Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album released by the English rock band The Beatles and their last recorded. Though Let It Be was the last album released before the band's dissolution in 1970, work on Abbey Road began in April 1969. Abbey Road was released on 26 September 1969 in the United Kingdom, and 1 October 1969 in the United States. It was produced and orchestrated by George Martin for Apple Records. Geoff Emerick was engineer, Alan Parsons was assistant engineer, and Tony Banks was tape operator.
Abbey Road is widely regarded as one of The Beatles' most tightly constructed albums, although the band was barely operating as a functioning unit at the time. Rolling Stone placed it at number 14 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2009, readers of the magazine also named Abbey Road the greatest Beatles album.
All songs written and composed by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
1. "Come Together" Lennon 4:20
2. "Something" (George Harrison) Harrison 3:03
3. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" McCartney 3:27
4. "Oh! Darling" McCartney 3:26
5. "Octopus's Garden" (Richard Starkey) Starr 2:51
6. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" Lennon 7:47
1. "Here Comes the Sun" (Harrison) Harrison 3:05
2. "Because" Lennon, McCartney and Harrison 2:45
3. "You Never Give Me Your Money" McCartney 4:02
4. "Sun King" Lennon, with McCartney and Harrison 2:26
5. "Mean Mr. Mustard" Lennon 1:06
6. "Polythene Pam" Lennon 1:12
7. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" McCartney 1:57
8. "Golden Slumbers" McCartney 1:31
9. "Carry That Weight" McCartney with Lennon, Harrison and Starr 1:36
10. "The End" McCartney 2:05
11. "Her Majesty" McCartney 0:23
"Her Majesty" appears as a hidden track. Between "The End" and "Her Majesty" is 14 seconds of silence. Later releases of the album included the song on the track listing.
Some cassette tape versions in the UK and US had "Come Together" and "Here Comes the Sun" swapped so that Harrison's composition opens the album.
Tracks 3 through 7 on side two are sometimes noted as one song (medley) called "The Abbey Road Medley".
Tracks 8 through 10 on side two are sometimes noted as one song called "The Golden Slumbers Medley".
George Harrison – lead, rhythm, acoustic, and bass guitars; lead, harmony and backing vocals (sometimes multitracked); Hammond organ, harmonium and Moog synthesiser; handclaps and assorted percussion
John Lennon – lead and rhythm guitars; six and twelve-string acoustic guitars; lead, harmony and backing vocals (sometimes multitracked); electric and acoustic piano; Hammond organ and Moog synthesiser; white noise generator and sound effects; tambourine and maracas
Paul McCartney – lead, rhythm, acoustic, and bass guitars; fuzz bass; lead, harmony and backing vocals (sometimes multitracked); electric and acoustic pianos; Hammond organ and Moog synthesiser (ribbon strip); handclaps and assorted percussion and sound effects
Ringo Starr – drums, percussion, timpani, anvil (on "Maxwell Silver Hammer") and handclaps; lead vocals on "Octopus's Garden" and "Carry that Weight" (shared with McCartney, Lennon and Harrison), backing vocals
George Martin – piano; electric harpsichord, organ, harmonium and percussion
Billy Preston – Hammond organ on "Something" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
Mal Evans - anvil on the Let It Be film recording of "Maxwell Silver Hammer"
"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
Assistant Engineering by Alan Parsons
Mixed by Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and George Martin (with the Beatles)
Moog programming by Mike Vickers
Composition and recording
After the near-disastrous sessions for the proposed Get Back album (later retitled and released as Let It Be), Paul McCartney suggested to George Martin that the group get together and make an album "the way we used to", free of the conflict that began following the death of Brian Epstein and carrying over to 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, the surviving band members stated that, although none of them ever made the distinction of calling it the "last album", they all felt 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 single "The Ballad of John and Yoko" / "Old Brown Shoe" was completed. In fact, recording sessions of John Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" had already started in February 1969 in Trident studios, with Billy Preston on the 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 film. McCartney is shaved and Lennon 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. Thus, though the bulk of Let It Be was recorded prior to Abbey Road, the latter was released first, and Abbey Road was the last album properly started by The Beatles before they disbanded. Lennon was on hiatus from the group and working with the Plastic Ono Band during the September 1969 lead-up to Abbey Road's release, which was effectively the first official sign of The Beatles' impending dissolution.
The two album sides are quite different in character. Side one is a collection of unconnected tracks, while most of 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.
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); however, it has also been suggested that the song has only a single "pariah-like protagonist" and Lennon was "painting another sardonic self-portrait". 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 favourite.
The second track on the album later became Harrison's first A-side single. Basing the first line of the song on "Something in the Way She Moves" from James Taylor's 1968 Apple Records album James Taylor, Harrison wrote "Something" during the The Beatles sessions. After the lyrics were refined during the "Let It Be" sessions (tapes reveal Lennon giving Harrison some songwriting advice during its composition), the song was initially given to Joe Cocker, but was subsequently recorded for Abbey Road. "Something" was Lennon's favourite song on the album, and McCartney considered it the best song Harrison had written. Frank Sinatra once commented that "Something" was his favourite song and "the greatest love song ever written". The song was released as a double A-side single with "Come Together".
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 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 death, "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. He said, "When we were recording 'Oh! Darling' I came into the studios early every day for a week to sing it by myself because at first my voice was too clear. I wanted it to sound as though I'd been performing it on stage all week." Lennon was of the opinion that it 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 Anthony Cox, her previous husband, had just come through.
Ringo Starr wrote and sang one song for the album, "Octopus's Garden", his second (and last) solo composition released on a Beatles album. It was inspired by a trip to Sardinia aboard Peter Sellers' yacht that occurred when Starr left the band for two weeks with his family during the sessions for The Beatles. 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 singles "It Don't Come Easy" and "Photograph").
"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 synthesiser to create the white-noise or "wind" effect heard near the end of the track. During the final edit, as the guitar riff and white noise effect 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; it was written in Eric Clapton's garden while Harrison was absent from an Apple board meeting. While not released as a single, the song has received frequent radio airplay since its release.
"Because" features a Moog synthesiser, played by Harrison. The chords in the song were inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", in a roundabout way: Lennon said he "was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano. Suddenly, I said, 'Can you play those chords backward?' She did, and I wrote 'Because' around them." "Because" features three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, which were then triple-tracked to sound like nine singers.
The climax of the album is the 16-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 White Album and the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" is the first song of the Abbey Road medley. It was written by McCartney and based on his feelings towards Allen Klein and what McCartney viewed as Klein's empty promises.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" (contributed by Lennon). These in turn are followed by four McCartney songs, "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" (written after a fan came into McCartney's residence literally through the bathroom window), "Golden Slumbers" (based on lyrics from Thomas Dekker's 17th-century poem, but not the music of a song based on the poem), "Carry That Weight" (featuring chorus vocals from all four Beatles), and the climax, "The End".
"The End" is notable for featuring Starr's only drum solo in The Beatles' catalogue (the drums are mixed across two tracks in "true stereo"—in a similar way to the studio single version of Get Back). Normally, even though mixes were in stereo, the drums were mixed in mono, locked together with other instruments and often panned hard left or right in the stereo "picture". Fifty-four seconds into the song, before the famous last line, which is played over piano chords, are 18 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 has 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 part of the song begin. The song ends with the memorable final line, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make".
An alternative version of the song, with Harrison's lead guitar solo played against McCartney's (with Starr's drum solo heard in the background), appears on the Anthology 3 album.
"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 bore an instruction 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. Original US and UK pressings of Abbey Road do not list "Her Majesty" on the album's cover nor on the record label, making it a hidden track.
"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 is 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, except on The Beatles: Rock Band where the final note has been restored.
Abbey Road became one of the most successful Beatles albums ever. In the UK the album debuted straight at number 1. Abbey Road spent its first 11 weeks in the UK charts at number 1, before being displaced to number 2 for one week 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, and 16 years later on 31 October 1987, when it was released for the first time on CD, it reached number 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 US was similar. The album debuted at number 178, then moved to number 4 and in its third week to number 1, spending 11 non-consecutive weeks at the top. Abbey Road spent a total of 129 weeks in the Billboard 200, re-entering the chart at number 69 on 14 November 1987 when it was released for the first time on CD. It was the NARM best selling album of 1969 and was number 4 on Billboard magazine's top LPs of 1970 year-end chart. Abbey Road was certified 12x platinum by the RIAA in 2001.
In June 1970, Allen Klein reported that US sales of Abbey Road were about 5 million. When The Beatles disbanded, Abbey Road had sold over 7 million copies worldwide. According to EMI, its worldwide sales reached 7.6 million copies in October 1972. This was also the first Beatles' album to reach the 10-million mark in worldwide sales, in 1980. It achieved high placings (often as the highest placed Beatles album) in 'best albums in history' polls carried out between 1997 and 2006 in the US, the UK, and Australia.
Abbey Road, The Beatles (partially) and Let It Be were the only Beatles albums to be recorded on professional eight-track reel to reel tape machines, rather than the four-track machines that were used for prior Beatles albums starting with the single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in 1963 and the album A Hard Day's Night in 1964. EMI's management had not approved the use of their then-new 3M eight-track deck until shortly after the sessions for their 1968 single "Hey Jude". Also, the Moog is prominently featured, 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" (played using a ribbon strip) and "Here Comes the Sun". The instrument was introduced to the band by Harrison who, earlier in 1969, had used one to create his Electronic Sound album.
Abbey Road was also the first and only Beatles album to be entirely recorded through a solid state transistor mixing desk as opposed to thermionic valve.
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.
The sleeve was designed by Apple Records creative director Kosh. It is the only original UK Beatles album sleeve to show neither the artist name nor the album title on its front cover.
The zebra crossing with EMI studios in the background photographed on 25 September 1969
The front cover design, a photograph of the group traversing a zebra crossing, was based on sketched ideas by McCartney and taken on 8 August 1969 outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. At around 11:30 that morning, photographer Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the photo whilst he stood on a step-ladder and a policeman held up the traffic.
In the scene, the group walk across the street in single file from left to right, with Lennon leading, followed by Starr, McCartney, and Harrison. McCartney is barefoot. With the exception of Harrison, the group are wearing suits designed by Tommy Nutter. To the left of the picture, parked next to the zebra crossing, is a white Volkswagen Beetle motor-car which belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across from the recording studio. After the album was released, the number plate (LMW 281F) was stolen repeatedly from the car. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for £2,530 and in 2001 was on display in a museum in Germany. The man standing on the pavement to the right of the picture is Paul Cole (c. 1911 – 13 February 2008), an American tourist unaware he had been photographed until he saw the album cover months later.
The image of the Beatles on the crossing has become one of the most famous and imitated in recording history. The crossing is a popular destination for Beatles fans and there is a webcam featuring it. In December 2010, the crossing was given grade II listed status for its "cultural and historical importance"; the Abbey Road studios themselves had been given similar status earlier in the year.