Deep Dive: Abbey Road
Perhaps the most iconic of all Beatles album covers is Abbey Road from 1969. I remember even seeing it spoofed as a kid at Chuck E Cheese. The album is named after the road on which they did most of their recording. It is The Beatles' final album. Though there are great songs throughout the album, including two of George's finest, the pièce de résistance is certainly the medley that takes over the second half of the album.
A quote from George Martin about Abbey Road: "Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album--but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They'd been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn't at all surprised that they'd split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives--and I did, too. It was a release for me as well."
The album opens with John's "Come Together." Some inspiration from this track came from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," including the rhythm. This resulted in a lawsuit which was later settled in 1973 with an agreement that Lennon would include at least three songs owned by Big Seven on a feature album of cover songs. The album was later released in 1975 after its own batch of legal problems.
Next up is George's classic, "Something." I very much love this song. Paul plays it at all his shows on ukulele in tribute to George and it's something very special to see. The song is speculated to be about Pattie Boyd, though he later denied that to be true. George said, "Well no, I didn't [write it about her]. I just wrote it, and then somebody put together a video. And what they did was they went out and got footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen, it was at that time, and John and Yoko and they just made up a little video to go with it. So then, everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie, but actually, when I wrote it I was thinking of Ray Charles."
The third track on Abbey Road is "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." Paul sings this one and it's never been a favorite of mine. It's all about the downfalls of life and how things go smoothly then all of the sudden something surprising happens.
Paul also sings the fourth track, "Oh! Darling." It's always been a favorite of mine. I've seen Paul sing it a few times but he doesn't do it at every show. It's another simple love song but I love the depth of Paul's voice on this track. It's really special and dramatic.
Ringo sings "Octopus's Garden" as the fifth song. It's said that the idea came to Ringo when he was on a boat with Peter Sellers in Sardinia in 1968. Ringo ordered fish and chips and the waiter mistakenly gave him squid, a first time for him, and he said of it, "it was okay. A bit rubbery. Tasted like chicken."
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is a much longer song, coming in right under 8 minutes total. There is lots of repetition in the lyrics and it shows how Lennon finally found a way to square his latter-day interest in leaner and edgier rock'n'roll with trippy studio experimentation. It is also known as one of the last studio recordings of The Beatles, which was recorded over February-August 1969. There's a great scene of this song in the musical Across The Universe.
George's "Here Comes The Sun" is the seventh track, and one of George's best. It's said he wrote this gem after a "period of disillusionment with the music industry. He skipped a day at Apple's offices and went to his good mate Eric Clapton's house and, feeling free and back in love with music, wrote this song" (Genius). It's a song reflective of the long winters of England.
And now, the Abbey Road medley begins. It starts with "Because," a song John found inspiration in Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It's also said that the harmonies in this song are probably influenced from The Beach Boys' infamous 1966 album, Pet Sounds.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" pays tribute to The Beatles and "the internal struggles that by then had fatally wounded their relationship. With their problems tearing them apart, Lennon announced he was leaving the band privately on September 20, 1969. McCartney broke the news that The Beatles were finished by announcing his leaving of the band in April of 1970" (Genius).
"Sun King" is the first of John's contributions to the Abbey Road medley. This track was actually recorded as part of "Mean Mr Mustard" but ended up preceding it.
"Mean Mr Mustard" was composed in India by Lennon in 1968. It was almost part of The White Album but wasn't recorded in time. It's said the origin of the song is from a newspaper story about a "man who was said to have hidden his money in his rectum" (Genius). John spoke of the song saying, "that's me, writing a piece of garbage. I'd read somewhere in the newspaper about this mean guy who hid five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else. No, it had nothing to do with cocaine" (Genius).
The inspiration for "Polythene Pam" is believed to have been drawn from two women from different times in The Beatles' existence. The first was Pat Dawson (née Hodgett), a Liverpool fan from the early days. She was nicknamed Polythene Pat due to her love of substance. The second woman was the girlfriend of Royston Ellis, an English beat poet.
"She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" is based on an incident where a fan entered Paul's house through his bathroom window.
"Golden Slumbers" was inspired by a poem by the 17th century poet Thomas Dekker, "Cradle Song." Paul saw a sheet music for the song at his father's home in Liverpool. He couldn't read the music, so he just created his own. The notable strings and bass on this track were arranged and scored by Sir George Martin.
"Carry That Weight" was recorded by George, Paul and Ringo. John was in the hospital in Scotland after being in a car accident. Lennon recorded his vocals after returning, and this song uniquely features vocals from each Beatle. It's kind of an eery ending to this masterpiece of the Beatles final album.
"The End" features some of the most noted lyrics from the later years of The Beatles, including: "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." It's really the ideal curtain call for the fab four as a group.
"Her Majesty" is a short 26 second track that Paul threw on the end of the album. "McCartney rightly judged that it didn't fit and told second engineer John Kurlander to cut it out and throw it away. Kurlander who had been instructed never to discard anything The Beatles recorded, instead edited it, for convenience's sake, to the end of the Medley...when McCartney heard this the following day, he liked the random effect." It's officially the shortest Beatles song in their entire music catalog.
In conclusion, The Beatles' Abbey Road is really the perfect ending to their group career. Though Let It Be is technically released later, it's not always considered their last album as it was recorded prior to Abbey Road.
It's amazing how the group created such a work of art with all their personal issues and feuding that was going on for so long. The medley is such an important part of Beatles history and truly serves as the most bittersweet ending to the group's collaboration. The Beatles are special because of their rags to riches story, their timeless music, and the group's longevity.