Why does a Beatle cross the road?
I adored the Beatles in 1964. From the moment they struck up “All My Lovin'” on the Ed Sullivan Show I became a fan and remained so right through “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” in 1967.
But of all their studio albums, the one that moved me least was “Abbey Road.” Yet if you believe Wikipedia, “Abbey Road,” their 11th and final studio album, recorded in 1969 when the band was beginning to drift apart, remains at the top of the list for vast numbers of rock music lovers.
While it’s true that a couple of the Beatles best-loved songs, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun,” are on that album, there are also a few dubious selections. Does anyone seriously claim that “Octopus’s Garden” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” are great songs? There’s a reason these selections don’t show up on the karaoke menus.
Of course every band has its share of clunkers. And the Beatles produced so many memorable songs, and introduced such innovation to the recording practices of that era that their cultural contribution cannot be overestimated. But what’s equally impressive is the lasting impact of their artistic choices, many of which were impromptu.
One of the best examples of this is the classic cover of the “Abbey Road” album. This simple image of the four Beatles crossing the street, Abbey Road, was shot in a ten-minute window while a policeman stopped traffic to enable photographer Iain Macmillan to perch on a ladder in the middle of the busy street. The resulting image has become so famous in the forty years since it was created that tourists still flock to that crossing spot on Abbey Road. You can watch the action on the webcam.
The “Abbey Road” cover has been often imitated but never surpassed. Obsessive Beatles fans back in 1969 spent hours theorizing about the significance of Paul being barefoot in the photo, the order of the walkers, the meaning of the lines on the crosswalk.
Mock if you like. Fandom makes fools of all. But it also brings us together. We may not agree about politics, or economic policy, or global warming, but most everyone who has heard the Beatles likes some of their music. Possibly even “Octopus’s Garden.”