“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
In early 1969, after the painstakingly grueling months of planning for the unfulfilled TV program Beatles at Work, which turned into the tumultuous recording sessions for the album Get Back, which was never released but eventually became the majority of Let It Be, it seemed the epoch of The Beatles was coming to an end.
On the January 30, 1969, the Fab Four performed their final live show together on top of the Apple Corps building, seemingly ending an era of music.
But then, upon the agreement to record an album “the way we used to do it,” producer George Martin took the reigns once more to produce what would be the final, and possibly greatest, LP The Beatles ever created, Abbey Road, which celebrates its monumental 50th anniversary this week.
Following their groundbreaking concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the sprawling and individualistic White Album, a conundrum of what to do next occurred. John Lennon had wanted a back-to-basics approach akin to their early albums, Paul McCartney was interested in crafting an album where all the songs were connected, George Harrison was already hard at work two solo projects, while Ringo Starr was occupied with making a film.
With a collected precognition that this would be their final work together, a sense of nostalgia led the band to convene at Abbey Road studios in London to create the final chapter of their work as The Beatles. A negotiation was reached. The album would be split into two major parts: one side a conventional album with their contributions as a whole, and the other side a thematic medley of songs connected to one another.
Side A begins with “Come Together,” a testament to the group’s (and especially Lennon’s) unabashed ability to turn seemingly random quips and phrases into prosaic verses tied together with an alluringly evocative hook and choruses. They had explored this style of songwriting earlier with “I Am The Walrus,” which proved to be one of their better known songs despite its lyrics’ irrelevant nature. The bodacious bass line and guitar solo, combined with the ultra-ethereal message, “Come together right now over me,” have made this a fan favorite. A string of statements like “He got muddy water, he one mojo filter, he say one and one and one is three, got to be good lookin ’cause he’s so hard to see” have often titillated listeners for half a century, begging the question of what exactly this song is alluding to.
Originally written in response to a James Taylor song, Harrison’s “Something” marked his arrival as a songwriter on equal footing with the team of Lennon-McCartney. Lennon later claimed it was by far his favorite song off the album. An elegant song about reverence and affection for the subtleties we find in our loved ones, Frank Sinatra said “Something” was the greatest love song ever written.
After their famed trip to India, McCartney had begun writing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” with the intention of including it on the White Album, but due to its perceived complexity and sense of schtick it was rejected by the other members, and still struggled to get on to this final recording. Its pop melody and playful tone mask the ominous lyrics about a medical student who brutally murders people with a hammer. The recording process has been noted for being possibly the most tumultuous track the group ever played together. Almost 40 years later Starr called it “the worst track we ever had to record.” The percussive sound of a hammer hitting an anvil has been attributed to Beatles’ roadie Mal Evans, but still remains questioned as to whether or not Starr played it in the studio sessions.
Originally written and even previously recorded for the shelved Get Back album, “Oh! Darling” was written by McCartney in more of a throwback ’50s style with elements of avant-garde rock. The song structure is very much a style of that period, featuring several stanzas with non-specific verse/chorus parts. The recording method of playing the backing tracks on stereo speakers as opposed to piping them into headphones for McCartney to lay the vocal tracks were intended to create the sound of the band playing in full at once. Lennon had praised the songwriting on “Oh! Darling” but was ultimately displeased with McCartney’s vocal work (most of which had been done without the other members present), stating that the song’s style was much more his own, but divulging, “He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it.”
On the entire album, it is Starr’s contribution of “Octopus’s Garden” that could be the biggest throwback, nodding heavily to the Beatlemania-era sound of the Fab Four. Primarily written by Starr, the humming bop features a Revolver-like structural metamorphosis that Harrison composed in the studio. A subconscious tell-all of the times, Starr’s lyrics strongly allude (most likely ironically) to escapism and the search for serenity amongst the impenetrable hostility and tension amongst his bandmates. Its lighthearted lyricism and jangle have been mocked over time, sardonically pointing out the contrast of Lennon-McCartney’s aptitude for meaningful lyrics with Starr’s childlike ineptness. Harrison consequently mentioned, “It’s only the second song Ringo has ever written, mind you, and it’s lovely.”
A straightforward statement of his personal affairs, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was written by Lennon about Yoko Ono. A staple of the disruption within the group, Ono’s involvement in the recording process led to a lot of strife even in these final days, which has somewhat stigmatized the track. Featuring heavy use of Moog synthesizer for intentional white noise and a continually layered arpeggio half, the uncharacteristically long psychedelic blues jam shutters to an instant halt to abruptly close Side A.
Symbolic of the compromised structure of this album, the jarring dead-panned close and subsequent void to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was the final recorded segment of the Abbey Road sessions on August 20, 1969, thus marking the final time The Beatles were in the same studio together.
Kiefer is a writer, musician and zealous record collector. He started hoarding vinyl because mp3s weren’t convenient enough, cassettes were too expensive, and he couldn’t turn a CD over. The soundtrack of his life is chronicled every week as #KiefersMusicMondays on Instagram (@key_fur). Currently residing in Lubbock, TX—home of Buddy Holly—he’s an avid music enthusiast by day and a mixologist by night, fighting the good fight for all things artistic. He started writing for MMC in 2019.