Abbey Road

The medley

Abbey Road - The Beatles
Abbey Road was really unfinished songs all stuck together. Everybody praises the album so much, but none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Abbey Road is perhaps best known for the eight-song medley that dominates side two. Known during recording as ‘the Long One’, it begins with You Never Give Me Your Money – the melody of which recurs during Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight – and culminates with The Beatles’ parting statement The End.

After the Let It Be nightmare, Abbey Road turned out fine. The second side is brilliant. Out of the ashes of all that madness, that last section is for me one of the finest pieces we put together.

John and Paul had various bits, and so we recorded them and put them together. It actually points out that this is where it’s at, that last portion. None of the songs were finished. A lot of work went into it, but they weren’t writing together. John and Paul weren’t even writing much on their own, really.

Ringo Starr
Anthology

Several of the songs were recorded as one, whereas others were assembled and edited together at a later date. Those recorded together were Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight, Sun King/Mean Mr Mustard, and Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.

I tried with Paul to get back into the old Pepper way of creating something really worthwhile, and we put together the long side. John objected very much to what we did on the second side of Abbey Road, which was almost entirely Paul and I working together, with contribution from the others. John always was a Teddy boy. He was a rock’n’roller, and wanted a number of individual tracks. So we compromised. But even on the second side, John helped. He would come and put his little bit in, and have an idea for sewing a bit of music into the tapestry. Everybody worked frightfully well, and that’s why I’m very fond of it.
George Martin
Anthology

John Lennon later expressed dislike of the medley, and claimed he had wanted his songs on one side of the album and Paul McCartney’s on the other.

I liked the A side. I never liked that sort of pop opera on the other side. I think it’s junk. It was just bits of song thrown together. And I can’t remember what some of it is. Come Together is all right. And some things on it… It was a competent album, like Rubber Soul in a way, it was together in that way, but it had no life really.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The concept of the medley came into being at around 6 May 1969, the day The Beatles recorded Paul McCartney’s You Never Give Me Your Money. Rather than give the song a rounded ending, right from the first take it ended sharply, just before where the lines “One two three four five six seven/All good children go to heaven” were later added. The lack of a proper ending suggested The Beatles were already thinking of the song as part of a bigger whole.

I think it was my idea to put all the spare bits together, but I’m a bit wary of claiming these things. I’m happy for it to be everyone’s idea. Anyway, in the end, we hit upon the idea of medleying them all and giving the second side a sort of operatic structure – which was great because it used ten or twelve unfinished songs in a good way.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

When the album was complete there were a handful of further sessions to complete Let It Be, but, to all intents and purposes, The Beatles’ dream was over. They had given themselves to the world for the past six years, and now it was their time to find themselves as individuals.

The title

While some of The Beatles’ albums – notably the film tie-ins A Hard Day’s Night and Help! – were titled early on during the recording process, Abbey Road remained untitled until the recording sessions were well underway.

We went through weeks of all saying, ‘Why don’t we call it Billy’s Left Boot?’ and things like that. And then Paul just said, ‘Why don’t we call it Abbey Road?’
Ringo Starr, 1969
Anthology

Its working title was Everest, named after the cigarettes that sound engineer Geoff Emerick smoked. The packets had a silhouette of Mount Everest on them, and The Beatles liked the imagery.

It was around July, when it was very hot outside, that someone mentioned the possibility of the four of them taking a private plane over to the foothills of Mount Everest to shoot the cover photograph. But as they became more enthusiastic to finish the LP someone – I don’t remember whom – suggested ‘Look, I can’t be bothered to schlep all the way over to the Himalayas for a cover, why don’t we just go outside, take the photo there, call the LP Abbey Road and have done with it?’ That’s my memory of why it became Abbey Road: because they couldn’t be bothered to go to Tibet and get cold!
John Kurlander, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The eventual title was suggested by Paul McCartney.

While we were in the studio, our engineer Geoff Emerick always used to smoke cigarettes called Everest, so the album was going to be called Everest. We never really liked that, but we couldn’t think of anything else to call it. Then one day I said, ‘I’ve got it!’ – I don’t know how I thought of it – ‘Abbey Road! It’s the studio we’re in, which is fabulous; and it sounds a bit like a monastery.’
Paul McCartney
Anthology

43 Responses to “Abbey Road”

    • Joe

      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.

      Reply
      • 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.”

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • Joe

      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!

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  3. BeatleMark

    I just listened to the “Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab” issue of Abbey Road recently. Sounds just like the studio tapes! I haven’t listened to the new remaster yet. Probably can’t get any better.

    Reply
  4. Vonbontee

    I used to know this but now I can’t remember: Did original copies of the album leave “Her Majesty” uncredited on the back cover? Anyone? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      Yes “Her Majesty” is uncredited on the back cover of my original Abbey Road LP!
      BUT
      “Her Majesty” is credited on the B-side record label!
      Go figure.

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. Chris

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

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  7. skye

    It’s too bad that the technology took so long to catch up with them. They could have done some incredible things.

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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”!)

    Reply
  10. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. 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).

    Reply
    • 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).

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
    • Joe

      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.

      Reply
      • Kelvin

        According to the Rolling Stone article from late 2009 on the group breakup he originally enthusiastic about the medley but he soon soured on the idea

        Reply
  14. 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.)

    Reply
    • Joe

      Good point, although the 24 January session was at Apple, not Twickenham, so it was performed at both places. I’ll update the article on Her Majesty.

      Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
    • vonbontee

      “…Harrison’s solo on the first song on side one, You Can’t Catch Me…”

      Uh…

      Reply
    • Joe

      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.

      Reply
          • 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.

            Reply
            • Joe

              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.

              Reply
              • vonbontee

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

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