It’s been an exciting few years for Beatles fans. As the group’s “studio era” LPs have all turned 50, the stewards of the most celebrated catalog in the history of recorded music have commemorated these auspicious birthdays with excellent “super deluxe” reissues. Both the Sgt Pepper and White Album boxes feature splendid new stereo and 5.1 remixes, session outtakes, and lavish, celebratory hardcover books. But a “super deluxe” edition of Abbey Road is almost redundant: with all four Beatles operating at peak performance condition (unlike Sgt Pepper) and committed to cooperating with each other and George Martin (unlike The White Album), their masterfully-crafted swan song is already its own “super deluxe” album!
The band’s final studio sessions together produced some of their richest, most sophisticated music ever. The rockers on Abbey Road are fierce (“I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Come Together”), the ballads are achingly beautiful (“Something,” “Golden Slumbers”), and producer Martin’s use of a solid-state mixing console resulted in tracks that sound extra thick and potent. Whether they knew it would be their last album or not, Abbey Road raised the bar for rock studio craft even higher than Sgt Pepper did. To that end, the “super deluxe” edition of Abbey Road could well be the best of the bunch: it’s suitably reverent and packed with goodies for obsessives like myself, but streamlined enough to allow casual fans -those poor souls who read articles titled “10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Beatles” and actually find 10 things they didn’t know – to appreciate this landmark LP on a deeper level.
Let’s start with the spectacular 2019 stereo remix. Simply put, Giles Martin and Sam Okell have made Abbey Road sparkle like a freshly-polished gem. The rhythm section has a new heft and thickness, the vocals are crisp and present, and the subtleties of the arrangements (particularly George Martin’s stately orchestral scores) are brought to the fore. Please ignore whining Beatles purists on social media: unless they were involved in the original sessions, anyone claiming to know how this album “ought to sound” is full of it. The 2019 remix is a beautiful presentation of an LP that many of us have been hearing our entire lives. (I was born in 1972, and raised in a world where there was a copy of Abbey Road in every home; it was like the Bible or the Yellow Pages).
The studio outtakes chosen for this set are a real treat. The early takes provide a fascinating glimpse of the band’s studio alchemy at work, but George Martin’s isolated orchestral scores for “Something” and “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” will especially melt your heart. Unfortunately, my surround-sound system isn’t Blu Ray, so I haven’t heard the 5.1 or “Dolby ATMOS” mixes yet. But on release day Scott Erickson, a fellow “Beatle Bro” and a fixture at the fan conventions, sent this message: “The first time you hear the surround mix, wear brown pants!” The LP-cover-sized, hardcover book features the iconic album artwork on the front and back, and is jam-packed with glorious photos (including many session shots by Linda McCartney), detailed session notes by author Kevin Howlett, remarks from Giles Martin and Paul McCartney, and an insightful essay by veteran UK music journalist David Hepworth. The book neatly houses the four discs (2019 remix, two outtake CDs and the Blu Ray), and slips into a box that’s similarly decorated with the album art. The “super deluxe” edition of Abbey Road is lean, efficient and tight but full of Beatles magic, much like the Abbey Road album itself. It’s worth every penny.
Oh, that magic feeling!