Sunday, December 2, 2018
The Beatles: Purple Chick deluxe- Abbey Road (1969-96)
The most entertaining and purely listenable of all the PC deluxe online-only bootleg editions of the Beatles' canon albums is the one constructed for Abbey Road, less because of any unusual quantity of material that's slipped out from those sessions than because what does exist is so interesting, often to an extent that overwhelms dreadful sound quality, and because the material is less repetitive than usual. It's also a comparatively quick runthrough; since Abbey Road was only ever mixed in stereo, there's no need for multiple versions of the album, and there are few alternate mixes to speak of since the Beatles' status by 1969 ensured their releases worldwide were essentially uniform. (The only difference between my U.S. and UK editions of the vinyl album is that the former lists the 23-second final track, "Her Majesty," on the back cover.) This also goes for the contemporary single, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" b/w "Old Brown Shoe."
Abbey Road's legend precedes it: it's the final triumph of the Beatles, recorded after the Get Back debacle, reuniting them with the titular studio (Get Back was recorded at Twickenham Film Studios and at the new Apple studio on Saville Row) and with the control room fully commandeered by George Martin, with whom relations are said to be strained in the later stretches of the White Album sessions; Glyn Johns had engineered Get Back (though Martin was also present and working). The suggestion is of a harmonious final victory lap, with all bittersweetness thus implied; it's also the most professional-sounding Beatles album, recorded on eight-track with synthesizer and string flourishes and an unusual degree of studio-concocted sweetness -- detail, too, with the band's almost flawless rhythm section never more out-in-front. It's a big crowd-pleaser, and a big totem for the final days of the group; hell, you can even clearly hear Ringo's voice in the four-way chorus of "Carry That Weight."
PC's mission here also encompasses the two "new" Beatles songs released in 1995, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love." As explained in our reviews of the Anthology releases, these were built around old home demo tapes by the late John Lennon, filled out and elaborated upon by the remaining Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne. PC offers John's incomplete recordings and several steps in the process and well as variants on the finished singles. Without question, excluding Lennon's magnificent solo piano rendition of "Real Love" which was already available elsewhere, this is the least interesting part of the set -- while these must dutifully be counted as Beatles songs and aren't without their charm, they don't feel properly like a piece of the "canon."
Much of the rest is fascinating. Stripped-back mixes of performances issued on Anthology 3 (George's solo demos of "Old Brown Shoe" and "All Things Must Pass"; Paul's of "Come and Get It") are intriguing, although most will understandably prefer the properly mixed released versions. Meanwhile, the early solo George "Something" gets the opposite treatment, with rather corny overdubs not heard on the official disc, to its considerable benefit. George's soulful vocal on this acoustic take on the song has always struck me as more spontaneous and striking than on the actual release, which was also true of his initial recording of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
There's some marginal stuff dedicated to "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (mixing out most of the instruments leaving what amounts to an acoustic take), "Oh! Darling" (an entire long, meandering vocal overdub session that will be catnip to Paul fans) and "Octopus's Garden" (a few slight variants missing certain overdubs, which may improve the track for some). We get to the good stuff with "You Never Give Me Your Money," an outtake of which boasts a beautiful vocal from Paul and devolves into an interesting jam with lots of organ and uncharaceristic bouncing around. It's fun to hear "Carry That Weight" without guitar, overdubs and finished vocals; more fun yet to hear a very loose take on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."
However, take 37 of "Something" is more representative of what little we know about the mood of these sessions, in which steely focus and a kind of brooding inevitability seem to have been omnipresent -- it's the master, unmixed with prominent organ and piano, but it devolves into a remarkably dour jam session that's drab but oddly appealing and casts a bit of doubt on the marital bliss of the preceding song then cuts out very abruptly, not unlike "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" but perhaps not by design. These versions of "Come Together" (with the great loud, funky Lennon vocal and a rather stultifying blues-rock coda) and "Ain't She Sweet" (depressing and wonderful) were included on Anthology 3; it's surprising that the full "Something" was not. ("Because" and "The End" offer further duplications of the official release.)
The centerpiece of Abbey Road is of course the medley, which is also the centerpiece of this bootleg insofar as it prompts some of the most intriguing "new" material for fans; we get a complete rough monitor mix, in very poor quality but full of tweaks and unfinished elements that are very much audible. It's not unlike the Peter Sellers tape of the White Album sessions, with countless deviations from released material that will endlessly hypnotize hardcore fans but aren't necessarily obvious or easy to lay out. There are additional backing vocals on "You Never Give Me Your Money," a stark organ used as transition to "Sun King," more Lennon ranting in "Polythene Pam," no strings yet and what seems to be a different lead vocal on "Golden Slumbers," and no vocals at all on "The End." And in another rough mix herein included that may in fact be fake but let's just believe for the moment that it's genuine, the short Paul dick-around "Her Majesty" is restored to its original placement between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam," smoothly enough explaining where that supposed missing note went.
The third and final disc is mostly academic, just alternate mixes and documentary clips and heavily processed Anthology versions; most of it is comprised of material already well represented on the previous CD, with the exception of the '90s material, none of which will entice much -- it doesn't have any fly-on-the-wall tidbit of the actual sessions, though if you wondered how Kevin Godley of 10cc would sound when singing "Real Love," it's your lucky day. It's important to remember that, while this collects some of the most fun unissued Beatles ephemera, the Purple Chick compilations are still intended as archives and not as cohesive listening experiences. The last studio session with no missing Beatles was on August 20th, 1969, working on "I Want You"; their last photo session was a few days later, after which it's unknown if they all were ever in the same place again at all. Various configurations would gather at the studio in the next few months, but after the final Beatles session in early 1970 (for "I Me Mine"), the story proper came to an end, Abbey Road standing as the impetus for their last happy if uncomfortable hours as a real band. It's likely that within a few years we'll get to learn a lot more about what was going on in these final days of all four Beatles playing together, but for now, this glimpse at the last hurrah of 1969 gives us plenty to chew on.