Abbey Road, The Beatles’ swan song

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It will be last one, then it’s over. This was probably what the Beatles said each other when they met in the Abbey Road sessions in summer 1969, the last one together. John Lennon was eager to move his talents in other directions and less tolerant of the others’ ostracism towards Yoko Ono; Paul McCartney wanted to go on, but being the absolute leader that was leading the whole project almost only by himself was no longer sustainable; George Harrison was feeling more and more frustrated as author and disinterested in the group; Ringo Starr was already oriented to his new career in the cinema and as a solo, and above all he was exhausted by the continuous quarrels.

To make everything worse, there were the winter sessions on 1969, where the Fab Four really realized to be at their end. Those recordings, born after the White Album, had been set on the desire to return to play live, which was the true trademark of the Beatles.

On that wave of enthusiasm, Lennon and Co. announced to the press this new chapter of their adventure (unofficially called Get Back) and hired a film crew for shooting the studio work. Soon, however, they clashed on the sad reality of four individuals almost unable to share the same room, let alone play the same song for hours.

The Beatles in 1969

These recordings produced a lot of the material that ended up in what would have been practically a posthumous record, Let it Be, published in 1970, when the Beatles were officially dissolved. Most of those songs were judged by the Beatles themselves as inadequate to represent them, and got several changes before the release (the most shocking one was made by Phil Spector and John Lennon on Long and winding Road, while McCartney was unaware), contradicting the original idea of a nearly-live album.

Not only the exhausting winter sessions had left the four musicians in great disappointment (the Apple Records rooftop concert was the only real memorable moment), the ongoing legal issues between Lennon, Starr and Harrison opposed to McCartney were widening the crack inside the Beatles: the bassist wanted Eastman (his wife’s company) to take care of the band’s finance, increasingly worsening after the wrong investments, while the others wished to assign Allen Klein, the Rolling Stones’s manager.

Among the quarrels and the increasingly less controllable fights, but pressed at the same time by financial needs, the Beatles immediately began to compose and record new material. This time, however, the work will come back to the usual approach in studio, that produced their last masterpieces: the experiment of a recording without post-processing was definitively closed.

Abbey Road, the cover

Abbey Road shows a band still able of impressing their magic into songs that will become unforgettable. The recordings, for the first time made with an eight-track recorder, allowed the sound to acquire that refinement and freshness that still make it one of the most beautiful albums ever.

In Abbey Road (title proposed by Starr and accepted after long discussions), we go from the obsessive and overflowing I Want you (She’s So Heavy), which shows John Lennon increasingly committed in shouting his love to Yoko Ono, to Paul McCartney’s wish to remake Little Richard in Oh! Darling; from George Harrison’s soothing Here come the Sun, to the sore You Never Give Me Your Money, where we see McCartney already aware of the end of the Beatles’ dream.

The patchwork of different styles and themes was not easy to assemble even for George Martin, who returned at work for the occasion after having avoided the involvement in the previous project: his main concern was to make the most homogeneous possible album, from a band that recorded it practically never meeting together in the studio. Among all the compositions, two stand out: Come Together and Something.

Come Together is John Lennon’s last tribute to subculture, while he is still a member of the Beatles. The song is perhaps the most vital one of the album and definitely its best contribution to this last work with his companions: characterized by the usual word puns and no-sense with which Lennon always filled his lyrics (and originally dedicated to and inspired by Timothy Leary, in those days candidate for California’s governor), the song has an anarchist and corrosive rock background that fires the beginning of Abbey Road and nicely depicts the confusion of late 60s.

The majestic Something, whereas, allowed George Harrison to obtain (almost last minute) the recognition of his songwriting qualities inside the group. The guitarist was tired of seeing his songs always in the foreground compared with the award-winning company Lennon/McCartney, but this time the couple was generous in praising what would become the most celebrated and reinterpreted song of the whole Harrison’s career.

The forgettable Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden play as a counterpart to the interesting experiment that occupies the entire final part of the album, the so-called Long Medley. Expressly wanted by McCartney and composed of fragments of songs that had remained without any development, this final tail of Abbey Road is a kaleidoscope of sounds and words that the four artists (led by Martin) managed to donate a sense to, becoming in the end their real musical testament.

Lennon’s bombastic Because was the last recorded song and in the early days of August the album was finished: only the album cover was missing, and it was conceived by photographing the dominators of the decade’s music while they cross the street out of Abbey Road. In fact, the Beatles were not only leaving the recording studios behind, but the story too.


Luca Divelti writes stories of music, cinema and TV on Rock’n’Blog and Auralcrave. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.