Abbey Road

Abbey Road - The Beatles

Another innovation on Abbey Road was the use of the Moog synthesizer. The Beatles used it on four of Abbey Road's songs: Maxwell's Silver Hammer, I Want You (She's So Heavy), Here Comes The Sun and Because.

George Harrison bought one of the first Moogs to be manufactured, and the large instrument was brought in to Abbey Road in early August 1969.

I first heard about the Moog synthesizer in America. I had to have mine made specially, because Mr Moog had only just invented it. It was enormous, with hundreds of jackplugs and two keyboards.

But it was one thing having one, and another trying to make it work. There wasn't an instruction manual, and even if there had been it would probably have been a couple of thousand pages long. I don't think even Mr Moog knew how to get music out of it; it was more of a technical thing. When you listen to the sounds on songs like Here Comes The Sun, it does do some good things, but they're all very kind of infant sounds.

George Harrison
Anthology

The Moog was used on I Want You (She's So Heavy) in conjunction with a white noise generator. They were recorded on 8 August, the day the Abbey Road cover photography was taken.

We used the Moog synthesizer on The End [sic]. That machine can do all sounds and all ranges of sounds - so if you're a dog, you could hear a lot more. It's like a robot. George can work it a bit, but it would take you all your life to learn the variations on it. George has got one. He used it on the Billy Preston LP, and it also plays the solo in Because, and I think in Maxwell it comes in too. It's here and there on the album.
John Lennon, 1969
Anthology

I Want You (She's So Heavy) closed side one of Abbey Road. The steadily-building guitar arpeggios were suddenly cut with a brutal edit, giving a powerful ending which would have been lost had the track been faded out.

I thought the song was going to have a fade out, but suddenly John told me, 'Cut the tape.' I was apprehensive at first - we'd never done anything like that. 'Cut the tape?' But he was insistent, and he wound up being right. The track, and side one, ends in a very jarring way.
Geoff Emerick
MusicRadar.com

Side two also ended in an unorthodox fashion. The album was to close with The End, but during a trial edit of the medley made on 30 July 1969, the rejected song Her Majesty was appended to the end of the tape.

We did all the remixes and crossfades to overlap the songs. Paul was there, and we heard it together for the first time. He said, 'I don't like Her Majesty, throw it away,' so I cut it out - but I accidentally left in the last note. He said 'It's only a rough mix, it doesn't matter,' in other words, don't bother about making a clean edit because it's only a rough mix. I said to Paul, 'What shall I do with it?' 'Throw it away,' he replied.

I'd been told never to throw anything away, so after he left I picked it up off the floor, put about 20 seconds of red leader tape before it and stuck it onto the end of the edit tape.

John Kurlander, tape operator
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

When he heard a playback lacquer cut of the edit, McCartney liked the accidental inclusion of Her Majesty, and it was included at the end of the album - a precurser to the 'hidden' tracks which became common on compact disc releases during the 1990s.

As it was originally intended to be part of Abbey Road's long medley, the rough mix of Her Majesty began with the final chord of Mean Mr Mustard, and cut off before the last note - because in the 30 July edit it segued straight into Polythene Pam.

The original intention was that The End should, fittingly, close the album. The song is unique for having solos from each of The Beatles - including a drum solo by a reluctant Ringo Starr.

Solos have never interested me. That drum solo is still the only one I've done. There's the guitar section where the three of them take in the solos, and then they thought, 'We'll have a drum solo as well.' I was opposed to it: 'I don't want to do no bloody solo!' George Martin convinced me. As I was playing it, he counted it because we needed a time. It was the most ridiculous thing. I was going, 'Dum, dum - one, two, three, four...' and I had to come off at that strange place because it was thirteen bars long. Anyway, I did it, and it's out of the way. I'm pleased now that we've got one down.

A sideline on Abbey Road, just a personal thing of mine: the drum sound on the record was the result of having new calf-heads. There's a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads on the drum and I naturally used them a lot - they were so great. The magic of real records is that they showed tom-toms were so good. I don't believe that magic is there now, because there's so much more manipulation.

Ringo Starr
Anthology

The striking clarity of Starr's drum parts was also due to new recording technology, including the ability to use several microphones to record the kit. On The End the drums were recorded on two tracks, allowing the solo to be mixed in stereo.

For the first time we were using a transistorized mixing console. Up to this point, all the albums had been recorded on a tube desk. But this luxurious transistorized desk had a limiter and compressor on every channel and selectable frequencies - it was quite a change.

Regarding Ringo's drums, this was the first time I was able to record his kit in stereo because we were using eight-track instead of four-track. Because of this, I had more mic inputs, so I could mic from underneath the toms, place more mics around the kit - the sound of his drums were finally captured in full.

I think when he heard this, he kind of perked up and played more forcefully on the toms, and with more creativity.

Geoff Emerick
MusicRadar.com

Although monophonic mixes had been the primary consideration for most of the 1960s, by the time Abbey Road was issued stereo had become more dominant - so much so that the album was never mixed in mono.

44 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.

  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.

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