Review: The Abbey Road Anniversary Edition

The super deluxe anniversary edition of Abbey Road is a solid “A” and another necessary purchase for Beatles fans and music scholars.

The first question Beatles fans will probably ask about the 50th anniversary remix of Abbey Road is whether it is worth buying if you have the 09-09-09 remaster. After all, that was only ten years ago. But a lot has happened during the past decade in digital mastering. And this is more than a remaster; it is a remix by Giles Martin, son of George Martin, the man who produced the original album 50 years ago. But wait, why does the album need remixing? Didn’t it take full advantage of state-of-the-art technology when it was recorded and mixed back in 1969? The album sounded so smooth; the music gracefully flowed through the speakers and into our ears. Its sound was so impressive that Geoff Emerick and Philip McDonald shared a Grammy for Best Engineered Recording–Non-Classical for their work as engineers on Abbey Road. So why bother to mess with a masterpiece?

Well, that masterpiece was done 50 years ago. Yes it took full advantage of 1969 studio technology and was mixed for optimal playback on 1969 record players. But that’s the point. In the sixties, record companies put limitations on the bass frequencies. Too much loud bass and the needle would bounce off the vinyl record. But with the advent of CDs, digital streaming and high-end record players, that is no longer a concern. Producers and engineers can now boost the bass to levels that the Beatles could only have dreamed of back in the sixties. And they can bring clarity to the recordings that all but places you in the studio with the musicians.

So the simple answer to the opening question is: “If you like increased bass and clarity, then the remix is well worth it.” Once again, Giles Martin has captured the spirit and feeling of the original mix, while giving it a modern sound that allows the songs to fit in comfortably with today’s recordings. (If you are a purist who thinks anything other than remastering the original recording is heresy, then you are against the concept of remixing and will most likely be happier with the 09-09-09 remaster.)

From the start, the difference in the mixes is quite noticeable. On “Come Together,” Ringo’s drums cut through the sound, moving from right to left. The bass is louder, as is Paul’s backing vocal. George’s guitar solo is brilliant. Harrison also shines on “Something.” His vocal sounds terrific, as does his guitar solo. The organ on the bridge is more prominent. The rhythm guitar, strings and bass have greater clarity. Paul’s vocal is front and center on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” McCartney’s melodic bass drives the song as if it were the lead instrument. George’s backing vocal and the Moog sound effects at the end of the song are more to the front and have greater clarity.

“Oh! Darling” is another showcase for Paul’s rock ’n’ roll voice. The piano and bass are more to the front, as are the backing vocals, which gives the remix more of a doo-wop sound than on the original mix. “Octopus’s Garden” also benefits from the remix. Ringo’s lead vocal is dead center and clear as he can be. George’s backing vocals and the sound effects have improved clarity. The closing track on Side One, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” is even heavier than the original. John’s vocal sounds so pure as it matches the guitar lines. The organ, bass, drumming and guitars all sound incredible, with the song’s ending instrumental passage being even more hypnotic than on the 1969 disc.

The acoustic guitar and vocals on “Here Comes The Sun” are crisp and clean, as are the backing vocals and handclaps. Martin’s mix on “Because” is breath-taking, with ADT giving the effect of the harmony vocals being heard left, right and center. This is done by having the some of the vocal parts slightly out-of-sync to have them sound left and right and other vocal parts running at the same time and at the same volume left and right to give them center placement. The backing instruments are placed separately in the left and right channels.

The Side Two medley also benefits from the new mix. The piano, bass and backing vocals on “You Never Give Me Your Money” are much more pronounced. You can also clearly hear the different vocal styles used by Paul during the song. The tubular bells and crickets at the song’s end  are no longer buried in the background as the medley shifts into “Sun King.” Once again, Giles has the vocals surrounding the listener with left and right placement. The organ is also more prominent.

The percussion and backing vocals on “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” have added clarity. The latter track also shows off Ringo’s drumming and the guitar solo. “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” is highlighted by Paul’s throbbing bass lines and the guitars. The strings and bass on “Golden Slumbers” dominate the instrumental backing in a positive way. Ringo’s backing vocal on “Carry That Weight” comes through loud and clear and on-key. Giles effectively places the instruments on “The End” in left, right and center imaging. This works particularly well for Ringo’s drum solo and the three dueling guitar solos of Paul, George and John. On “Her Majesty,” the vocals are slightly panned.

The most interesting part of the 2 CD and super deluxe editions for most fans will be the alternate takes of the songs. Take 5 of “Come Together” features an entertaining guide vocal from John, who provides vocal improvisations over where he knows the guitar solo will be placed. “Something” is represented by the George’s February 25, 1969 demo. This was previously included on “Anthology 3,” but with an inferior mix. The new demo mix includes both guitar and piano and shows that George already had the song’s arrangement fully developed at this early stage. The super deluxe edition also has a track featuring George Martin’s lovely orchestral score for “Something,” allowing listeners to fully appreciate the beauty of the strings. Take 12 of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” has an instrumental introduction that was edited from the finished master. Paul provides a guide vocal, complete with scat vocalizations. The take is preceded and followed by studio banter.

Take 4 of “Oh! Darling” has an early Paul solo vocal. There are no vocals on the bridge and the instrumental backing includes an organ part that was later recorded over. Take 9 of “Octopus’s Garden” is preceded by studio banter. Although it is a spirited take, it breaks down before completion. The alternate take of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is one of the highlights of the disc. The song is preceded by the band warming up and studio banter. They deliver a fantastic performance augmented by incredible organ playing by Billy Preston.

Take 9 of “Here Comes The Sun” is a sparse backing track with Harrison’s backing vocal. “Because” is represented by Take 1, an instrumental only backing featuring John on guitar, George Martin on electric harpsichord and Ringo keeping time with his hands and fingers.

The finished master of “You Never Give Me Your Money” was based on Take 30. The anniversary edition contains Take 36, which has a very different sounding vocal by Paul. Take 20 of “Sun King”/”Mean Mr. Mustard” is preceded by studio banter. The former song has an off-mike guide vocal by John. On the latter song, John has fun with his vocal. At this stage, he is still singing “sister Shirley.” He also sings “God save the Queen” in reference to the line “Takes him out to look at the Queen.”

The “Polythene Pam”/”She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” segment of the medley is represented by Take 27. The track is preceded by Paul discussing the drumming with Ringo. John comments that it sounds like Dave Clark, the drummer for the Dave Clark Five. Ringo’s drumming is quite active on the track. John sings the first song, while Paul sings an on-mike guide vocal for the second. The anniversary edition contains the first three takes of the “Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight” part of the medley. It opens with Paul briefly singing “The Fool On The Hill” (Take 1) before leading into Take 2, which breaks down, restarts as Take 3 and breaks down again. The super deluxe edition also contains George Martin’s orchestral score of “Golden Slumbers” in isolation. Take 3 of “The End” is lacking the piano extension added for Paul’s concluding couplet. The 2 CD and super deluxe editions contain all three takes of “Her Majesty.”

The super deluxe edition also contains some songs recorded during the time-frame of the Abbey Road sessions that were not included on the album. These include a pair of Paul McCartney demos, “Goodbye” and “Come And Get It.” The former, featuring Paul on acoustic guitar and vocal, was given to Mary Hopkin to serve as the follow-up to her mega-hit “Those Were The Days.” The latter, featuring Paul on vocal, piano, maracas, drums and bass, was recorded by Badfinger and used as the theme song for the film “The Magic Christian.”

Both sides of the Beatles second 1969 single are  included. Take 2 of “Old Brown Shoe” has a George guide vocal. Take 7 of “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” is a fun run-through of the song with John on guide vocal and acoustic guitar and Paul on drums. (Neither George nor Ringo were present for this session.) The song is preceded by banter from before Take 4 in which John calls out to Paul (who is on drums), “Go a bit faster, Ringo!” to which Paul replies, “OK, George!”

One of the more interesting tracks on the super deluxe edition is the July 30 test edit of the medley known as “The Long One.” The running order is essentially the same as that of the Side Two medley, but with “Her Majesty” placed between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” Paul noticed that “Hey Majesty” did not work in the medley and had it removed. Hearing this test demonstrates that Paul was absolutely correct in doing so.

The super deluxe anniversary edition also has a Blu-ray audio disc with stereo, 5.1 and Dolby Atmos mixes of the album. While many purchasers will be able to enjoy the 5.1 surround sound mix, most will not have the equipment for Atmos. Still, it’s nice to have for those with advanced home theater systems and those who may later upgrade.

All of the editions available have superb packaging. The super deluxe edition is full album size (12″ x 12″). It has a hard shell case that holds a hardcover book. The discs are packaged in cardboard sleeves that fit into the front and back inside covers of the book. The book itself is a treat, with introductory words from Paul McCartney and Giles Martin followed by extensive liner notes by Kevin Howlett. The book contains a generous number of photographs taken by Linda McCartney at the Abbey Road sessions, most of which will be new to those going through the pages. The super deluxe edition certainly lives up to its name.

For those on a limited budget, the 2 CD Anniversary Edition is clearly worth purchasing over the single disc remix. This edition has the stereo remix on one disc and an alternate Abbey Road disc with outtakes of each of the album’s songs following the running order of the album. It comes with a 40-page full color book that has the intro pieces from Paul and Giles and limited liner notes from Howlett. It also has over a dozen of Linda’s photographs from the sessions.

Vinyl consumers also have multiple options. There is a single disc anniversary edition of the remix, a picture disc of the remix and a three-disc deluxe edition containing the remix and all of the outtakes found on the super deluxe edition. The deluxe vinyl edition comes with four-page insert packaged in a solid lift-top cardboard box.

The only criticism I have about the super deluxe anniversary edition of Abbey Road is that I wish more alternate takes were included. I would have enjoyed having a take of “You Never Give Me Your Money” with the group jamming at the end, as well as “Something” with the extended (and admittedly unnecessary) instrumental coda featuring John on piano. Apple, for the most part, chose not to include alternate takes that were previously issued on Anthology 3. I wish these tracks had been included because many of the Anthology takes appeared in edited form. And those that were complete would have benefited from a remix. But this is a very minor complaint that in no way negatively impacts the listening experience or historical importance of this collection. The super deluxe anniversary edition of Abbey Road is a solid “A” and another necessary purchase for Beatles fans and music scholars.

Order the Deluxe edition from Amazon here

Abbey Road (Super Deluxe Edition)

Bruce Spizer is the author of 11 critically acclaimed books on the Beatles, including his latest, The Beatles Get Back to Abbey Road, which shall be published on September 27, 2019, available in Standard and Collector’s Editions from www.beatle.net.

Order Bruce’s The Beatles Get Back To Abbey Road here – the perfect companion.