Abbey Road is the 11th studio album released by the English rock band the Beatles. It is their last recorded album, although Let It Be was the last album released before the band's dissolution in 1970. Work on Abbey Road began in April 1969, and the album was released on 26 September 1969 in the United Kingdom, and 1 October 1969 in the United States.
The album was released amid the tensions within the band. Although it was a commercial success, it received mixed reviews from music critics who found its music inauthentic and criticized the production's artificial effects. Since its initial reception, the album has been viewed by many critics as the Beatles' greatest work and is ranked by several publications as one of the greatest albums of all time. Abbey Road remains their best-selling album.
Composition and recordingEdit
After the near-disastrous sessions for the proposed Get Back album (later released as Let It Be), Paul McCartney suggested to music producer George Martin that the group get together and make an album "the way we used to",free of the conflict that began following the death of Brian Epstein and carrying over to the sessions for the "White Album". Martin agreed, stipulating that he must be allowed to do the album his way. This would be the last time the band would record with Martin. In their interviews for The Beatles Anthology, the surviving band members stated that, although none of them ever made the distinction of calling it the "last album", they all felt at the time this would very likely be the final Beatles product and therefore agreed to set aside their differences and "go out on a high note".
With the Let It Be album partly finished, the sessions for Abbey Road began in April, as the single "The Ballad of John and Yoko" / "Old Brown Shoe" was completed. In fact, recording sessions of John Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" had already started in February 1969 in Trident Studios, with Billy Preston on the organ—only three weeks after the Get Back sessions. Photos from these sessions are included in the book Get Back, which came along with the Let It Be album but not in the Let It Be film. McCartney is clean-shaven and Lennon has started to let his beard grow.
Most of the album was recorded between 2 July and 1 August 1969. After the album was finished and released, the Get Back / Let It Be project was re-examined. More work was done on the album, including the recording of additional music (see Let It Be). Thus, though the bulk of Let It Be was recorded prior to Abbey Road, the latter was released first, and Abbey Road was the last album properly started by the Beatles before they disbanded. Lennon was on hiatus from the group and working with the Plastic Ono Band during the September 1969 lead-up to Abbey Road's release, which was effectively the first official sign of the Beatles' impending dissolution.
The album's two halves were a compromise; Lennon wanted to release a traditional album with separate, unrelated songs, while McCartney and Martin wanted to continue their thematic approach from Sgt. Pepper's with a medley. Lennon ultimately disliked Abbey Road as a whole and felt that it lacked authenticity, while calling McCartney's contributions "[music] for the grannies to dig" and not "real songs." Musicologist Walter Everett interprets that most of the medley's lyrics deal with "selfishness and self-gratification—the financial complaints in 'You Never Give Me Your Money,' the miserliness of Mr. Mustard, the holding back of the pillow in 'Carry That Weight,' the desire that some second person will visit the singer's dreams—perhaps the 'one sweet dream' of 'You Never Give Me Your Money'?—in 'The End.'" Everett adds that the medley's "selfish moments" are in played in the context of the tonal center of A, while "generosity" is expressed in songs where C major is central. The medley concludes with a "great comprimise in the 'negotiations'" in "The End", which serves as a structurally balanced coda. In response to the repeated C-major choruses of "love you", McCartney sings in realization that there is as much self-gratifying love ("the love you take") as there is of the generous love ("the love you make"), in A major and C major, respectively.
The album opener "Come Together" was a Lennon contribution. The chorus was inspired by a song Lennon originally wrote for Timothy Leary's campaign for governor of California titled "Let's Get It Together". A rough version of this can be heard in outtakes from Lennon's second bed-in event in Canada.
It has been speculated that the verses, described by Lennon as intentionally obscure, refer cryptically to each of the Beatles (e.g. "he's one holy roller" allegedly refers to the spiritually inclined George Harrison); however, it has also been suggested that the song has only a single "pariah-like protagonist" and Lennon was "painting another sardonic self-portrait". The song was later the subject of a lawsuit brought against Lennon by Morris Levy because the opening line in "Come Together"—"Here come old flat-top"—was admittedly lifted from a line in Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me". A settlement was reached in 1973 whereby Lennon promised to record three songs owned by Big Seven for his next album.
The second track on the album later became Harrison's first A-side single. Basing the first line of the song on "Something in the Way She Moves" from James Taylor's 1968 Apple Records album James Taylor, Harrison wrote "Something" during the The Beatles sessions. After the lyrics were refined during the Let It Be sessions (tapes reveal Lennon giving Harrison some songwriting advice during its composition), the song was initially given to Joe Cocker, but was subsequently recorded for Abbey Road. "Something" was Lennon's favourite song on the album, and McCartney considered it the best song Harrison had written. Frank Sinatra once commented that "Something" was his favourite Lennon-McCartney song (though the song was actually Harrison's) and "the greatest love song ever written". The song was released as a double A-side single with "Come Together".
"Something" became the first Beatles number one single that was not a Lennon–McCartney composition; it was also the first single from an already released album.
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer", McCartney's first song on the album, was first performed by the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions (as can be seen in the Let It Be film). Paul wrote the song after his trip to India in 1968. He wanted to record it for The Beatles but it was turned down as "too complicated."
According to Geoff Emerick's book, Here, There and Everywhere, Lennon said the song was "more of Paul's granny music", and refused to participate in the recording of the song. Harrison was also tired of the song. "We had to play it over and over again until Paul liked it. It was a real drag", said Harrison. Starr was more sympathetic for the song. "It was granny music" he said "but we needed stuff like that on our album so other people would listen to it".
When recording "Oh! Darling", McCartney attempted recording only once a day. He said, "When we were recording 'Oh! Darling' I came into the studios early every day for a week to sing it by myself because at first my voice was too clear. I wanted it to sound as though I'd been performing it on stage all week." Lennon was of the opinion that it was the type of song that he should have sung the lead on, remarking that it was more his style. On the Anthology 3compilation, Lennon can be heard singing the lead on an ad-libbed verse regarding the news that Yoko Ono's divorce from previous husband Anthony Cox had been finalized.
Ringo Starr wrote and sang one song for the album, "Octopus's Garden", his second (and last) solo composition released on a Beatles album. It was inspired by a trip to Sardinia aboard Peter Sellers' yacht that occurred when Starr left the band for two weeks with his family during the sessions for The Beatles. While there, he composed the song, which is arguably his most successful writing effort. While Starr had the lyrics nearly completed, the song's melodic structure was partly written in the studio by Harrison (as can be seen in the Let It Be film), although Harrison gave full songwriting credit to Starr. (Harrison and Starr would later collaborate on Starr's solo singles "It Don't Come Easy" and "Photograph").
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is a combination of two different recording attempts. The first attempt occurred almost immediately after the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in February 1969 and featuring Billy Preston on keyboards. This was subsequently combined with a second version made during the Abbey Road sessions proper, and when edited together ran nearly 8 minutes long, making it the Beatles' second-longest released song ("Revolution 9" being the longest). Perhaps more than any other Beatles song, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" reveals a pronounced progressive rock influence, with its unusual length and structure, repeating guitar riff, and white noise effects; the "I Want You" section has a straightforward blues structure. It also features one of the earliest uses of a Moog synthesizer to create the white-noise (or "wind") effect heard near the end of the track. During the final edit, as the guitar riff and white noise effect continued, Lennon told engineer Emerick to "cut it right there" at the 7:44 mark, creating a sudden, jarring silence which concluded the first side of Abbey Road (the recording tape would have run out within 20 seconds as it was). The final overdub session for "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" would be the last time that all four Beatles worked in the studio together.
"Here Comes the Sun" is Harrison's second song on the album and one of his best-known; it was written in Eric Clapton's garden in Surrey, England. The basic track was recorded on 7 July 1969, where Harrison sang lead, played acoustic guitar and played the Moog synthesizer; McCartney provided backing vocals and played bass; and Starr played the drums. While not released as a single, the song has become a radio staple.
"Because" features a Moog synthesizer, played by Harrison. The chords in the song were inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", in a roundabout way: Lennon said he "was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano. Suddenly, I said, 'Can you play those chords backward?' She did, and I wrote 'Because' around them." "Because" features three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, which were then triple-tracked to give the effect of nine voices.
The climax of the album is a 16-minute medley consisting of several short songs, both finished and unfinished, blended into a suite by McCartney and Martin. Most of the songs were written (and originally recorded in demo form) during sessions for The White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" is the first song. Written by McCartney, it is based on his feelings towards Allen Klein and what McCartney viewed as Klein's empty promises. It slowly and quietly transitions into "Sun King" (which, like "Because", showcases Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison's triple-tracked harmonies), "Mean Mr. Mustard" (written during the Beatles' trip to India), and "Polythene Pam", all three contributed by Lennon. These in turn are followed by four McCartney songs, "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" (written after a fan entered McCartney's residence via his bathroom window), "Golden Slumbers" (based on lyrics from Thomas Dekker's 17th-century poem), "Carry That Weight" (reprising elements from "You Never Give Me Your Money", and featuring chorus vocals from all four Beatles), and the climax, "The End".
"The End" is notable for featuring Starr's only drum solo in the Beatles' catalogue (the drums are mixed across two tracks in "true stereo" — in a similar way to the studio single version of Get Back). Normally, even though mixes were in stereo, the drums were mixed in mono, locked together with other instruments and often panned hard left or right in the stereo picture. Fifty-four seconds into the song are 18 bars of guitar solo: the first two bars are played by McCartney, the second two by Harrison, and the third two by Lennon, with the sequence repeating. Each has a distinctive style which McCartney felt reflected their personalities: McCartney's playing is in a somewhat rigid staccatostyle; Harrison's is melodic with pronounced string bends and Lennon's is rhythmic, stinging and had the heaviest distortion. Immediately after Lennon's third solo, the piano chords of the final part of the song begin. The song ends with the memorable final line, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make".
An alternative version of the song, with Harrison's lead guitar solo played against McCartney's (with Starr's drum solo heard in the background), appears on the Anthology 3 album.
"Her Majesty", tacked on the end, was included in a rough mix of the side two medley, appearing between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam". McCartney disliked the way the medley sounded when it included "Her Majesty", so he had it cut out of the tape. However, second engineer John Kurlander had been instructed never to throw out anything, so after McCartney left, he picked it up off the floor, spliced 14 seconds of red leader tape onto the reel, and then spliced in "Her Majesty" onto the leader tape. The tape box bore an instruction to leave "Her Majesty" off the final product, but the next day when Malcolm Davies at Apple received the tape, he (also trained not to throw anything away) cut a playback lacquer of the whole sequence, including "Her Majesty". The Beatles liked this effect and included it on the album. Original US and UK pressings of Abbey Road do not list "Her Majesty" on the album's cover nor on the record label, making it a hidden track.
"Her Majesty" opens with the final, crashing chord of "Mean Mr. Mustard", while the final note of "Her Majesty" remained buried in the mix of "Polythene Pam". This is the result of "Her Majesty" being snipped off the reel during a rough mix of the medley. The medley was subsequently mixed again from scratch although "Her Majesty" was not touched again and still appears in its rough mix on the album.
All songs written and composed by Lennon–McCartney, except where noted.
|2.||"Something" (George Harrison)||Harrison||3:03|
|3.||"Maxwell's Silver Hammer"||McCartney||3:27|
|5.||"Octopus's Garden" (Richard Starkey)||Starr||2:51|
|6.||"I Want You (She's So Heavy)"||Lennon||7:47|
|1.||"Here Comes the Sun" (Harrison)||Harrison||3:05|
|2.||"Because"||Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison||2:45|
|3.||"You Never Give Me Your Money"||McCartney||4:02|
|4.||"Sun King"||Lennon, with McCartney and Harrison||2:26|
|5.||"Mean Mr. Mustard"||Lennon||1:06|
|7.||"She Came In Through the Bathroom Window"||McCartney||1:57|
|9.||"Carry That Weight"||McCartney with Lennon, Harrison, and Starr||1:36|
- "Her Majesty" appears as a hidden track. Between "The End" and "Her Majesty" is 14 seconds of silence. Later releases of the album included the song on the track listing.
- Some cassette tape versions in the UK and US had "Come Together" and "Here Comes the Sun" swapped so that Harrison's composition opens the album.
- Tracks 3 through 7 on side two are sometimes noted as one song (medley) called "The Abbey Road Medley".
- Tracks 8 through 10 on side two are sometimes noted as one song called "The Golden Slumbers Medley".