It's possible that I've never listened to another album as many times as the Beatles' Abbey Road.
It's the first of their records I heard outside their greatest hits compilations, and the first I ever bought on vinyl (from a Tower Records — RIP). I played it over and over again on my dad's old portable turntable with fuzzy built-in speakers and a decades-old needle that eventually ravaged the wax. That copy has since been replaced, but I still have it, decorating my desk at work.
Abbey Road recently turned 50, which was as good an excuse as any to replay it for what seemed like the millionth time. This time, I opted for the so-called "Super Deluxe Edition," a new mix engineered by Giles Martin, son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin. Though I'd admired his work on the 50th-anniversary remixes of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album, I assumed I'd heard all Abbey Road had to offer.
I put the album on as I was writing late one night, as background music I wouldn't have to think too much about. And about two minutes and 30 seconds into album opener "Come Together," I heard a little guitar doodle I had never noticed before. It's almost a one-off note, as if George Harrison was absentmindedly sliding his finger up the neck of his instrument. It had been lost in the original mix, but pushed forward in this new arrangement.
I rewound, just to be sure I was hearing it right, and then rewound it again, and again. I went back to the version of the album I've owned for years, and confirmed that the note is in there, too, but barely detectable. George's guitar had been buried for decades. Now it was exposed.
It forced me to go back and really pay attention to an album I had merely put on as background noise. The strings that weave themselves into "Something" suddenly have more clarity. Paul's dextrous basslines have much more power, as do his larynx-shredding vocals on "Oh! Darling." The complex harmonies of "Because" have never sounded better; same goes for the shifting sonics of the thrilling multipart suite that closes the record.
And it all goes back to that little guitar part, one that could easily pass by without any consideration. To hear something you thought you knew in a totally different light is a remarkable thing, even if it's just a little note, and now Abbey Road seems as fresh and exciting as it did the first time I brought it home from Tower Records. ♦