Come Together

The Beatles’ back catalog has finally been made available for internet streaming, and as of the past couple of days or so the most popular streamed song on Spotify is ‘Come Together’.

This surprised me a little. Only a little, since ‘Abbey Road’ has long been a favorite among listeners and critics too, but it is not the song from that album that I would have picked first as most potentially popular. ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Something’, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, maybe even ‘Because’ are more melodic, more pop. ‘Come Together’ is a rock and roll song, a deeply slowed down rewrite of Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ (similar enough, indeed, that a legal judgement went against John Lennon).

However it doesn’t really sound like rock and roll. The prominent bass line, the jazzy electric piano (is a coincidence that The Doors heavily featured a not dissimilar sound in ‘Riders On The Storm’ a year or so later?), the stinging not quite blues, not quite jazz guitar, and Lennon’s last gasp of inspired surreal lyrics conjure up a very different animal underneath the familiar exterior.

It’s one of the few Beatles’ songs that continues to send shivers down me, even after all this time and the many times I’ve heard it. Ironically, considering its title, it strikes me as an ultimate breakup song, a plea for harmony that gets blown away down a darkened city alleyway as everything familiar breaks apart. The band, of course, were de facto finished at this point, only stitching ‘Abbey Road’ together as a glorious swan song (an effect dissipated, as many have noted, by the later release of the less-good and recorded-earlier frayed quilt of ‘Let It Be’). As a whole, ‘Abbey Road’ sounds less convincing than it used to. Its clear advantage in fidelity over any other Beatles recording sounds less like an audiophile dream and more like a harbinger for a cluster of over-polished records that followed later in the 1970s. As albums, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Revolver’, ‘The Beatles’, yes maybe even ‘Sgt Pepper’, have an edge to my ears.

But ‘Come Together’ remains masterful and deeply affecting. It might be my favorite Beatles song too. Or if not that, at least perhaps the ultimate kiss-off to the promise of the 1960s and an early embrace of the confusion of the 1970s. A few other songs share this quality. The afore-discussed ‘Riders On The Storm’. The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” (recorded in 1967, yes, but only emerging on the turn-of-decade album of the same name, altered and stamped with Carl Wilson’s uniquely melancholy voice). Not much more though.

Funny that a song – indeed a repertoire – recorded so long ago should still continue to resonate with so many people. Funny, but pleasing too.