Why The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ Was Streets Ahead Of Its Time

September 26, 2017

Prior to late September 1969, most people in the world were blissfully unaware that Abbey Road was the location of EMI’s London recording studios. Some keen fans may have spotted the name in news reports of The Beatles’ activities, but this was a time when it was of little importance to most fans where something was recorded. Ironically, given the album’s title, not all of Abbey Road was recorded at Abbey Road, and, in truth, the title is as much about the street and the zebra crossing outside as it is about the studio itself.

But when all is said and done, the album is for many, including this writer, the absolute pinnacle of the band’s achievements. All this, despite having been recorded as the band was breaking up amid internal strife and bitterness.

Abbey Road was The Beatles’ 11th studio album and the very last to be recorded (their 12th – and last-released – studio album, Let It Be, was mostly recorded prior to this record). Rolling Stone magazine called it “complicated instead of complex”, while Nik Cohn, writing in The New York Times, suggested that “individually” the songs are “nothing special”, The Guardian called the album “a slight matter”, and the Detroit Free Press suggested, “We expected inventiveness. We got a good LP.”

However, Chris Welch, writing in Melody Maker, felt just the opposite: “The truth is, their latest LP is just a natural born gas, entirely free of pretension, deep meanings or symbolism.” Similarly enthusiastic, The Record Mirror said that Abbey Road was “every bit as good as the last three” albums by the group. History, too, has been much kinder, with many now citing this as their favourite Beatles album.

What is it that makes Abbey Road a masterpiece? Well, the breadth of the musical vision, the sheer scale of the band’s collective musical imagination, and the audacity of it all, at a time when The Beatles were coming to the end of their time together.

The Beatles Something Single LabelAnd then there are the two George Harrison masterpieces, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Something’; both rank alongside the best songs the band ever recorded. Of the former, uDiscover’s Martin Chilton, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says “it’s almost impossible not to sing along to” – and he’s right.

‘Something’ is sublime, the perfect love song and John Lennon’s favourite track on the album. Often prior to performing it in concert, Frank Sinatra would describe it as “the greatest love song ever written” (while also erroneously saying it was his favourite “Lennon and McCartney composition”).

Side Two’s 15-minute “medley” begins with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, a Paul McCartney song. It transitions beautifully into ‘Sun King’, which was written by John and features John, Paul, and George’s impeccable harmonies. From there the medley runs into two more Lennon songs, ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ and ‘Polythene Pam’ (both written in India). Then it’s a quadruple shot from McCartney: ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’, the beautiful ‘Golden Slumbers’ and ‘Carry That Weight’ (which includes elements from ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’), before the medley closes with ‘The End’.

The Beatles Come Together B-side labelOpinion is divided among some fans and critics about some of the remaining tracks. However, there is no disputing the power, no denying the magnificence, of two of John Lennon’s compositions. ‘Come Together’ is one of the great opening tracks on any album. Likewise, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ just takes the band to a place they had never been before… towering.

The songs not entirely recorded at Abbey Road were ‘Something’, which features some overdubs recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes, West London. For ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ the band recorded the rhythm track in February 1969, at Trident Studios in Soho’s Wardour Street, where a composite of the song was then assembled. Work continued on the song until August (including a session on 8 August, when the album’s cover shoot also took place), as recordings were added to the original Trident tape; the finished song, completed at Abbey Road, was another composite made from two versions of the song. Meanwhile, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ was started at Olympic in May 1969, and then finished at Abbey Road over a number of sessions in July and August.

Abbey Road is far greater than the sum of its parts, a record that, more than any other Beatles album, stands the test of time when played as a whole. It is not an album to cherry-pick tracks on random play – this is one to put on, to luxuriate in ‘Come Together’, and to finish with a smile on your face as Paul sings about Her Majesty being “a pretty nice girl” on the closing, “hidden” track.

Scroll down to read 10 things you probably didn’t know about Abbey Road, and purchase the album here.

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• George Harrison was sitting in the garden of Eric Clapton’s country house when he began writing ‘Here Comes The Sun’.

• All four Beatles were together in the recording studio for the last time on 20 August 1969, when they finalised a mix of Abbey Road.

• According to George Harrison, the guitar parts on ‘Sun King’ was inspired by the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s big hit single, ‘Albatross’.

• The word “pataphysical”, as heard in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, came from the French avant-garde writer Alfred Jarry, who died in 1907. Paul became interested in his writing and discovered “pataphysics” (defined by Jarry as the “science of imaginary solutions”) in one of the writer’s later works.

• ‘Come Together’ was banned by the BBC in 1969 because it mentions Coca-Cola and the company had a policy against product placement in songs broadcast on the radio.

• ‘Octopus’s Garden’, written by Ringo Starr, was inspired while he was on board Peter Sellers’ yacht in the Mediterranean. The boat’s captain told Ringo how octopuses gather stones and shiny objects from the sea bed to build gardens.

• According to John Lennon, he asked Yoko Ono to play the chords to Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ backwards to create ‘Because’. This is not entirely accurate, but it is very close to the overall sound of The Beatles’ song.

• As Ringo explained, the idea of the Side Two medley was born out of necessity: “John and Paul had various bits, and so we recorded them and put them together. A lot of work went into it. That last section is, for me, one of the finest pieces we put together.” Paul embraced the idea enthusiastically. “It gave the second side a sort of operatic structure, which was quite nice because it got rid of all these songs in a good way.”

• ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window’ was inspired by an incident when one of the Apple Scruffs (the girls who hung about outside The Beatles’ office) climbed in to McCartney’s house via the bathroom window. She then let in some of the other girls, who stole photos and clothes.

• Some of the lyrics for ‘Golden Slumbers’ are based on ‘Cradle Song’, a poem and lullaby from Thomas Dekker’s 1603 comedy, Patient Grissel. McCartney saw the sheet music, left by his stepsister Ruth, on the piano at his father’s home in Liverpool.

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46 comments

  1. The Hat
    Reply

    I struggle with it. At the time of its release, I probably thought of it as damn good. Later, I got a bit cynical and felt that they just rushed the thing together – however polished it may sound – just to cash in one last time before the split. But there are some gems on there.

    1. Cletus Rothschild
      Reply

      Oh please. It looks more like you rushed your comment together because you forgot to put the “ass” in front of “hat”.

  2. Dave.
    Reply

    Musically it was inovative too. The Moog synthesiser is much in evidence on ‘Here Comes the Sun’ And ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.
    ‘Carry That Weight’ seems to prefigure the aporobrium Paul McCartney suffered following his announcement that he was leaving the band, while The End’ sums up perfectly the reason why 50 years on they are still so popular.

    1. Andyc
      Reply

      I couldn’t agree more. In fact, if somebody asked me what my favourite recording was, I’d say Abbey Road side 2! On a quality audio system, when the bass kicks in on Here Come The Sun it hits you in the chest and that’s just to start. Unbelievable on every level.

      1. Beatleman54
        Reply

        There best sonic achievment. Full of happines as well as sadness. Forward looking and Progressive. Lyrics in The End were great , almost sums up the entire1960’s.

  3. Timothy
    Reply

    No mention of “Because,” which immediately proceeds the medley on the B side. Awesome three-part harmony of Lennon-McCartney-Harrison, recorded 3 times, providing 9 vocals in total. Greatness!!

  4. Greg Broussard
    Reply

    While I prefer Rubber Soul and Revolver to Abbey Road the song Because is amoung my favorite Beatles’ songs. The three part harmony is impeccable. Also, the two George Harrison compositions show what a talented songwriter he was. Having two Harrison songs on one album is enough to make this Beatles fan more than happy! These two Harrison compositions, along with several other of his songs on other albums, show that he was, in my opinion, certainly as prolific a song writer as Lennon and McCartney.

    1. curtB
      Reply

      Hardly as prolific. he built up a dozen or more songs that were unfinished while in the beatles that were rejected, apparently for being unfinished compared to J&P who usually just needed a bridge or some words to finish a song up. George showed up with a chorus and a bit of the music and needed a lot more work on songs he later put out on his 1st album.
      George started writing much later than the other 2 and didn’t have their support system they had for each other so I praise his rise as a song writer but the other 2 were a lot more prolific as george and ringo have said.

  5. ottomarcos
    Reply

    As was customary for me with new Beatles albums, I rushed to the record store after school and bought Abbey Road on the day it was released. I considered it an early 15th-birthday present to myself. Naturally, it blew me away upon first listen. I probably played it 6 or 7 times that afternoon and evening. The next day, I sang some of the lyrics to “Come Together” while standing in the lunch line at school with several friends, who had no idea what I was singing. After I told them it was the first song on the new Beatles album, my friends all said they were going to buy it, ASAP. Sure enough, within a few days all these friends and I were singing lyrics from Abbey Road together at school. The Beatles couldn’t have created a better, or more fitting, final album to end the band’s stellar recording career. <3

  6. Bob
    Reply

    “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” And wow did they make love for the whole world with every note! The chord that David played that pleased the Lord has nothing on Beatles music! The music of a period, an era and for all time….

  7. Robert Hosack
    Reply

    The article stated: “Often prior to performing it [“Something”] in concert,Frank Sinatra would describe it as ‘the greatest love song ever written….’” I can testify that statement is true. In 1980 or 81, I saw Sinatra perform in Kansas City, Missouri, and he said those very words before he sang “Something.” Ever since then I have told many people about Sinatra’s comment, just like I’m doing now.

  8. leandro rey
    Reply

    i`m from Uruguay, yes.. Suàrez and Cavani, i listen the Beatles since i was a boy , I learn to play the guitar thanks to them, i saw two times Paul Mc Cartney live in Estadio Centenario Montevideo, i don^t Know why but i feel a link with the music and de words, Abbey Road is a Master Piece but my favourite album is Rubber Soul it is the point of change and jump to other level.
    When i^m down i listen The Beatles and i feel fine, greetings from Uruguay. Oh just one more thing.., my bad english i learned listen all the albums sorry..if it was too bad..

  9. Rick
    Reply

    All 3 trading guitar solos on The End gave me the greatest visuals of them having at least one last good time before it was all over.

  10. Mike Hopkins
    Reply

    The Beatles had me hooked after Love me Do. PS I love you was a far better effort. Apart from Lennon’s harmonica Love me Do was probably the worst record they ever made. When you think of the journey they went on in the ensuing eight years, and take into account the pressure cooker existence they lived their achievements are even more astonishing. The medley on Abbey Road is the finest piece of rock music ever recorded, despite it’s being cobbled together almost by accident. Even after all this time I only have to hear that haunting piano and Paul’s wistful vocal on You Never Give me your Money to bring a year to my grizzled old face. They meant that much to me.

  11. Jeanne Thomas
    Reply

    The first time I heard “Abbey Road” (I’d borrowed it from a friend), I must have listened to it at least three times in a row in one sitting.
    The Beatles have always been my favorite band; right from the time I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was five years old. From the very beginning, they forever changed how I’d listen to music.

    1. Carlos Fernandes
      Reply

      I also was five when first saw/heard the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show. And, aside the day JFK was killed, that’s the earliest recollection I have. It’s almost like I was born that day, and in some aspects I think I did, at least I was born to the importance music has in my life in general, and The Beatles in particular.

  12. Thomas John Segers - Composer
    Reply

    When I was 11 in 1970, I listened to Something with the snow falling down at our home. I was
    thinking of how romantic this song was and I wanted a girlfriend to be with at that moment just to
    hold hands with and kiss because it was such a beautiful song. The hopeless romantic was in me
    then as it is today.

  13. Andy Rainbeard
    Reply

    Never understood why Macca recorded “Her Majesty”, ruined a fabulous album with a paean to the monarchy. Suppose he was hoping to be knighted.

    1. Remdog510
      Reply

      The only reason Her Majesty was tacked onto the album was because an intern at Abbey Road Studio was told, “Don’t throw anything away.” He then threw Her Majesty on the end of the album without telling anyone. It was originally meant to go between Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, and wasn’t even listed on the original track listing as it was meant to be cut.

  14. Stuart
    Reply

    Andy, who says “Her Majjesty” refers to the Queen? It could have been for Linda, or one of his daughters, or even his dog Martha!

  15. Kris
    Reply

    What amazes me the most is that you start with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and end with “Come Together” along with everything in between over a five year period.
    Mind blown@

  16. Pedro Vazquez
    Reply

    Totally amazing… teamwork and talent put together to show how 4 men together could make the world stand still to listen to it and simply enjoy the ride

  17. Johnnie Farr
    Reply

    I have a unique memory of the first time I heard the Abbey Rd album. I originally purchased the Hey Jude album but when I got it home and started playing it, much to my surprise, it was all the Abbey rd songs. The cover was the Hey Jude album and the center apple label listed the Hey Jude songs but when the record player started I heard Come Together and all the Abbey Rd tunes. I loved it, especially side two’s The End with it’s amazing guitar leads. Definitely, one of their best albums.

  18. Isaac Mizrahi
    Reply

    gee. where to begin?
    i guess maybe ‘the time’/era…can’t be separated for me, at least, from this album…i was 18, living in b’klyn, and america was on fire…
    but, aSIDE from that…most of you people don’t know shit to begin with. your lackings oooooze from your comments. ANY criticism of this work is LAUGHable…i mean SERiously. and who the fuck needs to compare it to any of their OTHER works? most of which, while pristine, or in the neighborhood, don’t even beGIN to be as sophisticated/multi layered as beginning with revolver through mystery tour.
    the BIGgest morons, though, because they’ve SOMEhow managed to get themselves set up as ‘pundits’, are the MEDIA people/commentators…i mean, SURE…what should i expect…i KNOW some of you are musicians/musically inclined…THAT shows in your comments, as well…hell..some of you might even be professional(not that that’s a symptom of quality, necessarily)…
    but these guys ARE getting paid. good bucks, too…i mean the NY TIMES???? but, obviously, what the fuck did HE know? it’s laughable and sad…
    mostly b/c WE don’t know, much of the time.
    again….evident in ANY critical comment about this work…
    all the criticism indicates is that you just didn’t get it…for whatever reason/s…
    but i’ll tell ya what it reminds me of…
    all those times while getting here…hearing people talk about god…some saying they didn’t think ‘He’ existed. that they didn’t beLIEVE in him…and they’d SAY it with SUCH auTHOR(thunder AND lightning)ity…
    i’d be listening. grinnin big. thinking to myself…’yeah. and if you’re wrong…? like it would mean something?’

  19. Richard Hydell and wrecked Google my band
    Reply

    Me and my friend went to the record store and bought it ,Smoked some Angel dust and were blown away we were like 16.

  20. Robert Britton
    Reply

    Brilliant Beatles album, far better than Sgt Pepper. I also chose Something for my first dance at my wedding 3 years ago.

    1. curtB
      Reply

      Ringo’s drum solo was actually extracted from him playing along to a recording of the others, and Paul and G Martin used the track he played on as the drum solo. Ringo had no idea, according to a few bios.

  21. johnny mac
    Reply

    talk about a crystal ball……….a masterpiece and critics couldn’t even hear it? that must have been good weed in them days?

  22. james Sommerville
    Reply

    Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is about the worst track of all time….he should be embarassed to take credit for it

  23. Rafff
    Reply

    No doubt the most iconic picture of any album in the music history. In my opinion, “You Never Give Me Your Money ” its so underrated … The whole album, the whole concept … A masterpiece.

  24. G. Robertson
    Reply

    Brilliant music on both sides. And a note to the experts and critics: your judgment and critiques are invalid until you personally have produced superior music, with greater staying power, that’s still being played 50 years later. Your opinion is valid for you, but music is an artistic achievement, an emotional experience, don’t try to quantify it.

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