Abbey Road rewalked -- by Seal, Counting Crows, Paloma Faith and others
Unduly imperiled for a while, the much-venerated Abbey Road Studios seem to be on safe ground again after the British government wisely bestowed protected status as a historic building.
This good news comes just in time for Sundance Channel's third season U.S. premiere of Live From Abbey Road, which returns on Friday, Feb. 26th at 8 p.m. eastern time.
The first of 12 new weekly hours is a tribute to The Beatles' Abbey Road album, released 40 years ago. Participants include Seal, Counting Crows, Matchbox Twenty and Sugarland. But the standout interpretations of tunes from Abbey Road are done by the lesser known Melody Gardot and Paloma Faith.
Also on hand is Sir George Martin, the venerable and now deservedly legendary Beatles producer. He agreeably gabs a bit between performances, initially reminiscing about the album's famed cover, in which the four Beatles traversed the nearby "zebra crosswalk."
"I don't know who had the idea, but it was a very simple one," Martin says. It also was "just coincidence" that Paul McCartney was barefooted, triggering rumors of his death that thankfully took wing before the Internet age. Martin of course says he was irked by such nonsense. But imagine what would happen today.
Martin later recalls what a rotten time everyone had recording Let It Be, which subsequently was shelved for a while and became the last Beatles album released. He agreed to produce Abbey Road only after McCartney assured him that everyone would get along, Martin says. "We all kind of knew that this was going to be our last album. And we made it a very happy one."
The program has no archival footage of the Beatles recording at Abbey Road Studios. But viewers can glimpse the very first session in 1931. The artists were Sir Edward Elgar & the London Symphony Orchestra, all of them in formal wear.
Martin notes that producers used to wear suits and ties in the earlier days while engineers were all in white coats for recording sessions. It's loosened up a bit since.
The special's first of eight performances is from Seal, who does a nice job with "Something" before yielding to Counting Crows' interpretation of "The Huge Melody" ("Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End").
Perhaps this somehow hit the cutting room floor. But the Crows' very abbreviated version is without the signature guitar riff exchanges among McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. That's a bit like leaving Roger Daltrey's primal scream out of "Don't Get Fooled Again." So all in all, this is the show's most disappointing reincarnation.
On the other hand, Matchbox Twenty adds a rousing jam to the end of "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window." Throwing in this kitchen sink turns out to be a great idea. More, more.
Gardot earlier contributes a dreamily beautiful version of "Because." But Faith has the show-stopper, which fittingly closes the program. Wearing an ornate black dress and high-feathered matching hat, she prances her way through a hard-driving "You Never Give Me Your Money." Three female backup singers add to the ambience, with a broadly grinning Faith concluding, "That was better than expected."
Except for Matchbox Twenty, all of the opening hour's featured artists will return in future episodes during Season 3. Live From Abbey Road also will have performances from the likes of Green Day (March 19), Lyle Lovett (April 9) and Michael Buble (the May 14 season-ender).
"There's a sacredness to all of this," Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles says of recording at Abbey Road.
Re-interpreting The Beatles can make it all the more daunting. And as always, some artists fare better than others at bringing it all home.