and worth a look back at each song, all of which are masterfully created.

From the very first track, John Lennon harnesses a sensational power in his voice. He tells a story that you can’t quite grasp, but the freedom of “Come Together” is palpable. He sings, “I know you, you know me / One thing I can tell you is / You got to be free.” Lennon pulls your unconscious from its chains deep within to remind you where you belong. 

When “Something” drumrolls into that famous riff on electric guitar, George Harrison commands his classic love ballad. I’m reminded of a first slow dance, when you’re trying to find the right place to put your hands but can’t remember how characters in the movies did it. 

As Harrison’s solo arrives, the world fades away. Before he can even mumble that there’s just “something in the way she moves,” you’re already delicately dancing. 

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” begins with a line that seems out of place: Paul McCartney sings, “Joan was quizzical, studied pataphysical / Science in the home.” McCartney’s voice enters the album on lead for the first time with a silly tale about a first date gone awry. 

But the little detail of “pataphysical” is not just a clever rhyme for “quizzical.” “Pataphysics” is defined as the science of imaginary solutions and investigates the laws of exceptions in the non-traditional universe. 

Even though the term is only mentioned once in the album, the concept is seen throughout all 17 tracks, in between the heavy love ballads and laced into the nonsensical interludes.

“Oh! Darling” is undoubtedly a rock ballad. McCartney’s raw, genuine voice cascades into a passionate holler, desperately begging his lover to see the depth of his emotion. You can hear his broken heart, its fragile glass cracking in synchrony with his raspy voice. The visceral feeling grabs you and won’t let go until he’s said what can only be sung. 

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“Octopus’s Garden” is another fun, quirky fantasy track, this time sung by Ringo Starr. It contains the surreal elements of a dream, a wish to float under the sea. In the background, one of the band members  is heard blowing bubbles into a glass of milk with a straw like a little kid. 

Starr sings to us at the end of the second verse, “We would sing and dance around / Because we know we can’t be found.” Deadlines, resumes and interviews will have yet to exist when you get lost in this lighthearted track — two minutes and 51 seconds of innocent bliss. 

The lengthy epic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” begins with Lennon’s voice syncing with the electric on lead. This track is not one that plays in the background of a party, where people acknowledge it by simple foot-tapping and head-nodding. 

No, this seven minute and 47 second piece grasps at the collective consciousness of the human experience with its cycles of repetition and simplicity. The song plays like a flickering street lamp on Abbey Road after midnight. 

“Here Comes the Sun” takes me back. I hope every child gets to hear this song so that years later when it comes on the radio, they reminisce with the lucidity of a summer’s day. I hope it rewinds the records back to a time when we couldn’t decide whether it was Tuesday or Sunday, if we were four years old or five.

Eight short songs comprise a medley formed on the B-side of the vinyl, in between “Because” and “Her Majesty.” The outros fade into the intros of the subsequent track and could have been recorded in one take as a full song. 

The back-side of the record brings to life characters from a story only understood in chronological order. Today’s shuffle feature on digital streaming would ruin the effect of the album and misplace its memories. 

The pataphysical element of the album is blatant in the B-side, as the four artists collaborate to conceive quirky, odd personalities and tales that come together in a beautiful mosaic. 

We are left waking from a dream that we can’t quite capture in entirety the next morning but still feel the poignance of. As McCartney sings to all the lonely people, “And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love you make.” 

In “The End,” the listener can feel the groove in the melodies of the 1970s slowly creeping into each chord. The ending medley honors the spirits of the people they’ve touched — each full of surreal surprises, childhood nurseries and languid lullabies — to conclude a revolution and an era.

So as the 50-year mark of “Abbey Road” rolls around, we look back on that year of magical, hair-rising, rip-roaring memories full of characters from a mid-day medley and a radio rendezvous. And while listening to The Beatles sing about their era, we can almost imagine that we were there, too.

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Kyla Walker PO ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. She loves playing guitar, reading any and all fiction and probably belongs in the 1960s.

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