In the studio
The Beatles began recording ‘Come Together’ on 21 July 1969, recording eight takes in Abbey Road’s studio three. Three of the takes – four, five, and seven – were incomplete, and take six was selected as the basis of the album version.
Take one, with slightly different lyrics and a raw vocal from John Lennon, can be heard on the Anthology 3 album, and take five can be heard on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
Lennon sang without his guitar, and clapped while singing the line “Shoot me”. The words allegedly referred not to a desire for martyrdom, but to a fix of heroin. They were adapted from the unreleased ‘Watching Rainbows’, a song The Beatles rehearsed on 14 January 1969 during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.
On the finished record you can really only hear the word ‘shoot’. The bass guitar note falls where the ‘me’ is.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Although ‘Come Together’ was conceived as a Chuck Berry-style rocker, The Beatles slowed it down at Paul McCartney’s suggestion.
He originally brought it over as a very perky little song, and I pointed out to him that it was very similar to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’. John acknowledged it was rather close to it so I said, ‘Well, anything you can do to get away from that.’ I suggested that we tried it swampy – ‘swampy’ was the word I used – so we did, we took it right down. I laid that bass line down which very much makes the mood. It’s actually a bass line that people now use very often in rap records. If it’s not a sample, they use that riff. But that was my contribution to that.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The Beatles began recording ‘Come Together’ on four-track tape. The initial takes had McCartney’s bass guitar on track one; George Harrison’s guitar on track two; Ringo Starr’s drums on track three; and Lennon’s vocals, handclaps and tambourine on track four.
‘Come Together’ changed at a session. We said, ‘Let’s slow it down. Let’s do this to it, let’s do that to it,’ and it ends up however it comes out. I just said, ‘Look, I’ve got no arrangement for you, but you know how I want it.’ I think that’s partly because we’ve played together a long time. So I said, ‘Give me something funky,’ and set up a beat, maybe, and they all just join in.
Lennon’s lyrics changed during the session. On take one he mentioned the singer Eartha Kitt, and on takes two, six, and eight he namechecked Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Several times he also sang “Got to get injections ’cause he’s so hard to see” in the final verse.
Take six was chosen as the best of the attempts, and was renamed take nine when the tape was transferred from four-track to eight-track.
Over the next two days the group added a range of overdubs. On 22 July Lennon re-recorded his lead vocals and handclaps, which were both treated with tape delay effects. Electric piano and guitar were added to track five; and more guitar and a maraca were overdubbed onto track six.
The player of the electric piano part is unclear. According to studio engineer Geoff Emerick, it was played by Lennon on the final recording. The book that came with the deluxe edition of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road, however, claims that it was McCartney.
Initially, Paul played the electric piano part, but John kind of looked over his shoulder and studied what he was playing. When it came time to record it, John played the electric piano instead of Paul. Paul might have been miffed, but I think he was more upset about not singing on the choruses – John did his own backing vocals.
On 25 July harmony vocals were added to track eight, with Lennon also double-tracking some of his lead vocals.
McCartney later expressed regret that he hadn’t sung the harmonies with Lennon on ‘Come Together’.
Even on Abbey Road we don’t do harmonies like we used to. I think it’s sad. On ‘Come Together’ I would have liked to sing harmony with John and I think he would have liked me to but I was too embarrassed to ask him and I don’t work to the best of my abilities in that situation.
Evening Standard newspaper, 1970
‘Come Together’ was completed on 30 July with some final guitar overdubs on track seven.
Released as a single on 6 October 1969, ‘Come Together’ reached number one in the US. It entered the top 40 on 18 October, and remained in the charts for 16 weeks.
As a double a-side with George Harrison’s ‘Something’, ‘Come Together’ only released number four in the UK. It was released on 31 October 1969. Its poor chart performance may have been affected by a ban from the BBC, who decreed that the line “He shoot Coca-Cola” was unacceptable product placement.
This was the first single released by The Beatles which contained songs already available on an album; the move was one of Allen Klein’s attempts to put The Beatles’ struggling finances back on an even keel.
Thanks for the post and drilling down so deeply into Abbey Road’s opening track. It does sound like Paul but I don’t think anyone could be sure as there is a lot of distortion on it.
There’s more to the song than that isn’t there? I’ve heard that each verse is a description of each Beatle – goes George, Ringo, John and lastly (and least?) Paul. It seems to make sense. What is your take there? Thanks.