Fun fact: since I blogged about Dark Side of the Moon last week, this’ll be two in a row that emerged from the legendary Abbey Road studio. Abbey Road is, by one metric the final Beatles album. It was the last recorded. However, it wasn’t the last to be issued by the band. That’s Let It Be. This is, apparently, a huge argument for Beatles fans. It makes some sense — which album is the Beatles saying goodbye? I never really thought about it — last recorded means last, in my mind. But then again, I do so much with literature that I’m warped a bit, because when you’re doing authorial history release dates really don’t matter. Anyway. Let’s get to reading!
I’m going to be using the Waite-Smith deck this time. It’s the classic, and I thought that was somewhat appropriate here.
It’s a bit hard for me to say anything about Abbey Road as a whole. I’ve always felt it was an album that was, you know, some songs. Most of them are great, but they don’t have a coherence for me, in the way that Dark Side of the Moon naturally does. I’m not saying the album isn’t coherent, just that I don’t have that personal feeling. You know how it is. So this reading may be a bit more scattered. I guess I’ll learn as I go!
First, it is a professional and personal hazard of mine that I am too interested in esoterica. Haha, you say. I mean that in the sense of stuff that doesn’t really matter, but seems totally fascinating. So, with that warning, here’s a Rolling Stone article about what the last Beatles album is.
OK, anyway. The album has always struck me as sort of melancholy — not totally sad. These guys were not totally sad about breaking up the band. But it’s the end of something (get it? Get it? If you don’t, wait until the next post, I suppose…)
As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.
01: Come Together
Definitely what some might identify as the “banger” of the album. It’s got the funk, the weird shit, but it still actually (mostly) makes sense. “Come Together” begins with a set of lyrics everyone knows. Everyone. But what the hell?
King of Swords
The King of Swords is a bit of an odd card if you think about it. The swords are all about motion, quick-thinking, and so on. The king, however, is planted on his throne. So at its best, the card can represent a strong willed, intelligent person, or those traits. If the card’s poorly-aspected, though, the card can mean narrow mindedness and general sneering douchebaggery. The “he” of “Come Together” seems to be this man, or the speaker maybe. Or both, of course. The song uses its guitar and base to move the listener forward at a fair clip, all while describing some incredibly forceful personality. The title seems to indicate that the song is about unification, which the king of swords is not necessarily the best at. The song does, in fact, seem to dramatize some kind of internal struggle, as the speaker wonders at this forceful weirdo, even as the speaker calls for unity. So, if the strange man is a “joker,” a hippie, the speaker seems to be insisting we take this hippie seriously and think about what he’s saying. We should join the hippie, no matter how weird his toe jam is.
Love song time. The woman being apostrophized here is broken down into the classic “woman parts,” like a smile or her style. But there’s always “something’ there. The attraction, the love, is a mystery, even though the singer can talk about how hot she is.
Knight of Wands
Knights are about moving, not standing still. Hence the horses. The song keeps talking about leaving, as though it’s an imminent threat and the speaker doesn’t want to go through with it. The mystery keeps the speaker where he is. In that case, the card seems to indicate that powerful Will, the fiery connection that can’t be explained (it’s not a sword), wallowed in (it’s not a cup), or firmly counted on (it’s not a pentacle). Our human connections are mysterious and powerful, the fire-stuff of the universe.
03: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
When I was the kind of high schooler who would definitely say shit just to annoy people, this was certainly my favorite song on the album. I mean, it’s good, right? It’s a classic example of putting two discordant things together. It’s a bog-standard tune with serial killer lyrics. Card unseen, I want to put out there that it’s always struck me as an entry in the post-war British tendency to criticize the staid society that emerged from the war. It’s slightly surreal, basically. Think of it as the Beatles do Monty Python, if that makes sense.
10 of Swords
Well, damn. It’s not a hammer, but here’s a dead body for us. The ten of swords is one of the more frightening cards in the deck. Unlike Death or The Tower, this card doesn’t have a lot of positive spin on it. Basically, it’s about the coming to earth of the mental state (tens representing Malkuth, the terrestrial kingdom). When brain hits dirt, the brain splats. If you look closely at the card, you can see a calm sea or lake behind the body. That’s typically seen as a calm after the “storm” of thoughts and panic. So? What about the song? Well, the “murdered people” element is strong here, obviously. But the song, in light of the card, would seem to be about dealing with a problem instead of just letting it go. Maxwell sure seems to kill a bunch of women, doesn’t he? I’m sure, in 2017, we can’t think of a whole bunch of examples of “dirty” men with little silver “hammers” causing panic everywhere. Even when the judge tries to stop Maxwell, things go wrong, as Maxwell somehow kills him to. Maxwell runs riot, doing whatever the hell he wants. The song doesn’t suggest shit about it, either. Just, I guess, don’t hang out with these kinds of assholes. The card indicates that something can be done, but we have to stop panicking and handle the problem carefully — and possibly by stopping violent assholes. Then we can have peace again. Nice.
04: Oh! Darling
Contrast! Track juxtaposition! Here, the song repeats, over and again, that the singer wouldn’t ever harm the woman he’s speaking to. Also he “can’t make it alone,” so she shouldn’t leave. This song may be genuine and “just a love song.” It is a McCartney song, after all. Then again, so is “Maxwell.” So, uh. Hm. Either this guy is the “socially acceptable” version of Maxwell, or he’s the counter-example.
Ten of Wands
The ten of wands is about struggle, though with a chance of success at the end. One traditional name for the card is “oppression.” The Will is overcome by too much stuff, too many concerns. The figure in the card is often interpreted as someone who could drop the staves and do a couple of trips. His back wouldn’t hurt so much. But he doesn’t. Maybe he’ll just drop them in a second. Maybe he’ll make it back home. But right now everything sucks because he’s carrying all this crap. Does he need it? We don’t know. How the hell does that help us with a doo-wop song that, apparently, McCartney purposely sung alone for a week so his voice would be kinda fucked up? After the chaos and confusion of “Maxwell,” maybe this song is supposed to be about a typical relationship. It’s just two tracks from “Something” as well. But here, the singer has a great weight — his fear of abandonment. We have no idea if the spoken-to person is even going to leave. There’s no indication it’ll happen. The singer keeps making promise after promise, adding more weight to his worries and concerns. There’s also a whole “weight of the past” thing with the old-fashioned doo wop sound. The band has to carry this weight around with them, from nearly twenty years back.
05: Octopus’s Garden
OK. What the hell are we going to get this time. It’s the Ringo song. It’s probably my favorite of Ringo’s solo-written Beatles songs. It’s weird, sure. It cranks that WTF meter up a few more clicks after “Maxwell.” But it’s also about having a private getaway, a surreal place to go with one’s lover to escape things. It’s very Plastic Beach, but, you know, without the ninjas.
Two of Cups
The card is a water card, so that’s appropriate. That immediately reminds us that water is the realm of emotions. So the retreat into the underwater garden isn’t just isolating (the singer’s friends get to come), it’s about amplifying feelings. The card is two people sharing cups, with a spirit growing up between them. This figure appears in a few other cards, at least obliquely — the wings reappear on Judgement, attached to the archangel Michael. Twos are about couples, binaries, coming together in unity. And this track certainly wants that. That’s… about all I have to say about that.
Can you believe we’re only five songs in? But we’re also 1500 words in! Let’s stop for now. Join me next time for some heavy sunshine and other poetic imagery!