When the Beatles released “Abbey Road” on Sept. 26, 1969, we were all ready for a diversion.
Riots, the war, assassinations — all of them had us longing for an escape. Where better to find it than on the airwaves?
For those who grew up in the ’60s, the Beatles were more than music. What they did, how they dressed, what they thought set the trend for everyone over 7 and under 25. They did more than create new songs, they created new music.
While certainly no fanatic, I was always impressed with the musical paths they forged — month after month, year after year, throughout my childhood. Their new songs were truly “new,” unlike anything they’d done before and miles ahead of what almost anyone else was doing.
I was as anxious as anyone to hear what was to follow the wildly strange “White Album” from the year before. Somehow, it seems, everyone knew this was going to be special.
Equally exciting, those living at the time will recall that “Abbey Road” came out amid rumors that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash back in 1966. The music industry had covered up the tragedy and replaced McCartney with a double, so it was theorized.
Radio stations were devoting programs that included audio of Beatles’ lyrics from earlier albums — some played forward, some backward — with clues like “turn me on dead man” and “I bury Paul.”
That’s a lot of weirdness for an unformed psyche.
Weird, yes, but weirdly engaging to a young teenager.
Part of me wants to surrender these memories to obscurity. You can’t impart the impact of “Abbey Road” on anyone who didn’t grow up with a transistor radio tucked in their pocket. You can’t revisit the experience on Spotify.
I didn’t hear a cut from “Abbey Road” until about a month after its release, right around Halloween when the air was crisp and the mystery shrouding Paul took on added dimension.
And there it was, finally, a macabre John leading the procession with: “One and one and one is three…” — proof!
You could track that path, or you could wait another few days for George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” — for my money, the cleanest, most perfectly joyful, and possibly best rock song ever written. It simply has no flaw.
Come to think of it, much of the rest of “Abbey Road” is the antithesis of John’s funereal “Come Together” — Paul’s sweet crooning in “Golden Slumbers” or his wailing “Oh Darling,” or what about George’s loving tribute “Something” (quite a coup for the “third” Beatle)?
Oh well, as they say, you had to be there. If you weren’t, it’s hard to imagine how a whole generation feels about this anniversary.
On the other hand, it’s not entirely impossible to experience another generation’s music and come away with an echo of how it felt at the time.
It happened to me once, and it happened with a bang.
Oddly, it was Stanley Kubrick who teed up the ball.
I was in my late teens, watching the political satire “Dr. Strangelove” at home with my parents late one Saturday.
The highlight of the film is the ending sequence when, with his usual sardonic flair, Kubrick unleashes a montage of atomic explosions onscreen to the strains of the 1939 classic “We’ll Meet Again.”
“We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”
I chuckled aloud.
My mother shushed me, offended by Kubrick’s irreverence and my ignorance.
She was nearly crying.
“I used to sing that song every night during the war,” she said. “I had three brothers fighting over in Germany, and we never knew if they were still alive until we got a letter from them, maybe twice a month.”
I haven’t watched “Strangelove” since.