Kiefer’s Music Mondays: ‘Abbey Road’ Side B

Fifty years later, ‘Abbey Road’ might be the greatest breakup letter ever written.


As you drop the needle on Side B of Abbey Road, a soft eloquent acoustic guitar plucks away, as a brisk soliloquy begins the beautifully optimistic lyricism of “Here Comes The Sun.” Joined within seconds in perfect harmony, George’s voice is accompanied by Paul as the song rejoices in the promise of a new day; the parabolic farewell to a long, cold, lonely winter.

Written at Eric Clapton’s country house during while avoiding band business meetings, George put together “Here Comes The Sun” on an early April morning in 1969. Influenced greatly by Indian music, Harrison arranged the song with several abstract time changes, showcasing his fascinating ability to construct complex musical arrangements with simplified sound. This was also expressed on the track “Something,” both standing as testaments to his previously overlooked talents. Featuring over 16 classical woodwind and string instruments, the infectious melody on “Here Comes The Sun” has been cherished as one of The Beatles’ greatest songs for five decades.

Originally cited as a backwards progression of a chord sequence in Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” John based the entirety of “Because” around this thematic sonic structure. The triple harmony by John, Paul and George was recorded three times and layered to give the illusion of nine voices singing in perfect harmony. The lyrical content and tone nod heavily to earlier George songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Within You Without You,” with a sense of spiritual ambiance about them; John said of his writing ,”The lyrics speak for themselves… No imagery, no obscure references.” The sound of “Because” intentionally contrasts “Here Comes The Sun,” and marks the first progression in the coming musical medley.

The opening sequence for the suite medley begins with “You Never Give Me Your Money,” a conglomeration of even smaller sequences acting as a whole, a style of song structure they’d previously used on the While Album track “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” The piano ballad opener is reiterated as an orchestral piece in the third progression, “Golden Slumbers,” while the third sequence of guitar arpeggios, which also link back to the middle section of “Here Comes The Sun,” are recycled in “Carry That Weight.” (You keeping up?) The middle sequence, a doo-wop piano piece beginning with the lyrics, “Out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent…” is almost an exact reiteration of Paul’s middle sequence in “A Day In The Life.” Two guitar solos by George and John are included on the track, of which John’s is of the best lead guitar he ever contributed. The fourth sequence, a schoolhouse rhyme of “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, all good children go to heaven…” repeats itself exactly seven times before the track concludes and fades into the next piece.

In its tone, “Sun King” post-references “Because,” even reinvoking the triple harmonies. “Sun King” is comprised of 2 sequences: the first is a joyous loving praise of the arrival of the metaphorical Sun King (an allusion to “Here Comes The Sun”), and the second is a playful lighthearted gabbing of romance language-inspired phrases that ultimately mean nothing at all. The second sequence, as John stated, was intentionally a ramble of the sound of plausible words Paul may have learned in school. The song features very early stereo panning as the held guitar notes help to extend sound as the recording fades from one channel to the other and back again, creating a auditory trick that subtly signifies the full beginning and end of the two sequences while tying them together mechanically. A drum roll by Ringo connects “Sun King” to the next song, “Mean Mr. Mustard,” which were recorded as a single transitioning piece.

Written in India by John, “Mean Mr. Mustard” was originally inspired by a story he’d read about a penny-pinching miser hoarding his life’s savings. The track more pop to it than the other pieces in the medley. Originally containing a lyric from an earlier demo mentioning Mustard’s sister by the name of Shirley, it was later changed to Pam to denote correlation with its companion track, “Polythene Pam.” Thus, “Mean Mr. Mustard” is the transitional sequence from “Sun King” into the second progression of the medley, both stylistically and lyrically.

Even in its title, “Polythene Pam” is one of the more geographically appropriate songs John ever wrote, even singing in a Liverpudlian accent and featuring colloquialisms from the area. A rockabilly piece, the song narrates an allegedly true story of an encounter John had in Jersey with a woman who wore plastic outfits. In later interviews the alliteration of the “puh” sound came from an early fan of The Beatles named Pat, who would burn and eat polyethylene. The vocals on the track contrast Paul’s vocals on the subsequent piece, but the two songs run together via George’s surf rock guitar solo.

With a candid laugh and improvised “Look out!” by John, a tonal drop bursts immediately into “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Paul was inspired by maniacal fans that used to break into his home and steal everything from clothes to photographs, presumably by using ladders to get in through the ajar second story bathroom window. The backing vocals “ahhh” are met with the lead vocals to create that triple harmony in the chorus. The song works as a conclusive piece to the second progression, consisting of pop “Mean Mr. Mustard”, rockabilly “Polythene Pam” and rock and roll “Bathroom Window.” There is no direct segue into the third progression.

With an abrubt change in tempo and musical objectivity, “Golden Slumbers” mellowly begins with a simple piano and Paul’s single vocal track, as it grows larger with strings and percussion and accompanying rhythm to start the third and final progression in the Abbey Road medley. Based on the Thomas Dekker poem “Cradle Song,” Paul wrote the song to feature the medley’s thematic overture while standing on its own. The strained and broken vocals during the “golden slumbers fill your eyes” sequence are emotionally intense, and indicative of a sense of exhaustion. The lullaby sequence winds down as the ballad carries directly into the next track without pause.

“Carry That Weight” brings back the first sequence of “You Never Give Me Your Money” as an orchestral sequence with brass instruments in lieu of the piano ballad, with differing words. The middle sequence features the extremely rare harmonizing of the entire foursome, as John, Paul, George, and Ringo belt the chorus, “Boy you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time!” A phenomenally deep metaphor for so many things the group had been through and were about to endure.

The conclusion of the medley is aptly named “The End.” Featuring solos by each member, including a rare drum solo by Ringo, the song ties together the entire career of The Beatles quite appropriately. One of the most put together tracks the group worked on as a whole, it harks to many iterations of the legacy they had created up to that point. With a break after John’s third solo, a ringing piano key quietly enters as they harmonize the singular line, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make,” a philosophical quip that still stands as one of pop music’s most profound statements.

The full symphony orchestra strikes up once again, before coming to a waning finish of revelry, dissolving with an extended piano note mirroring how “A Day In The Life” ends Sgt. Pepper. And just as Sgt. Pepper, after 20 seconds of silence, the crashing final mote of “Mean Mr. Mustard” cues a hidden track, “Her Majesty,” the untouched rough mix of a jangling song that at one time belonged before “Polythene Pam.”

Try naming a single album with better melodic progressions than Abbey Road. It’s simply phenomenal how the songs on Side B flow so seamlessly within themselves, and then into one another. To listen to this album on a format that pauses or loads digitally is a great injustice to their legacy and your own experience of the album. It is, without a doubt, the first album I suggest buying a record player to properly listen.

The album cover is almost certainly the most recognized images of music ever. The only Beatles cover to feature absolutely no script on it, the design director noted the lack of necessity for any album information on the front as long as the image of the Fab Four was there, stating plainly “They were the most famous band in the world.” The renowned photograph was taken on the crosswalk in front of Abbey Road studios on August 8, 1969 by Iain Macmillan, who shot six photographs all together, before Paul decided this was the one. The image is still circulated in pop culture through parodies, allusions, and of course the millions of people who have reenacted the scene every year.

In all its wonder and symbolic significance, Abbey Road remains one of the most beloved works in the history of music. Side B is a special testament to their combined efforts, a labor of love and a selfless swan song. Despite such intense inner-conflict in the band, it’s The Beatles album with the most three-part harmonies; where John, Paul and George sing together in symphonic brilliance.

Abbey Road might be the greatest breakup letter ever written. With arpeggios and complimentary solos, and bright brisk moments of light-heartedness and sentimentality, this is The Beatles at the end of the road: a final expression of their love for their work, their art, each another—and for us, their fans. Half a century later, that love is still reciprocated around the entire planet.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”