The cover is the most classic album cover from a band who generated a lot of classic album covers; the first side is the most perfect side on any Beatles album. Tons of great things happening: the left-to-right bass and drum groove of “Come Together,” the guitar tone and bass playing of “Something,” the banging hammers of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” the inspired and inspiring singing of “Come Together” (Paul does just a good a job as John would’ve), the bubbles added to “Octopus’s Garden” – too cute, the band’s grandest, hugest song in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” eclipsing the previous year’s “Hey Jude.” Six of their finest melodies placed back-to-back; my personal favorite is “Oh! Darling” for those razor sharp edges, for every endearing falsetto (“WOAHHHHHHH!”) and for every visceral growl. People who single out “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Octopus’s Garden” are likely the same people who think The Very Hungry Caterpillar is bad literature simply because its target audience isn’t them which makes them stupid, and if they do think that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic, then they’re hypocrites which is worse; the band’s best children’s songs.
The second side has the prettiest song to ever appear on any Beatles album in George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” a good melody in the first third of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and a good rhythm in the second third, and the ending combination of “Carry That Weight” (grab your friends, sway drunkenly from left to right and shout these lyrics along for a guaranteed good time) and “The End” (where Ringo Starr becomes a God – not that he wasn’t one already) makes for the best conclusions on any Beatles album, and when you realize that that list includes “Twist & Shout,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “A Day in the Life,” you realize just what that means.
But I find it odd that no one ever mentions the bullshit, like how “Because” just sounds like a castrated version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Or how the final third of “You Never Give Me Your Money” sounds identical to the end of “Carry That Weight” but instead of launching into epic proportions of “The End,” it just patters out; in other words, one sounds bathetic and the other is prophetic. Or how “Sun King” doesn’t end up updating Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” by adding vocals and bass to it. Or how nothing happens on “Mean Mr. Mustard” except the bass. Or how “Polythene Pam” sounds identical to The Who’s “Relax” from two years prior with worse production,
Or, to put it another way and to italicize it to make it clear: the Beatles always had a good sense on how to make an album work as that rather than merely a collection of songs, so it’s incredibly dumb to praise a stretch of
songs half-based ideas that focus more on segueing than they do songwriting. In other words, if this is the best swan song in the history of music, that’s simply because there ain’t much competition; most bands – most obviously, the Beatles’ contemporaries in the Rolling Stones and the Who – believed that it was better to burn out than it was to fade away. And if their solo careers are any indication, had they remained as a group, they would’ve followed the exact same trajectory, anyway.
[The fad of adding bonus tracks might be the dumbest one in the history of music, true, but “Her Majesty” is twenty-three seconds and has a good melody – if there’s something you can be doing in that time that’s so much better, let me know what it is.]