Abbey Road

In the studio

Abbey Road - The Beatles

Although The Beatles business problems needed attention daily, and tempers within the group could be fractious, when they came together in the studio the bond between them was as strong as ever. A year after Abbey Road's release, at a time when the former Beatles were bitterly divided, John Lennon acknowledged how they understood one another as musicians.

In spite of all the things... the Beatles really could play music together when they weren't uptight. And if I get a thing going, Ringo knows where to go. Like that. We've played together so long that it fits. That's the only thing I sometimes miss is, is being able to just sort of blink or make a certain noise and I know they'll all know where we're going on an ad lib thing.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The Beatles began 1969 with rehearsals and recording in Twickenham Film Studios and the basement of Apple's office building. After the Let It Be sessions ended they also did some recording at Trident and Olympic studios in London, but from May 1969 onwards worked exclusively at Abbey Road.

During the album things got a bit more positive and, although it had some overdubs, we got to play the whole medley. We put them in order, played the backing track and recorded it all in one take, going from one arrangement to the next. We did actually perform more like musicians again.

Likewise with the vocal tracks: we had to rehearse a lot of harmonies and learn all the back-up parts. Some songs are good with just one voice and then harmonies coming in at different places and sometimes three-part work. It's just embellishment, really, and I suppose we made up parts where we thought it fitted because we were all trying to be singers then.

George Harrison
Anthology

While the album was recorded after the January 1969 sessions for Let It Be, there was no clear date for the beginning of the Abbey Road project. The songs were begun while work continued on Let It Be, and recording for Abbey Road only properly began in April 1969.

The Beatles performed early versions of 12 of the Abbey Road songs during the Let It Be sessions in January 1969. The only songs not to have been performed in any form were Come Together, Here Comes The Sun, Because, You Never Give Me Your Money, The End and Her Majesty.

Others had been written well before 1969. Demo recordings of Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam were made at George Harrison's house in May 1968, following The Beatles' return from studying Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India.

My contribution [to the medley] is Polythene Pam, Sun King and Mean Mr Mustard. We juggled them about until it made vague sense. In Mean Mr Mustard, I said 'his sister Pam' - originally it was 'his sister Shirley' in the lyric. I changed it to 'Pam' to make it sound like it had something to do with it. They are only finished bits of crap that I wrote in India.
John Lennon, 1969
Anthology

The first Abbey Road song to be properly recorded in the studio, as opposed to rehearsals at Twickenham or Apple, was John Lennon's I Want You (She's So Heavy). Work on the song began on 22 February 1969 at Trident Studios in London, although at this time it was unclear whether the song would be an album track or appear on a single.

As the sessions progressed, they also cut non-album tracks The Ballad Of John And Yoko and Old Brown Shoe, readied the Get Back/Don't Let Me Down single, and oversaw the editing and mixing of the Let It Be tapes. Of the Abbey Road songs, The Beatles also worked on Something, Oh! Darling, Octopus's Garden and You Never Give Me Your Money, before taking the month of June 1969 off for holidays.

Let It Be was such an unhappy record, even though there are some great songs on it, that I really believed that was the end of The Beatles, and I assumed that I would never work with them again. I thought, 'What a shame to end like this.' So I was quite surprised when Paul rang me up and said, 'We're going to make another record - would you like to produce it?'

My immediate answer was: 'Only if you let me produce it the way we used to.' He said, 'We will, we want to.' - 'John included?' - 'Yes, honestly.' So I said, 'Well, if you really want to, let's do it. Let's get together again.' It was a very happy record. I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last.

George Martin
Anthology

When The Beatles regrouped in July they worked swiftly to complete the record. Studio Two at EMI Studios was block-booked between 2.30pm and 10pm from 1 July to 29 August, with the group committed to making the recordings worthwhile.

John Lennon missed the first of these sessions, having injured himself in a car crash in Scotland on 1 July. He never intended to attend the first session of the month, but the crash and his subsequent hospitalisation and recuperation meant The Beatles worked without him until 9 July.

Yoko Ono suffered worse injuries in the crash than Lennon, and was pregnant at the time. Keen to keep a close eye on her wellbeing, he arranged for Harrods to deliver a double bed to the studio, and had a microphone suspended above it for her to add her thoughts during the sessions that followed.

Abbey Road was The Beatles' first album to be recorded exclusively using 8-track technology. The greater flexibility in the studio allowed them to experiment with arrangements and instrumentation, although the group mostly recorded with their customary restraint.

We never got past eight-track. All of The Beatles' work was on two-track, four-track or eight-track. Sgt Pepper was four-track. By Abbey Road we had got to eight-track, and we thought it was too many! We thought it was too big a luxury.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

48 responses on “Abbey Road

    1. Joe Post author

      Mal Evans played the anvil during rehearsals at Twickenham, as seen in the Let It Be film. In the studio some months later, when they were making Abbey Road, it was Ringo.

      1. Steve

        Actually, it seems that it was Mal. This quote from Geoff Emerick in a track-by-track walkthrough, interviewed by Joe Bosso, Thu 10 Sep 2009:
        “For the hammer bits, we actually had to rent a proper blacksmith’s anvil. The thing weighed a ton, as did the hammer used to strike it. Ringo tried but he just couldn’t hoist the hammer in a way that allowed him to hit the anvil with the correct timing, so Mal Evans [one of The Beatles’ roadies], who was a large man, he wound up doing it.”

  1. Oscar

    Just a curious fact when the picture was shot (8/8/1969), these were the Beatles’ ages (in order from left to right in the picture):
    a) George – 26 (02/25/1943)
    b) Paul – 27 (06/18/1942)
    c) Ringo – 29 (07/07/1940)
    d) John – 28 (10/09/1940)

    Regards.
    Oscar.

    1. Joe Post author

      Thanks Oscar. Useful to have a reminder that Paul was 27, not 28.

      “28 IF” became part of the ‘Paul is dead‘ conspiracy, in relation to the number plate of the VW Beetle car behind the group. As in, McCartney would have been 28 IF he was still alive. Incidentally, the other part of the number plate, LMW, was taken to mean ‘Linda McCartney weeps’. Crazy stuff!

      1. Fuzzy

        Don’t forget the attire, Paul is barefoot, (people are buried barefoot), John is in all white as an angel, George is a grave digger and Ringo is a preacher.

        very intentional

  2. Garrett Hawk

    Back when they had LP’s, I always liked the back cover shot of the girl in the blue mini-dress walking by Abbey Road. So 1969.
    I wonder if the model was one of the Beatle women of the era?

    1. Alison

      It wasnt a model who posed for the back of the album. the photographer, Iain McMillan, wanted the back just to be the road sign, however the girl in the blue dress walked in the shot and had no idea what was going on.. in the end they liked how the shot came out because it was interesting.. so there you have it

  3. Roger

    My favorite song on the album is “Sun King”. I like everything about it from the arrangement to the way it is performed. If you want to go to school, you get three albums: Revolver, the White Album and Abbey Road.

    1. Andy

      I feel I have learnt everything there is to know about that iconic cover shot, and have walked back and forth across the crossing by myself like some kind of lunatic, but I had never considered your observation until now! All things considered, that was probably one of the main ideas behind the shot – thanks for the insight!

  4. beatle_fan_boy

    Only problem with todays technology like cd’s in general are the last songs are supposed to be medley yet they are cut song by song for easy tracking on cd so you get some annoying sudden blank killing the medley vibe. In order to bring back the medley feel to those tunes just like in records and cassette tape is simply stick them together using a nice audio software and boom! their continuous again just the way i like it.

  5. Von Bontee

    That only happens to me if I play it in my computer rather than CD player. (And the cool thing about the computer is that I can resequence the tracks to restore “Her Majesty” to its original and rightful place in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”!)

  6. LOMAN

    The greatest album ever recorded, composed, conceptualized, performed and produced! Every track is a jewel. Even the Ringo track is a masterpiece (probably due to Harrison’s imput) but a masterpiece none-the-less. The second side suite or medley, whatever you wanna call it, is the single most inspiring entity in rock history that there is! It’s like a Beethoven symphony with each movement by a different composer. When it slides from “Polythene Pam’ into “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” and kicks back into “You Never Give Me Your Money” during “Carry That Weight” it makes me wish I was a Beatle just so I could claim that level of genius! I’ve read that “I Want You (she’s so heavy)” was written by Lennon to align himself with the new emerging heavy/progressive bands like Led Zeppelin. If that’s true than he did it right! I dare say that it surpassed anything ever done by any “heavy” band including the great Led Zeppelin. Although I do think that it’s Paul’s bass playing that makes the song along with Billy Preston’s playing. Indeed, Paul’s bass playing overpowers almost every track…in a good way! I’ve also read tat Paul was primarily responsible for the second side of segued tracks. Well, thank you Paul! John always said that he hated that second side of half finished tracks thrown together, maybe a little jealousy on his part?

    1. Jeff

      During the Beatles’ later years, Ringo and George seemed to be developing their own musical partnership. George obviously assisted in writing Ringo’s Octupus’ Garden (even though he did not take a songwriting credit). Then, a year or so later, Harrison helped Ringo record one of his greatest songs “It Don’t Come Easy.” Then in 1973, George played a big role in Ringo’s self-titled solo album with the 2 former Beatles co-writing the #1 smash “Photograph” – a song as good as any they (or Lennon-McCartney)had released since the breakup. Perhaps had they remained Beatles, the Harrison-Starkey songwriting team would have evolved to counter the vaunted Lennon-McCartney songwriting machine.

  7. Joseph Brush

    The reason why I Want You is so great is John’s intensity. Obsession and soul.
    That is what makes the song.
    All the great bass and piano playing don’t mean a thing if a song isn’t great to begin with.
    Without John’s four tracks on the second side, especially Because, the segue wouldn’t be the same.

  8. Ed

    “Another interesting fact the beatles are walking away from abbey road studios which could mark the end of their recording career”

    Begining with I want you, all the way through to the end of the album, is unbelievably awesome. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden however both pretty much blow. And Oh Darlin should have been sung by Lennon (even though McCartney wrote it).

    1. Julio

      Octopus’s Garden has awesome Harrison guitar and cool piano and backing vocals. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer has goofy sounding but very cool lyrics and cool use of the moog. It is this kind of variation that makes the Beatles so great. Yeah, those songs pretty much “blow” (my mind).

      1. George Demake

        Harisson brought a renewed vigor and confidence to Abbey Road, not only with his compositions , but also with his guitar playing which reached a new level.Although they still composed seperately, it seems as though George and Paul had a better musical connection with one another on Abbey Road, that was lacking previously.
        Again, maybe they knew this was it, and they had that final spiritual breath to let out.

      2. Frank

        I also think Maxwells Silver Hammer is very underrated. I absolutely love the do do do do do in the middle of the chorus. And the woah woah woooaah app right before the synthesizer.

  9. robert

    It interesting that John often said how he hated the segue of songs on side two – also there is this sense that he and Paul were not working together by this point – yet look at this interview quote:

    “Paul and I are now working on a kind of song montage that we might do as one piece on one side. We’ve got two weeks to finish the whole thing so we’re really working at it.”

    You can read the whole Lennon quote at http://beatlesinterviews.org/db1969.0503.beatles.html

    it’s really interesting because John’s tone is so normal.

    1. Joe Post author

      That’s a really interesting interview – I’d not seen it before. It’s great to see John being so enthusiastic about The Beatles’ projects, and so sad that it all fell apart just a few months later.

  10. Chad

    It’s been great reading the discography notes here- very informative!

    Just a note about “Her Majesty” not being performed/rehearsed until the Abbey Road sessions: if you’re talking strictly the TRACKING sessions at Saville Row, that’s true… But it actually was shown to the boys by Paul during rehearsals at Twickenham in January ’69.

    (I just looked up the dates on A/B Road, and it appears it was played 1/9, and twice on 1/24.)

  11. william

    It is interesting to compare the depth of articles written here for the various albums. Abbey Road almost seems to be taken for granted.

    If Revolver was the album where the playing first really started coming together for the Beatles, then Abbey Road was the album that proved that these guys were no mere songwriters or lyricists.

    From Harrison’s incipient slide work throughout, to the amazing solos by all four at the end, the playing (and performances in general) on Abbey Road is hard to top.

    Harrison’s solo on the first song on side one, You Can’t Catch Me is both scary and astonishing. Compare this version, to Lennon’s forgive-me version for not giving Chuck Berry credit on Rock and Roll Songs. Both are great, but Harrison’s performance here is unearthly. At the end where Lennon yells “Yeah, and Harrison starts off with a high pitched discordant twang, that is now his signature, no words.

    Harrison’s guitar then takes Octopus’s Garden from being something humdrum to meriting inclusion on the Blue Album (questionable though it may be–Ringo needed a credit). McCartney and Lennon’s and Harrison’s bass and lead work on I Want You is incredibly intense. Ringo’s drumming is at the Rain level.

    The musicianship on this record is really incredible. Aside from a couple of Billy Preston and Eric Clapton appearances, these guys did everything. As great as the Beatles were from the start, they obviously improved in some areas. On Abbey Road they show that studio tricks aside, they had it, in each and every area.

    1. Joe Post author

      Is there any slide guitar on Abbey Road? I thought George didn’t play it until My Sweet Lord, with the exception of Strawberry Fields Forever (best heard on take one on Anthology 2). Happy to be corrected.

          1. Deadman

            That’s slide, surely, from 2:14 to 2:27

            The version of CT on the Love album, to me at least, seems more clearly two slide parts. Furthermore, there are slide chords (3:01 – 3:15) before the fade-out.

            As for the lead on the fade-out, it can and might (I concede) be played with finger-style sliding, but I suspect that much thereof is played with a slide (on the little finger, with some finger-style) because of the attack and the style of vibrato.

            1. Joe Post author

              The solo may well be slide, although it’s two different guitars (separated in stereo on Love). They could have been finger-style rather than slide – it’s difficult to tell. Here’s the isolated guitar track.

              I’m less sure about the chords at the three-minute mark – I think they’re done using a volume pedal or at the mixing desk, but don’t see that a slide was involved (it may have been). Probably they were just chords played and faded in, as on Yes It Is. The fourth chord, as heard on the isolated version, doesn’t seem to have been faded at all, and definitely doesn’t sound like it’s played with a slide.

              I definitely don’t think the lead in the fade is slide. I may be wrong about all this though – happy to hear more debate.

              1. vonbontee

                Doesn’t sound like slide to me either, just stringbending. Can’t hear any metal-on-metal abrasion, for one thing.

  12. Lukey Boy

    I feel that John and George’s songs are what really make this album. Come Together, Something, I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Here Comes the Sun, Because and Sun King are (for me) the standout tracks. I do like Paul’s songs and Ringo’s song, but I just don’t love ‘em. Still a great album.

  13. Window Pane Lizard

    Just curious whether anyone has ever heard of an album other than side 2 of this Beatles’ masterpiece that has more than 11 tunes on one side? I can’t think of another. Can any one? Most albums have 4-6 tunes per side on average. Do tell if you know of any other pop or rock album with more than 11 tunes on one side.

    FABulous site by the way Joe! Thanks so much!

  14. L. Meyer

    Paul’s genius on Abbey Road is being the major force in the creation of the medley that makes up most of side two. “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” is a beautiful and eloquent farewell to the fans.

    1. Frank

      And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

      Words I live by every day.

      Also it’s the single most beautiful thirty seconds of sound ever created in the history of time and matter.

      Paul McCartney was just so great.

      So was John Lennon, RIP

      So was George Harrison, RIP

      So was Ringo, he was awesome.

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