Every time you turn around there’s another 50-year anniversary story that you’re gonna hear, the moon landing, Woodstock, and just ahead, the last Beatle recording: Abbey Road.
Abbey Road is one of only three records for which I remember exactly, the time and the place, where I heard it for the first time.
Another one is Neil Young’s Silver and Gold. It’s playing as I’m sitting down alone in the middle of the afternoon in a dark, downtown Toronto basement bar called C’est What. With a nod from me to the bartender, it plays again from the start to the finish. July in the year 2000.
Then, there’s The Decemberists The Crane Wife, the only CD we have, as I drive with Judy and Lily for eight hours through a 2007, January wind and rain from The Hague to Berlin in a rented little Ford Fiesta grabbing sandwiches that Judy packed from the back as we go.
Each of those records would be eclipsed by some other recording in your mind, and, given a different set of circumstances, in my own. It’s a convergence of the music with me in a particular time and place that makes these scenes permanent.
What I mean is, I’m back there every time.
Like Sgt. Pepper and the white album, next month Abbey Road is getting a son of the original producer, George, Giles Martin re-master re-release. I like playing loud the enhanced detail of the updated Sgt. Pepper. But that doesn't take me back the way Abbey Road will.
Joe Petro and I are cramped into a tiny listening booth at the Musicland record store in the Markland Mall in Kokomo. Joe grabbed Abbey Road from the guy behind the counter and we’re banging knees, putting on headphones, and trying to get comfortable in the little orange plastic chairs as Joe puts it on the turntable.
We’re juniors at Eastern High School in Greentown. We drove over after school. It’s October and I’ve only had my driver’s license for a little more than a month.
The side one openers “Something” and “Come Together” have been playing on the radio so we start with side 2.
A new Beatle record. It’s like creation for us. There’s nothing … and then, (“Here Comes the Sun”).
‘Are you hearing what I’m hearing?’ we say to each other with a sideways glance. (“Soon we’ll be away from here / Step on the gas and wipe that tear away.”)
But not a word.
Not a word until “The End.” Then, “Wow.” That’s all. “Wow.”
“Her Majesty (’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say’)” startles us to a laugh, and the return to earth the Fab Four intended.
Joe and I are disappointed with side 1, but despair not, without worrying too much about that look we’re getting from the clerk, we listen to side 2 again.
That was 50 years ago. It seems like maybe last month. Joe has been gone for 35 years, but that day never went away.
So, I’m looking forward to the Abbey Road re-release next month, and the chance to spend another Abbey Road side 2 with Joe Petro in the cramped little listening booth at the Musicland record store at the Markland Mall in Kokomo, October 1969.
Neil Young “Razor Love,” “Good to See You,” Silver and Gold, 2000
The Decemberists, “The Crane Wife 3,” The Crane Wife, 2006
The Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “The End,” Abbey Road, 1969