This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #1: Abbey Road Medley by The Beatles.
It feels very much like the last day of school. For thirty years, I had the absolute pleasure of being a classroom teacher and of spending a year of my life surrounded by tiny humans, all members of an extended family, affectionately known as “my kids”. Every year was special and every year was different and yet, every year was the same because our time together always ended on the last day of school. This day feels like those days. Our journey has come to an end and it has done so after fourteen months together. Fourteen months of celebrating the very best music, in multiple genres, from multiple eras. I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent these past fourteen months in the company of any other humans than all of you. But, like all things in life, everything comes to an end eventually. And so, our musical countdown list must come to an end, too. It does so with a suite of songs that have come to be called, “The Abbey Road Medley” by The Beatles. I will talk a bit more about these songs and why they were chosen, in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the nature of “Best of-” titles and why that doesn’t really apply to songs.
If we were all being honest, we’d know that there is no such thing as one perfect song. If this countdown has proven anything, it is that there is a vast wealth of incredible music out there and, more importantly, that music means different things to each of us. You have to look no further than to our Honourable Mention songs…which came from all of you and which held meaning for all of you…..to recognize the diversity of important music out there in the world. From that small list of 24 songs, we had Punk music, Pop ballads, a song from WWII, a Blues song, several classic rock songs, a Folk song and on and on it goes. Who am I to select one song from amid such a smorgasbord and proclaim that as being the “real” best song. All throughout this countdown, my goal was inclusionary, not exclusionary. The most important music in the world is that which makes your heart happy. There is no one anywhere that should ever tell you that what makes your heart happy has less value than something else. Who cares?! Enjoy what makes you smile. Life is too short to do otherwise.
So, if there is no definitive “Best of-” song, how did I go about choosing how to end this project? Well, let me tell ya…..it wasn’t easy. However, as soon as I came to understand the story behind the Abbey Road Medley, I immediately knew it was the right choice for me. I knew it in the same way that I knew my wife, Keri, was the right one for me when we first met. Sometimes, everything just all falls into place and you just know……ya know? So, here is why I changed my #1 choice from “Imagine” by John Lennon to the “Abbey Road Medley” with over 200 songs still to go in this countdown.
Several times over the course of this countdown, I have mentioned the TV documentary about The Beatles that aired on the Disney Channel, called, “Get Back”. Watching that documentary was a transformative experience for me. First of all, coming into it, I knew of The Beatles as much as one could, I suppose. I knew their discography. I knew the basic timeline of their career. I knew the biographies of the main players and so on. But, up until “Get Back” aired, The Beatles were always two-dimensional figures in my mind. But, the documentary changed that for me. One of the great pleasures I had watching it was that it unfolded over the course of four or five weeks of real time. Thus, we were all given the luxury of watching things unfold slowly. We live in an age of instant gratification so, to suddenly be able to watch a creative process at play that was not working magically and that was, in fact, strained and floundering, at times, and that had to keep going, regardless….well, that was incredible to watch. As I watched it all unfold, the members of The Beatles all became humanized. They turned into real people who were, by turns, bored, frustrated, relaxed and sipping tea and so on. There were glimpses of the magic that had always been there, as well as, the joy of the camaraderie that they always shared (especially when they played together on the rooftop). All four members also had lives that existed beyond the studio walls; factors that seemingly accelerated the demise of the band and served as distractions while the recording process was going on.
But, as I watched it all, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences as a classroom teacher. Watching The Beatles in studio was exactly like watching the kids in my class: how they interacted with each other, were distracted by events in their own lives and how they enjoyed the magic that happens, every once and awhile, when it all comes together and good work is done by all and everyone feels great. In a classroom, given the luxury of time over the course of an entire school year, you build routines and expose the students to skill-building opportunities every day; day after day, until growth occurs. The same process took place with The Beatles on screen. They went round and round on some of those songs. For awhile, I thought to myself if I heard fragments of “Get Back” one more time, I was going to scream. But, that is how the creative process works. It is work. It doesn’t come out in finished form, all at once, very often. And it didn’t for The Beatles then, either. The grand experiment that was their band was coming to an end in front of our eyes. It was beautiful to see those happy moments, when they occurred but, the magnitude of the loss that was coming was more emotional than I was prepared for. I saw it most in Ringo’s puppy dog eyes that seemed to mirror his heart which beat for a shared past that was slipping away.
When the “Let It Be” album was finished (that was what The Beatles were working on in the documentary, by the way), the band went their separate ways and that appeared to be it. However, from those recording sessions, there were scraps and fragments of several other songs that were laying around and in need of attention. So, despite all of the acrimony, the band reassembled one last time…..to “play like we used to”, as Paul said. That last time together….when was spread over several weeks, was their last time together as a band and out of those sessions came the “Abbey Road” album. “Abbey Road” is known for George Harrison’s break out songs, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”. The album, also featured the songs, “Come Together”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and Ringo’s contribution, “Octopus’ Garden”. But, “Abbey Road” is, also, known for how it closes on Side #2. On that side of the album, there exists a seven-song medley that is simply known as the “Abbey Road Medley” or “The Long One”, as it was nicknamed during the recording process. What is noteworthy about this medley is how seven song fragments were able to be lovingly stitched together to form a musical tapestry, of sorts. The songs in the medley are: “You Never Give Me Your Money”…..which was about manager Allan Klein, “Sun King”, “Mean Mr. Mustard”, Polythene Pam”, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, “Golden Slumbers”, “Carry That Weight”, “The End”….which contains one of the most iconic lyric lines in the entire Beatles canon and then, a gap of twenty seconds, followed by “Her Majesty”, which was a song cut out of the middle of the medley and then saved and re-inserted as a “hidden track” at the very end.
This “Abbey Road Medley” has been described as a “Hymn to Love”. Ringo Starr is on record as stating that he felt it was a masterpiece and the best thing they had ever done. What the Medley really is, is a snapshot of those things that the band held dear. It is about compassion and empathy and sharing but, most of all, it is about Love and Brotherhood. If you exclude the “Hidden track”….”Her Majesty” for a moment….the Medley ends with a snippet of music called, appropriately enough, “The End”. That song fragment contains the line that comes from my heart to all of yours…….”In the end, the Love you take is equal to the Love you make“.
Those were the final words of the final song that The Beatles ever recorded and released. When I heard those words and, the story behind them, I knew I had found the closer to this countdown. If the “Abbey Road Medley” is good enough to speak for The Beatles then, it is good enough to speak for me, too.
In the video for this song, you will see the shorter, abridged version of the Medley. It is from a concert put on my George Martin and Paul McCartney a few years ago. One of the things that makes the “Abbey Road Medley” a bit magical is that, despite their differences, John, Paul and George still concluded their career together in a show of solidarity. As the Medley progresses, there are sections where all three members trade off guitar solos. So, in the video, watch for this. George and John are dead and gone by the time this concert was held so, in their places are the Devil incarnate, himself, Eric Clapton, standing in for his friend, George Harrison….along with, Mark Knopfler, from Dire Straits, standing in for John…Phil Collins sits in for Ringo. The entire Medley is glorious and joy-filled and wonderful to watch. It fills me up. I trust it will for you, too.
And when it ends and the applause dies down……our musical countdown journey ends, too. As all things in life do. This is it. Just like on the final day of school, when that bell rings at the end of that day and the kids all head for the door that one last time, a chapter in all of our lives closes. So, as I type these last few words, know that I am grateful for having spent this time with each of you. It has been very satisfying to share this celebration of music together and being able to watch you grow. Now off into the sunshine you go. It is time.
The link to the video for the song, “Abbey Road Medley” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.