This article is the first in a series that we are doing on which Beatles album is the best. At the conclusion of the series, we will offer a poll on the main page asking you to vote on which one is your favorite.
Trying to pick the best Beatles album is a little bit like trying to pick the best kind of candy bar: the choices are numerous and all so delectable. But, just like I’m certain to choose a Butterfinger over any other combination of chocolate, filling, and nuts, I’m positive that Abbey Road will always be my first choice of Beatles albums.
Abbey Road strikes the perfect balance between immense popularity and artistic innovation. While the first side of the album plays much like past and present pop albums with a compilation of individual songs, most of the second side consists of a 16-minute medley. The medley, made up of several short songs that flow directly into one another, is unlike any other piece of popular music released at the time. A few of the songs included in the medley, like “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” stand especially well on their own, but the continuous compilation encourages a way of listening to music that has been somewhat lost in the culture of hits and singles.
The album also displays the range of talent within the band. While, as usual, Lennon and McCartney composed most of the songs on the album, some of the best songs were written and sung by the remaining two band members, Harrison and Starr. Harrison’s contributions, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” are arguably his most popular songs. Even McCartney thought “Something” was Harrison’s best piece. Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden,” one of my personal favorite Beatles’ songs, is outstanding, especially considering it was only the second song he’d ever written. And, of course, there’s no arguing the genius of the McCartney-Lennon tracks that fill up the rest of the album.
Part of what makes Abbey Road so successful is its emotional range. One of the main criticisms of the album is the presence of “childish” tracks. In my opinion, if you can’t appreciate the bouncy beats and playful tale of “Octopus’s Garden” as well as the raw, bluesy emotion of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” you don’t know how to enjoy life. The band strikes the perfect balance between joy and longing, frustration and hope, and arousal and peace.
In a contemporary context, Abbey Road is largely successful in standing the test of time. In 2009, Abbey Road was named the best Beatles album by Rolling Stone readers. Four out of eleven songs off of Abbey Road were featured in the 2007 film Across the Universe. This number is rivaled only by the five tracks off of the White Album that are featured in the movie, but when you realize that album contains thirty tracks, it’s obvious that Abbey Road is the best represented album of the film’s soundtrack. The songs of Abbey Road continue to be adored over forty years after their release.
The huge success of the music of the album paired with the artistry of the cover has made the photograph of the band strolling across a striped crosswalk one of the most recognizable and imitated images of all time. It’s been emulated by The Beastie Boys, The Simpsons, and The Powerpuff Girls alike. While the image is striking, it wouldn’t have endured so strongly had the album not been such an achievement.
One of the things that amazes me most about Abbey Road is that it’s so fantastic despite the disintegration of the group occurring while it was being recorded. Abbey Road was the Beatles’ last recorded album (Let it Be, though released after Abbey Road, was recorded beforehand). The Fab Four were somehow able to put aside their differences and make music, ending their career together on an extremely high note. I can’t quite understand how they managed to do this with all of their problems, but I’m happy they did.
The complex artistry, excellent songs, and universal acclaim of Abbey Road unquestionably makes it the best Beatles album. So, with that irrefutable evidence, I’ll simply leave you with a little Beatles wisdom: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”