Abbey Road was the Beatles' grand finale. Even though the rough Let It Be was released after, the group's last complete recording sessions were for this album.
The personality clashes that had begun flaring during the White Album sessions and had worsened during Let It Be were even more bitter. Apple was still losing money and the fight to regain control of their song publishing was going poorly (they would admit defeat about two weeks after this album was released). McCartney was becoming more isolated from the other three due to their resentment of his treating them as his backup musicians, and, more recently, because of his lonely effort to bring in his new in-laws as the group's management, instead of Allen Klein, whom he mistrusted.
On Abbey Road, however, these problems are not apparent. The album is the Beatles' most polished, and the band sounds very much together - there is more three-part harmony singing than on any other effort. But it was a carefully crafted illusion: All four Beatles were rarely in the studio at the same time. In fact, a basic compromise was reached that side A would be as Lennon wanted it and side B (the suite) would be for McCartney.
The Beatles essentially broke up shortly after the album was recorded. During a meeting at Apple Lennon told McCartney that he wanted a "divorce." It was kept a secret at the time because Klein, as their new manager, was in the midst of negotiating a better contract with Capitol Records. McCartney finally went public the following spring, saying that he was leaving the group.
UNITED KINGDOM: Released September 26, 1969. One week later it was No. 1 on the chart and it remained there for eighteen weeks. It stayed on the chart for thirty-six weeks. Road
UNITED STATES: Released October 1, 1969. It entered the album chart at No. 178, jumped to No. 4 one week later, and the following week was No. 1, where it stayed for eleven weeks. It was in the Top 30 for thirty-one weeks.
Estimated world sales: by the end of November, 4 million. By the end of 1969, 5 million. By 1980, 10 million. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
February 22 through August 19, 1969, at Abbey Road, Trident, and Olympic Sound Studios.
Versions of some songs were rehearsed during the Let It Be sessions. After the bad feelings of Let It Be, producer George Martin had had enough.
MARTIN: "I was really surprised when after we had finished that album Paul came to me and said, 'Let's get back and record like we used to - would you produce an album like you used to?' 'Well, if you'd allow me to, I will.' And that's how we made Abbey Road. It wasn't quite like the old days because they were still working on their own songs. And they would bring in the other people to work as kind of musicians for them rather than being a team." Compleat
Much of the recording was done with only two or three Beatles present at a time. Beatles Monthly via Datebook (March 1970) Part of this was due to Lennon's auto accident on July 1, 1969, soon after the heaviest schedule of recording sessions began. The Complete Beatles Chronicle
McCARTNEY: "By the time we made Abbey Road, John and I were openly critical of each other's music, and I felt John wasn't much interested in performing anything he hadn't written himself." Life (April 16, 1971)
Usually present when their husbands were recording were Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman, who was pregnant. McCartney: The Definitive Biography
McCARTNEY: "On Abbey Road I was beginning to get too producery for everyone. George Martin was the actual producer, and I was beginning to be too definite. George [Harrison] and Ringo turned around and said: 'Look, piss off! We're grown-ups and we can do it without you fine.' For people like me who don't realize when they're being overbearing, it comes as a great surprise to be told. So I completely clammed up and backed off - 'right, okay, they're right, I'm a turd.'
"So a day or so went by and the session started to flag a bit and eventually Ringo turned 'round to me and said: 'Come on . . . produce!' You couldn't have it both ways. You either had to have me doing what I did, which, let's face it, I hadn't done too bad, or I was going to back off and become paranoid myself, which was what happened." Musician (October 1986)
One night during the album's recording, McCartney called Abbey Road to say he wouldn't be coming to the studio because it was the anniversary of his meeting Linda and they wanted to spend a romantic evening together. This infuriated Lennon, who ran over to McCartney's house at 7 Cavendish Avenue, rushed in, yelled at him for inconveniencing the others, and smased a painting he had done and given to Paul. Salewicz McCartney denied this happened. NBC's Today Show (September 8, 1988) via Beatlefan (November 1988)
STARR, on the lack of studio embellishments: "It's more important that we play good together than to have lots of violins play good together." Beatles Forever
McCARTNEY: Hofner bass, Martin D-28 guitar
LENNON: Sunburst Epiphone Casino, Martin D-28 guitars
HARRISON: Gibson Les Paul, Gibson J-200 acoustic, rosewood Fender Telecaster guitars
MARTIN: "The one-inch, four-track system lasted right through Pepper up until Abbey Road. We experimented with eight-track in one case on the White Album at another studio, but Abbey Road [studios] didn't have eight-track until Abbey Road itself. EMI always tended to be a bit behind independent commercial studios." Musician (July 1987)
The photograph for the cover was taken on Abbey Road at 10 a.m. on August 8, 1969. The Complete Beatles Chronicle
ANTHONY FAWCETT, assistant to Lennon: "Happy with the front cover, [Iain] McMillan asked me to drive with him along Abbey Road to look for the best street sign to photograph for the back cover. It had to be one of the old-style tiled signs set into the bricks. The best one was at the far end of Abbey Road, and we set up the camera on the edge of the pavement. McMillan decided to take a series of shots and was angry when, in the middle of them, a girl in a blue dress walked by, oblivious to what was happening. But this turned out to be the most interesting shot, and the Beatles chose it for the back cover. Afterward, I joined John and Yoko at Paul's house in St. John's Wood, where everybody had gone for tea after the photo session." John Lennon: One Day At A Time
"PAUL IS DEAD" Hysteria: The cover was alleged to portray a funeral procession, with Paul - because he's a corpse - out of step with the other Beatles. John was reputed to be the priest, Ringo the mortician, and George the gravedigger, becasue of their clothes. Paul also has no shoes on, which is the way the dead are buried in some societies. The impersonator pictured on the cover can't be Paul because he's holding his cigarette in his right hand; the real Paul is left-handed, of course. Also the Volkswagen's license plate reads "28IF," the age Paul would have been on his next birthday if he had lived.
McCARTNEY: "That Volkswagen has just recently sold for a fortune. But it meant nothing, you know." Musician (February 1988)
The VW sold for L2,300 at a Sotheby's auction in 1986. The Complete BEATLES Recording Sessions; The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970
McCARTNEY: "It was a hot day in London, a really nice hot day. . . . Barefoot, nice warm day, I didn't feel like wearing shoes. So I went around to the photo session and showed me bare feet. . . . Turns out to be some old Mafia sign of death or something." Late 1973, RS (January 31, 1974)
Several songs on Abbey Road included bits from other compositions. Part of "Come Together" came from Chuck Berry, the lyrics of "Golden Slumbers" came from a four-hundred-year-old poem, and "Something" got its first line of lyric from a James Taylor song.
McCARTNEY: ". . . We were the biggest nickers in town. Plagiarists extraordinaires." Playboy (December 1984)
HARRISON: "I used to have an experience when I was a kid which used to frighten me. I realized in meditation that I had the same experience, and it's something to do with always feeling really tiny. . . . I used to get that experience a lot when we were doing Abbey Road, recording. I'd go into this big empty studio and get into a soundbox inside of it and do my meditation inside of there, and I had a couple of indications of that same experience, which I realized was what I had when I was a kid." Crawdaddy (February 1977)
COMMENTS BY BEATLES
McCARTNEY: "George left when we were making Abbey Road, because he didn't think he had enough say in our records - which was fair enough. After a couple of days he came back." Beatles in Their Own Words
McCARTNEY, on the medley on the album: "We did it this way because both John and I had a number of songs which were great as they were but which we'd never finished." Beatles in Their Own Words
STARR: ". . . I love the second side of Abbey Road, where it's all connected and disconnected. No one wanted to finish those songs, so we put them all together and it worked. I think that piece of that album is some of our finest work." Big Beat
LENNON: "I liked the A side, but I never liked that sort of pop opera on the other side. I think it's just junk because it was just bits of songs thrown together." Beatles in Their Own Words
LENNON: "It was a competent album, like Rubber Soul. It was together in that way, but Abbey Road had no life in it." Beatles in Their Own Words
COMMENTS BY OTHERS
George Martin considers this his favourite Beatles album. Musician (July 1987)