Home Art The Beatles’ revolutionary use of recording technology in ‘Abbey Road’

The Beatles’ revolutionary use of recording technology in ‘Abbey Road’

With its cheery singles, theatrical medley and iconic cowl, The Beatles’ 11th studio album, “Abbey Road,” holds a particular place within the hearts of the band’s followers.

But because the album celebrates its 50th anniversary, few might notice simply how groundbreaking its tracks had been for the band.

In my forthcoming ebook, “Recording Analysis: How the Record Shapes the Song,” I present how the recording course of can improve the artistry of songs, and “Abbey Road” is likely one of the albums I spotlight.

Beginning with 1965’s “Rubber Soul,” The Beatles began exploring new sounds. This quest continued in “Abbey Road,” the place the band was in a position to deftly incorporate rising recording expertise in a approach that set the album aside from all the pieces that they had beforehand performed.

Sound in movement

“Abbey Road” is the primary album that the band launched in stereo solely.

Stereo was established within the early 1930s as a method to seize and replicate the way in which people hear sounds. Stereo recordings include two separate channels of sound – just like our two ears – whereas mono accommodates all the pieces on one channel.

Stereo’s two channels can create the phantasm of sounds rising from totally different instructions, with some coming from the listener’s left and others coming from the suitable. In mono, all sounds are at all times centered.

The Beatles had recorded all their earlier albums in mono, with stereo variations made with out the Beatles’ participation. In “Abbey Road,” nevertheless, stereo is central to the album’s inventive imaginative and prescient.

Take the opening minute of “Here Comes the Sun,” the primary observe on the report’s second facet.

If you hearken to the report on a stereo, George Harrison’s acoustic guitar emerges from the left speaker. It’s quickly joined by a number of delicate synthesizer sounds. At the top of the tune’s introduction, a lone synthesizer sound steadily sweeps from the left speaker to the listener’s middle.

Harrison’s voice then enters within the middle, in entrance of the listener, and is joined by strings situated towards the suitable speaker’s location. This kind of sonic motion can solely occur in stereo – and The Beatles masterfully deployed this impact.

The introduction to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ showcases stereo’s vary.

Then there are Ringo Starr’s drums in “The End,” which fill the complete sonic area, from left to proper. But every drum is individually mounted in a separate place, creating the phantasm of many drums in a number of places – a dramatic cacophony of rhythms that’s particularly noticeable within the observe’s drum solo.

‘The End’ peppers listeners’ ears with a panoply of drums.

Enter: The synthesizer

In the mid-1960s, an engineer named Robert Moog invented the modular synthesizer, a brand new kind of instrument that generated distinctive sounds from oscillators and digital controls that may very well be used to play melodies or improve tracks with sound results.

Harrison obtained an indication of the machine in October 1968. A month later, he ordered one in every of his personal.

The Beatles’ revolutionary use of recording technology in ‘Abbey Road’
Robert Moog poses with one in every of his synthesizers in a 2000 {photograph}. AP Photo/Alan Marler

The Beatles are among the many very first common musicians to make use of this revolutionary instrument. Harrison first performed it through the “Abbey Road” periods in August 1969, when he used it for the observe “Because.”

The synthesizer ended up being utilized in three different tracks on the album: “Here Comes the Sun,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

The Beatles didn’t incorporate the synthesizer for novelty or impact, because the Ran-Dells did of their 1963 hit “Martian Hop” and The Monkees did of their 1967 tune “Star Collector.”

Instead, on “Abbey Road,” the band capitalizes on the synthesizer’s versatility, creatively utilizing it to reinforce, reasonably than dominate, their tracks.

In some circumstances, the synthesizer merely seems like one other instrument: In “Here Comes the Sun,” the Moog mimics the guitar. In different tracks, like “Because,” the synthesizer truly carries the tune’s foremost melody, successfully changing the band’s voices.

In ‘Because,’ the synthesizer mimics the voices of band members.

A dramatic pause

In 1969, the LP report nonetheless reigned supreme. The Walkman – the machine that made music a extra non-public and moveable expertise – wouldn’t be invented for one more 10 years.

So when “Abbey Road” was launched, folks nonetheless listened to music in a room, both alone or with buddies, on a report participant.

The report had two sides; after the final tune on the primary facet, you needed to stand up, flip the LP and drop the needle – a course of that would take a few minute.

The Beatles, acutely aware of this course of, included this pause into the album’s total expertise.

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” ends facet one. It’s filled with energetic sounds that span the complete left-to-right spectrum of stereo, bounce from decrease to larger frequencies and embrace sweeps of white noise synthesizer sounds. These sounds steadily amass all through the course of the tune, the stress rising – till it all of the sudden stops: the purpose at which John Lennon determined the tape needs to be reduce.

The finish of ‘I Want You’ is just like the climax of a speech being reduce off.

The silence within the hole of time it takes to flip the LP permits the dramatic and sudden conclusion of facet one to reverberate inside the listener.

Then facet two begins, and never with a bang: It’s the mild, skinny guitar of “Here Comes the Sun.” The transition represents the best distinction between any two tracks on the album.

That hole of silence between all sides is integral to the album, an expertise you possibly can’t have listening to “Abbey Road” on Spotify.

“Abbey Road,” maybe greater than every other Beatles album, reveals how a tune will be poetically written and an instrument deftly performed. But the way in which a observe is recorded will be the artist’s closing stamp on the tune.

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