We have all been frequently reminded from all the Boomers working at the major media outlets that this month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, the final album on which the Beatles all actually worked together.
It suddenly occurred to me the other day as I heard yet another reminder, this time on BBC World News (available here on PBS at 5:30 p.m. each weeknight), that several of the young composers that I once knew when I was pursuing a musical career 30 years ago cited Abbey Road as a compositional inspiration, and they meant the medley that begins with You Never Give Me Your Money.
The Beatles are just a little bit before my time; my rock era, unfortunately, was the mid-to-late 1970s, but the Fab Four were still the focus of cult-like adoration during that time. I distinctly remember my sister and her friends repeatedly gathering at a neighbor’s house to immerse themselves in the music of the Liverpudlian quartet.
And Abbey Road was the most special of all those records because of that medley, all those catchy song fragments stitched together in high style, some of it symphonic, such as when George Martin’s trumpets reprise You Never Give Me Your Money in the middle of Carry That Weight. What made it stand out for me was the sheer abundance of all those ideas, any of which could have been stretched into full songs.
And that’s what I remember talking about with my fellow would-be composers at music school: how cleverly and beautifully things were stitched together. You couldn’t resist the tunes, even if the record as a whole was marred by that singular English dippiness (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Octopus’s Garden: yeesh!) that comes right out of the music-hall tradition. (We’ve got our own embarrassing traditions, most of them much more maudlin, over here.)
That’s when it occurred to me that a lot of composers in their 40s and 50s today who grew up pursuing classical or jazz careers while not ignoring pop and rock might have as their lodestar not The Rite of Spring so much as Abbey Road, side 2.
Consider: It’s eclectic and constructed with short attention spans in mind, which makes it ideal for today’s multitaskers, and I hear a lot of contemporary classical that has the same multiplicity of pop-style ideas that the Beatles record does. The medley, which Martin cobbled together from Beatles fragment, has the same restlessness and mood shifting that I hear in contemporary classical.
What Abbey Road has that a lot of ear-friendly, eclectic classical does not have is powerful melody, and that’s something that’s just about impossible to teach. If a classical composer should arise who can write good tunes, the world will be his or her oyster (not even Paul McCartney can do it, really).
But that’s wandering off point a little: I’ve got a hunch that at the back of every compositional brain of a certain generation is the medley that features She Came In Through the Bathroom Window. It makes a lot of intuitive sense to me; when we ask contemporary composers for their models, we do them a disservice if we only accept answers that have names such as Carl Nielsen in them.
The great composers of the past stuffed all kinds of pop in their pieces. We’re well aware of Central Europe’s craze for Turkish tunes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries thanks to Mozart and Beethoven, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this durable piece of British pop should be slumbering — like Debussy said of Massenet — in the heart of many of today’s composers.
I don’t know who will admit that, except me, but I know there are a lot more of you out there. Here’s the medley, in the meantime: