This is where it all started for me.
I was seven years old when Abbey Road was released, and by then I had already become an expert at sneaking into my teenage sister’s room and playing her records when she was not around. By then I had discovered The Beatles via some of their other albums like Something New and Magical Mystery Tour. There were also albums and 45s by The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits and The Who. I’d listen to them all with the volume low, staring at the album covers, occasionally looking up at her bookshelf and seeing books with names like Kahlil Gibran, Harper Lee and, a bit later, a bird named Johnathan Livingston Seagull. I could spend hours just watching the record labels spin, and examining how slowly and serenely the tone arm drifted toward the centre of the disc.
But the music — the music was everything.
Nineteen-sixty-nine would prove to be a watershed year: the moon landing, the Woodstock Festival, The Manson murders, the American escalation of Vietnam by instituting the draft. Against this chaotic background, we celebrated our local heroes. The Sault Hockey Hall of Fame inducted John Ferroni, Curly Keenan, Hank Lauzon, Merlin Moore and John Ubriaco. The City’s Medal of Merit went to F. J. Davey and to the Sir James Dunn choir. Our brand new city water tower, a giant, gleaming-white mushroom sitting at the top of Second Line and Great Northern Road, became our official landmark, boasting the city’s name in huge, black, officious letters.
In my own life, memories of the sad little spider monkey in the K-Mart pet department and cranky old Josephine the donkey at the Bellevue Park zoo abound, along with pestering my parents to take me to Putter’s Park, and maybe to JJ’s for hamburgers afterwards. Or going with my father to Walt’s Service Station on Wellington visit my compare Walter Pszeniczny and sip a grape Crush while the men talked and blustered good-naturedly.
Into this mix came Abbey Road, The Beatles’ last, and probably (IMHO) best, studio album. I was immediately enthralled by “Come Together,” and shivers ran down my spine when the magnificent coda to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” came to a complete and abrupt stop, ending side one like a runaway freight train hitting a buffer stop. The second side, with its angelic “Because” and its climactic message to humanity about love coming and going in equal measure, solidified my musical inclinations for the rest of my life. Later, when I overheard my sister and her friends talking about the clues fueling the Paul McCartney death rumours, my thoughts immediately went to the barefoot Paul on the Abbey Road cover, walking left-to-right, cigarette held in the wrong hand, the “28IF” licence plate clearly visible in the background, led by a priest and an undertaker, and followed by a gravedigger.
Such an effect that album had and still has on me!
Listening to it now, Abbey Road has lost none of its power or its brilliance. Even though the comparably listless Let It Be was released after Abbey Road, the latter remains a testament to a band going out on the highest of high notes, leaving us to wonder about what the future would have held if they had stayed together into the seventies and, perhaps, beyond. I still think about sitting in my sister’s room, clandestinely listening to her records, every time “Here Comes the Sun” or “Octopus’s Garden” plays in my headphones. I still rechristen Church Street “Abbey Road” every time I use it to get to Pim Hill, and I still get shivers up and down my spine when “(She’s So Heavy)” comes to its apocalyptic, dead stop.
Some things will never change.