I’ve always been puzzled by the esteem so many people have for Abbey Road, the Beatles’ swan song, which marks its fortieth anniversary this month. Aside from George Harrison’s two classics, the songs don’t exactly stick in one’s mind. John Lennon’s most memorable tune, “Come Together,” leans so heavily on Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” that it got him into legal hot water with professional barracuda Morris Levy, who owned the rights. Paul McCartney’s contributions are uniformly weak, Ringo Starr’s kiddie ditty drowns in the wake of “Yellow Submarine,” and the “suite” of song fragments on side two — that’s the vinyl edition for you sprouts — is less than the sum of its parts.
For me, the Beatles worked best when Lennon dominated the proceedings, and declined when McCartney took the reins. That’s why I think of the white album as their last great one: it’s Lennon’s record, with a disc’s worth of additions from the bandmates. And that famous cover shot of the Fabs crossing the street looks like four men playing catch-up — chasing the inspiration that had already crossed the street years earlier.