Album: Abbey Road
Once upon a time – for a short period of time in the overall scheme of things – context mattered. Where a song was on an album actually made a difference in how you enjoyed that song. Think of how “Behind Blue Eyes” set up “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” or how perfectly sequenced the first few songs on The Joshua Tree or The Velvet Underground were.
And of course, perhaps the best object lesson ever in song sequencing is the group of songs that make up the bulk of side two of Abbey Road. When I first fell in love with this as a teenager, I didn’t even realize that it was basically bookended by two pretty great McCartney songs, in between were sandwitched a Lennon mood piece (which I hated for years) and three half-finished rock songs, and concluded by a jam session.
And yes, it’s responsible for some terrible things in the name of “art rock” as bands attempted to stitch songs together into “suites” or songs with “movements” or even make an entire album of a single song. (Of course, it’s responsible for some great things: “Close to the Edge,” “Supper’s Ready” & “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, among others)
However, after 35 years of listening to these songs all together, I would argue that none of these songs really work well as standalones (even "You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” are basically pastiches), but as a whole, it’s a glorious monstrosity that somehow maintains consistency while continually changing mood.
Which is why the first thing I did when I started listening to the entire universe on eternal shuffle is get some audio editing equipment and create a single file so that I listen to these songs together, or not at all. (I also did that with side one of The Who Sell Out, which is a whole other thing.)
So I do wonder what future generations are going to make of this, as these songs come at them completely without context? I guess if anything is ever going to be experienced as a whole album, it’s going to be something by The Beatles.
Fan-made video for “The Abbey Road Medley”
My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify