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1969 again

(Iain Macmillan)

Music

1969 again

Abbey Road anniversary set turns listeners into flies on studio’s walls

By now, people know what to expect from a Giles Martin–overseen, 50th-anniversary edition of a Beatles album: a thorough audio refurbishing of the record in question (based on the original master tapes and utilizing the latest studio technology) and lots of incomplete or alternate takes intended to allow outsiders (i.e., practically everyone) to feel like flies on the walls while John, Paul, George, and Ringo go about making the making of pop-music history sound easy.

Capitol Records’ new four-disc, semicentennial “Super Deluxe Edition” of Abbey Road—the Beatles’ final and best-selling group effort—is no exception.

The package features new stereo, hi-res-stereo, 5.1-surround-sound, and Dolby Atmos mixes of the original album (and, yes, it has never sounded clearer or more three-dimensional) and 23 bonus tracks. The highlights of the bonus tracks include Paul McCartney’s demos for “Goodbye” (later a Top 20 hit for Mary Hopkin) and “Come and Get It” (later a Top 10 hit for Badfinger), the Abbey Road medley with “Her Majesty” restored to the clean-up spot, and dreamy strings-only or strings-and-brass-only versions of “Something” and “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight.”

The banter is good fun as well. Pay attention and you’ll even hear a spontaneous shoutout to Kick Out the Jams, the MC5 live album that had come out six months before the Abbey Road sessions began and whose third track, curiously enough, bore the soon-to-be-Beatlesque title “Come Together.” 

In short, like Martin’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Beatles, the super-deluxe Abbey Road sets a new standard. Expect previous digital-era editions of Abbey Road to begin showing up, reasonably priced, wherever used CDs are sold. 

SPEAKING OF “COME TOGETHER,” no Abbey Road classic has proved more cover worthy or more adaptable to multiple approaches. Aerosmith recorded the best-known redo, but Ike & Tina Turner (hard soul), Sarah Vaughan (soft soul), the Brothers Johnson (soft funk), the Meters (hard funk), and Shalamar (electro-pop) made runs at it too.

Until now, one of the least-known versions belonged to the Chairmen of the Board, the “beach music” trio most famous for the irrepressible, multi-format smash “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” The Chairmen’s “Come Together” took an uncommonly fancy approach, adding horns, harmonica, and Philly-soul strings to the song’s surreally ominous vibe. And as a deep cut on an album (the Chairmen’s self-titled debut) that peaked at a lowly 133, its disappearance down the memory hole was a fait accompli.

Enter Gold (Crimson Productions), a new budget-stickered, three-disc Chairmen compilation that numbers “Come Together” among its 60 selections. Other standout tracks: “Skin I’m In” (imagine Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” crossbred with Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” the latter of which, incidentally, had yet to be recorded), “Everybody Party All Night” and “Life & Death Pts. I & II” (tough Sly & the Family Stone knockoffs), “Everybody Has a Song to Sing” (uplift positive enough to raise any roof), and the original recording of the country-soul tearjerker “Patches” (the Clarence Carter version of which would top charts on both sides of the Atlantic). 

The revelations, though, are “Working on a Building of Love” and “I’m on My Way to a Better Place.” In the former, the second-fiddle vocalist Danny Woods reads the Bible (both Testaments) and discovers universal brotherhood. In the latter, the frontman General Norman Johnson announces loudly and proudly—not once but twice—that he’s “giving Jesus Christ [his] heart and soul.”