Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

Dusting ‘Em Off: George Benson – The Other Side of Abbey Road

on May 31, 2009, 11:00am

I was raised on The Beatles. My father had their American releases on record, and my family had the pleasure of listening to selections from those albums and singles on mix tapes. We would listen to those tapes on during long trips or merely short trips to the grocery store in me ol’ city of residence, Phoenix. The sun would set as we’d drive through the mountainous regions of Squaw Peak, and I’d be treated to the smooth voice of an African-American man reminiscing that “Once there was a way, to get back home,” just before getting home…

I wasn’t delusional. The song was most certainly “Golden Slumbers”, but the man singing was not McCartney. It was jazz-guitar God, George Benson. His “Golden Slumbers” was part of a melody that opened up his tribute album to The Beatles’ swan song, Abbey Road, entitled, The Other Side of Abbey Road. Cover songs were staples of the 1960s, and are still prevalent today (Kelly Osbourne’s “Changes”), but cover albums? You’d think I was joking, but you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.

For the uninitiated, George Benson was (and still is) an incredible jazz guitarist. His voice is not to be heard on many of his albums, despite its quality. On The Other Side of Abbey Road, there are dozens of musicians playing a variety of instruments, including a then-unknown Herbie Hancock on keyboards. For all the music heard throughout, Benson delivers only vocals and guitar. But what music he creates.

What made this album even more unique was when it was released. It didn’t come out as part of any random We-Remember-The-Beatles tribute, or to commemorate a Ringo birthday. It was released in October of 1969, just three weeks after Abbey Road was released to the public. It doesn’t cover every song off that album, but its five tracks do cover 10 songs over a course of half an hour. Here is a track-by-track dusting off of The Other Side of Abbey Road:

  1. “Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money” – Replacing the piano at the beginning of McCartney’s “Golden Slumbers” is a string section and the Benson’s voice. By the 1:40 mark of this opening track, his voice disappears and a jazzy rendition of “You Never Give Me Your Money” kicks in. His guitar work fills in McCartney’s vocals effortlessly. Trumpets backup the guitar, and lead into a full-band reprise of “Golden” at the 4:00 mark, with Benson’s voice taking the song to its conclusion.
  2. “Because/Come Together” – Horns replace the incomparable harmonies of the original “Because” before being interrupted by Benson’s electric, drums, and jazz flute for a free-form version of “Come Together” at the 0:35 mark. No vocals on this track, just horns replacing the memorable bass line, and Benson’s guitar filling in for Lennon’s vocals. Transitions into a strings-led reprise of “Because” for the final 30 seconds of the track. Another winner.
  3. “Oh! Darling” – The lone stand-alone track on the album, “Oh! Darling” again features Benson on vocals. Gone are the screaming pleas from McCartney, having been replaced by a soulful Benson who in turn delivers a much laid back version of the song. Turns very “big band” at its finale.
  4. “Here Comes the Sun/I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – Pianos and violins provide the music for “Here Comes the Sun”, while Benson sings the Harrison-penned tune with poignancy. As opposed to the album from whence they came, “Sun” transitions into “I Want You”. Jazz musicians work it out, Benson sings “I want you so bad it’s driving me mad”, and the song could have been more. Abbey Road’s “I Want You” has one of the best extended outros ever, whereas this version just ends with a small hint of said outro.
  5. “Something/Octopus’s Garden/The End” – The musical version of “Something”, featuring Benson’s jazz guitar as the “lead vocal”, is just as mellow as the original. The guitar work is tremendous as per usual, but then leads into the worst song ever. Okay, maybe “Octopus” isn’t the worst song in the history of mankind, but compared to the other songs on this album it doesn’t come up smelling of roses. He gives it his best effort, and “Octopus” only lasts for about a minute so “The End” is nigh. Instead of dueling guitars, it’s Benson against the world (a.k.a. horns). Sadly, the song fades out, and the album concludes. It’s too bad. With his soothing voice opening the album, it would have been fitting to hear him utter those memorable final words, “and in the end/the love you take/is equal to the love/you make.”

“Her Majesty” does not magically appear at the end, so five tracks are what we get. Though nearly impossible to find at local record stores, the album is available through iTunes. For a Beatles completist, this album comes highly recommended, but for those with a negative view of jazz need not bother. Regardless, George Benson’s The Other Side of Abbey Road still sounds great 40 years after its release, just like The Beatles’ final record. If you like this, search out the Benson-compositions, “Affirmation” and “Breezin’”.

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