Tonight, as we ease into the weekend, I decided to listen, again, to the Beatles’ timeless Abbey Road. It’s only, say, the 10,000th time I’ve listened to this album, which has been a staple on my music rotation since it was first released. It’s one of the few pieces of music I’ve listened to consistently over those 40+ years, from the teenage years through college, to the D.C. era, the early family years and now to my mid-50s.
As I’ve listened to the music over the years, my perspective has changed. At first, I just loved the music because it’s great music. In college, I listened in fervent hope that the Beatles might reunite and create more fantastic music like this. By the late ’80s, when CDs replaced albums, Abbey Road was one of the very first CDs I bought, because the album is an absolute foundation stone, an essential element of any collection of modern music.
Tonight I listen, marveling at the extraordinary musicianship of this group of four British lads and thinking hard about what it must have been like, in the late ’60s, to be in the studio when the music first came to life. At that time, the Beatles were at the absolute pinnacle of popular culture, in a way no single person or act has been, perhaps, before or since. Their every move was flash-bulbed, their every every lyric and note was scrutinized, and their every album was breathlessly anticipated by millions as yet another opportunity for the Beatles to break the mold, bend the arc of popular music and culture, and move the frontiers forward. What must it have been like to write a song under those conditions? What must it have been like to know that, by sleeping in an Amsterdam bed or being photographed with a new girlfriend or attending the show of a new act you could control the stories that appeared in tomorrow’s headlines?
And I think, as I listen to side two of Abbey Road, which has been my favorite piece of music during those 40+ years, period, I wonder: what must it have been like to sit in that Abbey Road studio, at the very peak of the popular world, and think: “Hey, let’s combine all of these great songs into one continuous song, blending seamlessly one into the other” — and know that you have the complete, unfettered freedom to do something like that because, for you, at that moment in time, there are no boundaries whatsoever?