Got To Be Free

1969. Groups had caught up with The Beatles, so many of them were releasing albums, and ambitious albums at that; the Sgt Pepper template was having an effect. New labels like Harvest were set up to exploit this and Island was growing its artistic dynasty, supergroups like Blind Faith were creating a new kind of musical offer and groups like The Who were taking Art School to the Opera. And all this after 1968 had seen an extra-ordinary flowering of live music across the UK on the new music circuit of Student Unions. They didn’t want variety they wanted rock. I went regularly to York University where a typical gig had four bands such as, Pink Floyd, Yes, Social Deviants and the Idle Race (Jeff Lynne), all on the same bill. Led Zeppelin picked up from Cream, I was obsessed with Jack Bruce, Jethro Tull had matured, the Moody Blues had gone progressive. Having a world class band on the top of their game encouraged the others, check Marmalade Skies for more info, but the Beatles were surrounded. I had just left school and my music tastes had changed. I now preferred live music, by real authentic musicians, who could play their albums live.

However the Beatles, as ever, scored a coup with the release of Abbey Road. They had it previewed on BBC2, on Late Night Line Up, a kind of suave version of That Was The Week That Was, the aesthete’s response to swingin London. And they had made a special film to accompany Abbey Road, which now seems to have been lost by the Beeb!

In a weird inversion of the first time my family sat down and watched the Beatles on the Royal Variety Show the eighteen year old me sat down and watched it with my Mum and Dad. They knew it was acceptable because it was on the “posh” station. This time my Dad didn’t get angry, he got bored, it was late night TV, pretty rare in those days. Mum faithfully kept me company as I watched the colour film in black and white; didn’t work for Magical Mystery Tour either. Kicking off with Come Together, which seems to get better over the years, Abbey Road would reveal itself as a grower.My brother bought the album, but I didn’t. The torch was passed on. Since The White Album I had seen the Jimi Hendrix Experience (!) King Crimson (blisteringly good live), Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, The Rolling Stones, Family, Free and Colosseum (just to name the best). I had bought, or heard albums by Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, Moody Blues, Cream, The Who’s Tommy and the Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow. Heavyweight bands creating rock’s rich tapestry and that is just from the English bands I had a chance to see. US bands, especially from the West Coast, were phenomenally good at that time, and we thought Notorious Byrd Brothers was the best album of 1968. I had also bought drums and, once I started practising to Take Five and Toad (!), almost instantly decided Jazz drummers knew what they were doing far better than their four-square rock counterparts. I was obsessed with the Miles Davis album “Filles de Kilimanjaro” and Tony Williams playing on this “concerto for drums.”

I had left school and moved on and the Beatles, who had rescued me at school and had been the soundtrack for my years in school, were associated with adolescence whilst I was turning flourescent and starting work. That said Apple, and the four Beatles involved, were phenomenally productive. This list of their activities records what they did, Ringo acted, George played on other’s recording and made 2 albums, John produced albums with Yoko and Plastic Ono Band singles, but Paul seemed to be the last one working on Beatles stuff. The Beatles’ Dad, Brian Epstein, had died and the boys wanted to leave home.

That said Abbey Road is a great album, it is easily the best recorded and sounds like they have brought the knowing craft that they applied to the White Album (can we have the Unplugged version please) to a much better bunch of songs. And I love the medley, George said that John and Paul were great at starting new songs so this time they just stitched them all together. They had classics in Something, Here Comes the Sun and Come Together and, with the exception of the execrable Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, recorded whilst Lennon was in hospital, everything was worth listening to several times. But the landscape had changed and the Beatles were intra pares, loads of them it seemed. The Who’s Tommy was actually more of an event at the time and the now iconic Abbey Road sleeve seemed pretty modest, and with good reason we thought. On the other hand it holds up well as a “mood album” and the medley gets better with time.

As usual the album was the biggest selling album of 1969 and was the Number One album for 17 weeks, despite the surfeit of great groups I mentioned. Out on a high then as they unusually treated this as an album project, and George has the most tracks in the Poll! There is a YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album.

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