After the near-disastrous sessions for the proposed Get Back album (later retitled Let It Be) Paul McCartney suggested to Martin the group get together and make an album "the way we used to" free of the conflict that began with the sessions for The White Album. Martin agreed, stipulating that he must be allowed to do the album his way. In their interviews for the Beatles Anthology series the surviving band members stated they knew at the time this would very likely be the final Beatles' product and therefore agreed to set aside their differences and 'go out on a high note'.
With the Let It Be album partly finished, the sessions for Abbey Road began in April, as the "Ballad of John and Yoko"/"Old Brown Shoe" single was completed. In fact recording sessions of John Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" had started already in February 1969 in Trident studios with Billy Preston at organ—only three weeks after the Get Back sessions. Photos from these sessions are included in the book Get Back which came along with the Let It Be album but not in the Let It Be movie. Paul is shaved and John has started to let his beard grow.
Most of the album was recorded between 2 July and 1 August 1969. After the album was finished and released, the Get Back/Let It Be project was re-examined. More work was done on the album, including the recording of additional music (see Let It Be). Thus, though the bulk of Let It Be was recorded prior to Abbey Road, the latter was released first, and Abbey Road properly was the last album started by The Beatles before they disbanded. In September 1969, just shortly before the release of the album, Lennon was on hiatus from the group with the Plastic Ono Band, effectively being the first official sign of dissolution.
The two album sides are quite different in character. Side one is a collection of single tracks, while side two consists of a long suite of compositions, many of them being relatively short and segued together. The main impetus behind the suite approach was to incorporate the various short and incomplete Lennon and McCartney compositions the group had available into an effective part of the album.
Abbey Road became one of the most successful Beatles albums ever. In the UK the album debuted straight at #1. Abbey Road spent its first 11 weeks in the UK charts at #1, and then was knocked off just for 1 week to #2 by the Rolling Stones debuting at the top with Let It Bleed. However, the following week—which was the week of Christmas—Abbey Road returned to the top for another 6 weeks, completing 17 weeks at the top. In all it spent 92 weeks inside the UK Top 75, making a big re-entry after over 16 years in 31 October 1987, when it was released for the first time on CD and reached #30. In the UK Abbey Road was the best-selling album of 1969 and the fourth best-selling of the entire 1960s, and the eighth best-selling album of 1970.
Reaction in the U.S. was similar. The album debuted at #178, then moved to #4 and in its third week to #1, spending 11 non-consecutive weeks at the top, but was not the best-selling album during the Christmas week. Abbey Road spent a total of 129 weeks in the Billboard 200, re-entering the charts at #69 on 14 November 1987 when it was released for the first time on CD. It was the 4th best-selling album of 1970 in the US and is now certified 12x platinum by the RIAA.
The album opener "Come Together" was a Lennon contribution. The chorus was inspired by a song Lennon originally wrote for Timothy Leary's campaign for governor of California titled "Let's Get It Together." A rough version of this can be heard in outtakes from Lennon's second bed-in event in Canada. It has been speculated that the verses, described by Lennon as intentionally obscure, refer cryptically to each of the Beatles (e.g. "he's one holy roller" allegedly refers to the spiritually inclined George Harrison.) The song was later the subject of a lawsuit brought against Lennon by Morris Levy because the opening line in "Come Together" - "Here come old flat-top" - was admittedly lifted from a line in Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me." "Come Together" was later released as a double A side single with "Something". In the liner notes to the Love album Martin described the track as a personal favorite.
"Something," the second track on the album, later became Harrison's first A-side single. Originally written during the White Album sessions, the first line is based on the James Taylor song "Something in the Way She Moves" (Taylor was signed to Apple at the time). After the lyrics were refined during the "Let It Be" sessions (tapes reveal Lennon giving Harrison some songwriting advice during its composition), "Something" was initially given to Joe Cocker, but was subsequently recorded for Abbey Road. "Something" was Lennon's favorite song on the album, and McCartney considered it the best song Harrison had written. Frank Sinatra once commented that "Something" was his favorite Lennon/McCartney song (sic) and "the greatest love song ever written." The song was released on a double-sided single.
Harrison was rapidly growing as a songwriter, and with Abbey Road, he made his most significant contributions to a Beatles album. "Something" became the first Beatles number one single that was not a Lennon/McCartney composition—it was also the first single with songs from an already released album; "Here Comes the Sun" has received significant radio airplay despite never having been released as a single. At the Concert for George on the first anniversary of Harrison's passing, "Something" was sung by McCartney, who performed the first part of the song solo while playing ukulele. After the first chorus, the song shifted to its traditional arrangement, with other musicians joining in, and Eric Clapton sharing vocals with McCartney.
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer"
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer," McCartney's first song on the album, was first performed by the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions (as can be seen in the Let It Be documentary).
According to Geoff Emerick's book, Here, There and Everywhere, Lennon said the song was "more of Paul's granny music", and refused to participate in the recording of the song.
When recording "Oh! Darling," McCartney attempted recording only once a day, so that his voice would be fresh on the recording. Lennon was of the opinion that was the type of song that he would've sung the lead on, remarking that it was more his style. On the Anthology 3 album, Lennon can be heard singing the lead on an ad-libbed verse regarding the news that Yoko Ono's divorce from her first husband had just come through.
Ringo Starr wrote and sang one song for the album, "Octopus's Garden," his second (and last) composition released on a Beatles album. It was inspired by a trip to Sardinia that occurred when Starr left the band for two weeks with his family during the sessions for The White Album. While there, he composed the song, which is arguably his most successful writing effort. While Starr had the lyrics nearly pinned down, the song's melodic structure was partly written in the studio by Harrison (as can be seen in the Let It Be film), although Harrison gave full songwriting credit to Starr. (Harrison and Starr would later collaborate on Starr's solo single "Photograph," and Harrison also probably collaborated with Starr in writing "It Don't Come Easy").
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)," is a combination of two somewhat different recording attempts. The first attempt occurred almost immediately after the "Get Back/Let It Be" sessions in February 1969 and featuring Billy Preston on keyboards. This was subsequently combined with a second version made during the "Abbey Road" sessions proper, and when edited together ran nearly 8 minutes long, making it The Beatles' second-longest released song ("Revolution 9" being the longest). Perhaps more than any other Beatles song, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" reveals a pronounced progressive rock influence, with its unusual length and structure, repeating guitar riff, and "white noise" effects; the "I Want You" section has a straightforward blues structure. It also features one of the earliest uses of a Moog synthesizer to create the white-noise or "wind" effect heard near the end of the track. During the final edit, as the guitar riff continues on and on, Lennon told engineer Emerick to "cut it right there" at the 7:44 mark, creating a sudden, jarring silence which concluded side one of Abbey Road. The final overdub session for "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" would be the last time all four Beatles worked in the studio together.
"Here Comes the Sun"
"Here Comes the Sun" is Harrison's second song on the album and one of his best-known songs, written in Eric Clapton's garden while Harrison was "sagging off" from an Apple board meeting, which he considered tedious. It was influenced by the Cream song "Badge", which was co-written by Clapton and Harrison. While not released as a single, the song has received frequent radio airplay since its release. Joe Brown would later sing it at "Concert for George."
"Because" features a Moog synthesizer, played by Harrison. The chords in "Because" were inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," which Lennon heard Ono play on the piano, after which, according to Lennon, he played the chord progression backwards. "Because" features three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, which were then triple-tracked to sound like nine singers. The results of this have been compared in sound to the Beach Boys.
The climax of the album is the sixteen-minute medley consisting of several short songs, both finished and unfinished, blended into a suite by McCartney and Martin. Most of these songs were written (and originally recorded in demo form) during sessions for The Beatles and the "Get Back"/Let It Be sessions.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" is the first song of the Abbey Road suite. It was written by McCartney and based loosely on The Beatles' financial problems with Apple. (Paul had refused signing Allen Klein as their new manager.) It slowly and quietly follows into "Sun King" (which, like "Because", showcases Lennon's, McCartney's, and Harrison's overdubbed harmonies), "Mean Mr. Mustard" (written during The Beatles' trip to India), and "Polythene Pam" (all of these Lennon compositions). These in turn are followed by four McCartney songs, "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers" (based on lyrics but not the music of Thomas Dekker's 17th-century song of the same name), "Carry That Weight" which features chorus vocals from all four of The Beatles, although Lennon was in hospital at the time of the primary recording due to a car accident with Ono, his son Julian and Ono's daughter Kyoko (he recorded his vocals at a later date), and the climax, "The End". The latter is notable for featuring Starr's only drum solo in The Beatles catalogue. (The drums are recorded in "true stereo" with at least two separate microphones—even though mixings were in stereo drums were otherwise recorded with only one "mono" microphone in the middle of the stereo view.) Starr hated solos and had to be persuaded to do it. It was even edited down several bars from its original recorded version. Toward the end of the song, immediately prior to "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" line played over piano chords, are eighteen bars or measures of guitar solo: the first two bars are played by McCartney, the second two by Harrison, and the third two by Lennon, then the sequence repeats. Each had a distinctive style which McCartney felt reflected their personalities: McCartney's playing included string bends similar to his lead guitar work on "Another Girl" from the Help! album; Harrison's was melodic with slides yet technically advanced and Lennon's was rhythmic, stinging and had the heaviest distortion. Immediately after Lennon's third solo, the piano chords of the final line "And in the end...." begins.
An alternate version with Harrison's lead guitar solo played against McCartney's (with Starr's drum solo heard slightly in the background) appears on the Anthology 3 album. The song ends with the memorable final line, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
"Her Majesty," tacked on the end, was originally part of the side two medley, appearing between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam". McCartney disliked the way the medley sounded when it included "Her Majesty", so he had the medley re-edited to remove it. However, second engineer John Kurlander had been instructed never to throw out anything, so after the group left the recording studio that day, he picked it up off the floor, spliced 14 seconds of red leader tape onto the final mix reel, and then spliced in "Her Majesty" immediately after the leader tape. The box of the album's master reel had a notation stating to leave "Her Majesty" off the final product, but the next day when Malcolm Davies at Apple received the tape, he (also trained not to throw anything away) cut a playback lacquer of the whole sequence, including "Her Majesty." The Beatles liked this effect and left it on the album. On the first printing of the LP cover, "Her Majesty" is not listed, although it is shown on the record label. "Her Majesty" opens with the final, crashing chord of "Mean Mr. Mustard," while the final note of "Her Majesty" remained buried in the mix of "Polythene Pam." This was the result of "Her Majesty" being snipped off the reel during a rough mix of the medley. The cut in the medley was subsequently disguised with further mixing although "Her Majesty" was not touched again and still appears in its rough mix.
Abbey Road was the only Beatles album mainly recorded on an 8-track tape machine, rather than the 4-track machines that were used for prior Beatle albums starting with the single I Want To Hold Your Hand in 1963 and the album A Hard Day's Night in 1964. This is noticeable in the better sound separation and mixing of the drum kit. EMI's conservative management had not yet approved the use of their then-new 8-track Studer deck, and that accounts for why this was one of the rare Beatles albums to be recorded at three different studios (Trident, Olympic, and Abbey Road). The album was also the first to be recorded and mixed entirely on a solid state sound board, giving the album's sound a noticeably different "feel" from its predecessors; Harrison later remarked that the new sound was too "harsh" for his liking. Also, the Moog synthesizer is featured on the majority of tracks, not merely as a background effect, but sometimes playing a central role, as in "Because" where it is used for the middle 8. It is also prominent on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Here Comes the Sun". The instrument was introduced to the band by Harrison after a stay in Los Angeles where he was introduced to the instrument. (The first landmark pop song to employ the Moog was "Daily Nightly" by The Monkees.) Earlier in 1969, Harrison had released Electronic Sound, which featured dissonant sounds entirely made from a Moog, on Apple's short-lived experimental label Zapple.
One of the assistant engineers working on the album was a then-unknown Alan Parsons. He went on to engineer Pink Floyd's landmark album The Dark Side of the Moon and produce many popular albums himself with The Alan Parsons Project. John Kurlander also assisted on many of the sessions, and went on to become a successful engineer and producer, most noteworthy for his success on the scores for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Album cover photograph
"At some point, the album was going to be titled Everest after the brand of cigarettes I used to smoke," recalls Geoff Emerick. The idea included a cover photo in the Himalayas but by the time the group was to take the photo they decided to call it Abbey Road and take the photo outside the studio on 8 August 1969. The cover designer was Apple Records creative Director Kosh. The cover photograph was taken by photographer Iain Macmillan. Macmillan was given only ten minutes around 11:30 that morning to take the photo. That cover photograph has since become one of the most famous and most imitated album covers in recording history. McCartney is bare-footed and out of step with the other three. The man standing on the pavement in the background is Paul Cole (1911 ? - d 13 February 2008) a US tourist unaware he had been photographed until he saw the album cover months later. The zebra crossing today remains a popular destination for Beatles fans.
The Volkswagen Beetle parked next to the zebra crossing belonged to one of the people living in the apartment across from the recording studio. After the album came out, the number plate was stolen repeatedly from the car. In 1986, the car was sold at an auction for $23,000 and is currently on display at the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Imitations and parodies
Many record covers have imitated the cover of Abbey Road, many using photographs shot at the same zebra crossing. Some of the best known are Red Hot Chili Peppers' The Abbey Road EP in which the band appear nude apart from tactfully placed socks, McCartney's live album Paul Is Live, Beatles parody The Rutles's Shabby Road, The Shadows's Live At Abbey Road, Booker T & the MGs' McLemore Avenue, Kanye West's Live Orchestration DVD (recorded at Abbey Road studios) and Sttellla's A.B. Rose (recorded live at the Ancienne Belgique with the band dressed in rose). The Smithereens' 1988 video "Drown In My Own Tears" from their Green Thoughts LP has a brief clip of the band in the crosswalk.
In Danny Boyle's Trainspotting the four main characters walk towards a climactic drug deal processing the "wrong" way across the famous crossing. The 1998 Walt Disney movie The Parent Trap featured a brief imitation - including a freeze frame to make it obvious. The very final shot of the Spanish movie El factor Pilgrim (The Pilgrim Factor) by Alberto Rodriguez and Santi Amodeo features the four main characters crossing Abbey Road in procession. I am Sam, which features covers of Beatles songs as its soundtrack, features a scene in which several characters walk across a zebra crossing carrying pink balloons.
In the opening titles of the 2006 series of Grumpy Old Men, Rick Wakeman, Tim Rice, Rory McGrath and Arthur Smith are walking across the crossing when they get run over by a speeding chav talking on his mobile while driving. In the television show The Simpsons, Homer's successful barbershop quartet The Be Sharps' second album Bigger Than Jesus included a parody of the cover with the four band members walking on water. There is an episode of The Powerpuff Girls called Meet the Beat-Alls, where four of the main villains unite as a super group of villains. At one point in the cartoon, they cross a street in Abbey Road cover art fashion. The 2003 Japanese tokusatsu series Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger features the 4 main Abarangers during the first part of the closing credits walking in a slow fashion across a street similar to Abbey Road. The comedy programme Absolutely Fabulous also used the crossing in an episode in series 5. The boyfriend of character Edina 'Eddy' Monsoon is working on a 'lost' Beatles tape in the studio at Abbey Road. Both Edina and Patsy ridicule Japanese tourists for posing on the crossing. Most recently, it was parodied by the characters of the Nicktoon Kappa Mikey during the opening and closing song of the Karaoke Episode. Just like the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, the song that parodies it is sung in both its main theme and a reprisal. The back cover of the album was parodied in the title card of the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Krabby Road", and the episode's title parodied the album's title. In the Drake & Josh episode, "The Battle of Panthatar," Drake gets an autographed Abbey Road record which he gives away as a gift, but he and Josh try to retrieve it after it does not succeed in getting them into a party. An American Express commercial features a brief shot of four men crossing the road, one of them comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who is allegedly roaming London and speaking to its citizens so he can incorporate British slang into his stand-up routines (the ad opened with Jerry onstage, but no one in the London audience was getting his jokes).
A lighting display in Liverpool
Bob and Tom's second comedy album, Shabbey Road, released Christmas 1987, parodied Abbey Road in both title and hand-drawn cover art-as opposed to photographed. The cover depicted a faithful re-creation of the Abbey Road cover, complete with VW bug parked askew, and traversing the crosswalk are the radio show's titular stars Bob Kevoian and Tom Griswold, along with Richard Nixon and an unknown male of short stature at the back of the line (a member of the B&T troupe, named "Hadji"). Griswold wears a white armband lettered "IBB", standing for "I Buried Bob", and Hadji wears one lettered "HSBD", or "Hadji Says Bob's Dead." This is the second of two Bob and Tom compilations to be named after or parody Beatle albums; their first album was named The White Album.)
The promotional photo of the 2004–2006 Reebok home shirt of Liverpool FC is a deliberate homage to the photo.
In the video for "Parklife" by Blur, Phil Daniels suddenly stops the car as the band walk over a zebra crossing in the style of the Beatles.
On the back cover of the textbook Molecular Biology of the Cell, third edition, the authors in alphabetical order cross Abbey Road on their way to lunch (including UCL professor Martin Raff without shoes).
The cover for Ren & Stimpy's You Eediot! album features Ren, Stimpy, Muddy Mudskipper and Mr. Horse, crossing Abbey Road in similar fashion.
In the 9 December 2007 episode of Kevin and Kell the Dewclaw family crosses the road in AR fashion to visit their neighbour Aby Eyeshine. The title of the spoof is Aby's Roadkill.
Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy is seen running across Abbey Road barefoot and exclaiming it "a dream come true" in their Images and Words: Live in Tokyo video.
Booster Gold #6 features a panel of Booster Gold getting into a time bubble with three Blue Beetles in the manner similar to the Abbey Road cover.
On a particular cover of Rolling Stone, Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa of The Simpsons play the roles of John, Ringo, Paul, and George respectively.
Immediate Music named the second album of their Themes for Orchestra and Choir collection "Abbey Road".
The songs on Abbey Road have been covered many times and the album itself has been covered in its entirety.
One month after Abbey Road's release, George Benson recorded a cover version of the album called The Other Side of Abbey Road. In 1970 Booker T. & the M.G.'s recorded McLemore Avenue (the location of Stax Records) which covered the Abbey Road songs and had a similar cover photo.
Additionally, several artists have covered some or all of the side B medley, including Phil Collins (for the Martin/Beatles tribute album In My Life), Dream Theater, Transatlantic, The Punkles and 70 Volt Parade.
In 1997, Abbey Road was named the 12th greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM; it received the same ranking in a 1998 poll of Q magazine readers. In 2000, Q placed it at number 17 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001, the TV network VH1 named it the 8th greatest album ever, and, in December 2003, it was named the 14th best album by Rolling Stone. In 2006, the album was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time. In 2006, Abbey Road was rated as Australia's fourth favourite album on My Favourite Album, a television special done by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired on 3 December 2006 (it was the highest position for a Beatles Album on that list).
All songs written and composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, except where noted.
# Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Come Together" Lennon 4:20
2. "Something" (Harrison) Harrison 3:03
3. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" McCartney 3:27
4. "Oh! Darling" McCartney 3:33
5. "Octopus's Garden" (Richard Starkey) Starr 2:51
6. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" Lennon 7:47
# Title Lead vocals Length
7. "Here Comes the Sun" (Harrison) Harrison 3:05
8. "Because" Lennon, McCartney, Harrison 2:45
9. "You Never Give Me Your Money" McCartney 4:02
10. "Sun King" Lennon 2:26
11. "Mean Mr. Mustard" Lennon 1:06
12. "Polythene Pam" Lennon 1:12
13. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" McCartney 1:57
14. "Golden Slumbers" McCartney 1:31
15. "Carry That Weight" Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr 1:36
16. "The End" McCartney 2:05
17. "Her Majesty" McCartney 0:23
* "Her Majesty" appears as a hidden track. Between "The End" and "Her Majesty" is 14 seconds of silence.
* One cassette tape version in the US had "Come Together" and "Here Comes the Sun" swapped so that Harrison's composition opens the album. All subsequent versions (including the CD) have restored the track listing to its original order.
* Tracks 9 through 16 are sometimes noted as one song (medley) called "The Abbey Road Medley".
* Tracks 14 through 16 are sometimes noted as one song called "The Golden Slumbers Medley".
* George Harrison – lead, rhythm, acoustic and bass guitars; lead, harmony and background vocals (sometimes multitracked); Hammond organ, harmonium and Moog synthesizer; handclaps and assorted percussion.
* John Lennon – lead and rhythm guitars; six- and 12-string acoustic guitars; lead, harmony and background vocals (sometimes multitracked); electric and acoustic pianos; Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer; white noise generator and sound effects; tambourine and maracas.
* Paul McCartney – lead, rhythm, acoustic and bass guitars; fuzz bass; lead, harmony and background vocals (sometimes multitracked); electric and acoustic pianos; Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer (ribbon strip); handclaps and assorted percussion and sound effects.
* Ringo Starr – drums, percussion, timpani, anvil and handclaps; lead and background vocals.
* George Martin – piano; electric harpsichord, harmonium and percussion.
* Billy Preston – Hammond organ on "Something"
* "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" orchestrated and conducted by George Martin (with George Harrison)
* "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End" orchestrated and conducted by George Martin (with Paul McCartney).
* Produced by George Martin (with The Beatles).
* Recorded by Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald.
* Mixed by Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and George Martin (with The Beatles).
* Moog programming by Mike Vicker.
|United Kingdom||26 September 1969||Apple||LP||PCS 7088|
|United States||1 October 1969||Apple, Capitol||LP||SO 383|
|Japan||21 May 1983||Toshiba-EMI||Compact Disc||CP35-3016|
|Worldwide reissue||10 October 1987||Apple, Parlophone, EMI||CD||CDP 7 46446 2|
|Japan||11 March 1998||Toshiba-EMI||CD||TOCP 51122|
|Japan||21 January 2004||Toshiba-EMI||Remastered LP||TOJP 60142|
Released: 26 September 1969
Recorded: 22 February 1969 – 20 August 1969, at Abbey Road Studios, Olympic Studios, and Trident Studios
Genre: Rock, art rock, blues-rock, rock and roll, hard rock
Label: Apple/Parlophone, Capitol, and EMI
Producer: George Martin
Singles from Abbey Road
1. "Come Together"/"Something"
Released: 6 October 1969 (US)
2. "Something"/"Come Together"
Released: 31 October 1969 (UK)