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Abbey Road

The history of this classic Beatles album

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The Beatles' Abbey Road Album

Working Title: Everest

Recorded: February 22-23, April 16, 18, 20, 26 and 29, May 2 and 6, July 1-4, 7-11, 15-18, 21-25, and 28-31, August 1, 4-8, 11, 15, and 18-20, 1969 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England}
Mixed: February 23, April 29, July 3, 8, 16 and 30, August 11 and 20, 1969
Length: 47:23
Credits:
Produced and arranged by George Martin
Engineered by Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald
Assistant engineer: Alan Parsons
Mixed by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald
Moog programmed by Mike Vickers
First released: January 17, 1969

Versions:

  • Abbey Road UK: Apple PCS 7088; September 26, 1969 (stereo)
  • Abbey Road US: Apple SO 383; October 1, 1969
  • Abbey Road UK/US CD: Parlophone CDP 7 46446 2; October 20, 1987
  • Abbey Road UK/US (remastered): Apple/Parlophone 82468, September 9, 2009

Highest chart position: UK: 1 (11 weeks beginning September 28, 1969 and 6 weeks beginning December 21, 1969), US: 1 (8 weeks beginning November 1, 1969; two weeks beginning January 3, 1970; week of January 24, 1970)

History:

  • By 1969, it was patently obvious to everyone in the Beatles organization that the band was destined to break up. The Magical Mystery Tour project gave them their first taste of artistic failure, the sessions for the "White Album" proved that the group was growing apart musically as well as personally, the Apple venture was a fiasco that left the Fab Four worse off financially than they'd been before, and Paul's attempt at getting back to band basics with the floundering "Get Back" project (eventually released after the band's demise as Let It Be) only exacerbated tensions. Worse, Paul's backing of his father-in-law Lee Eastman to take over band management from the deceased Brian Epstein, in direct opposition to the other members' choice of Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, set in motion a legal battle that would formally dissolve the group and drag on for decades after. John was restless to break free from Paul and forge a new identity, spurred on by Yoko Ono. George was already hanging out with musicians who respected his songwriting skills in a way John and Paul hadn't. Even Ringo was less than thrilled with McCartney's incessant need for total control in he studio.
  • Nevertheless, Paul conceived the final Beatles album as a goodbye, but a temporary one, in hoped that the members would be able to take an extended, undeclared hiatus and return to Beatledom when they'd all had a vacation. (Ironically, it was the legal battle he himself set in motion that ensured that couldn't happen.) To that end, he contacted the only producer they'd ever used besides themselves, George Martin -- who'd removed himself from many of the "White Album" sessions and all of the Let It Be ones in disgust and sorrow -- and sold him on the idea of a group effort done the old way, polished and proper, a fitting send-off. Though sessions for a new album had tentatively begun in February 1969, it was in early July that Abbey Road begin to take shape as the final Beatles statement.
  • Sessions were still far from pleasant. John and Yoko were involved in a major car crash early on, leading John to install a cot for Yoko in the studio itself while she recuperated. The legal and financial battles dragged on, leading to lots of uncomfortable, angry business meetings. Paul insisted on songs the other members hated, like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and shoehorned several of John's Let It Be rejects into a nearly sidelong medley dominated by the bassist. John was expressly forbidden by the other Beatles and Martin to include his harrowing personal document of heroin withdrawal, "Cold Turkey," forcing him to substitute "Come Together." John hated the medley idea, which McCartney and Martin wanted to extend to the whole album, claiming that his songs and Paul's should even be relegated to different sides of the vinyl!
  • And yet, as with the "White Album," the elements somehow magically came together anyway, producing a farewell that most consider on a par with their other masterworks like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Paul's sidelong medley, while not quite new to rock, broke lots of ground; John experimented with his new blues-based, highly emotional style, resulting in wonders like "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," and George proved himself, finally, the full equal of the others with two of the album's best songs, "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun." Ringo even got a writing credit. If you paid close enough attention to the lyrics, you could hear a personal tale of the band's dissolution not even found on the Whit Album. And new sonic textures and structural concepts were everywhere -- a new instrument called a synthesizer, multitracked choirs, medleys within medleys, abrupt endings, sheer walls of white noise, hidden tracks, and the best goodbye they could have constructed, called, appropriately, "The End." It wasn't the last album of new Beatles material, exactly, but it was the ending they wrote for themselves, and therefore the best one. And it was an ending: on September 20, 1969, a triumphant John, flush from his first live performance with friends he dubbed the Plastic Ono Band, announced privately that he wanted a "divorce" from the other Beatles. Abbey Road hit stores less then a week later.

Cover:

  • The cover of Abbey Road is just as simple as that of any of the band's earlier ones like Help! and Rubber Soul, but it's grown to become perhaps their most iconic. Originally the album was to be called Everest, named after the brand of cigarettes smoked by engineer Geoff Emerick, but perhaps also indicating that the band had reached its creative peak together. But a trip to film on the actual mountain proved far too expensive and time-consuming, and so the group merely had a photographer snap them walking on the crossroad of Abbey Road itself, just outside the studios of the same name -- and tellingly, in a direction away from the place where they'd made most of their history as a band.
  • On August 8, 1969, photographer Iain Macmillan, who had been suggested by John, took only 10 minutes to snap the perfect photo of the four Beatles walking away from Abbey Road Studios in unison. Paul had made some preliminary sketches that indicated the final image was already situated in his mind, and at 11:30 am London time, Macmillan began taking pictures while standing on a ladder in the middle of the road, using a Hasselblad camera that sported a 50mm wide-angle lens (aperture f22, 1/500 sec). Six shots were taken, and Paul chose the fifth, in part because it was the only one where the group was in step with each other.
  • The "Paul is Dead" phenomenon was at full furor by the time Abbey Road was released, and so its cover was obsessively scoured for clues as to Paul's "death" in 1966. Some are fairly well constructed, like the idea of John as preacher, George as gravedigger, Ringo as pallbearer, and Paul as shoeless corpse; others were pure conjecture, like the Volkswagen "28IF" license plate that suggested Paul would now be "28 IF" he had lived (he was 27, actually), and some just silly, like the purported skull and bones visible after the "Abbey Road" sign on the back cover. Oddly, there aren't many "clues" in the lyrics of the songs themselves, unless you think "One and one and one is three" is any less nonsensical than any of John's other "Come Together" lyrics.

Trivia:

  • Contrary to popular belief, "Abbey Road Studios" was not the original name of the complex; it was known simply as "EMI Studios" but informally referred to as "Abbey Road." It only took on the latter name officially in 1970, as a direct result of the popularity of the album.
  • This was the first and last studio album the Beatles recorded at Abbey Road Studios on an 8-track recorder; amazingly, they'd used 4-track technology for their other songs, except when at Trident (for some White Album songs) or Twickenham film studios (where Let It Be was being rehearsed). It's also the only Beatles album to use "direct injection" or "line in" technology; prior to this, all guitars and bass had been miked.
  • George Benson, Furthur, and Booker T. and the MGs have all covered the entire album, start to finish; Soundgarden, Dream Theater, Phil Collins, Tenacious D, and String Cheese Incident have all covered the Side Two medley.
  • That medley was originally slated to end Side One of the album, leading to the abrupt cutoff of John's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" as the Side Two closer and the last sound hesrd from the Beatles. But at the last minute, it was decided to reverse the order of the sides, ending the album with Paul's summary of the group's philosophy, "The End" -- which, because an error led to "Her Majesty" being placed after it, meant that the Beatles' final album literally ended on an abrupt note anyway.
  • The "Abbey Road Medley" was often played in full by FM rock radio stations in the '70s and '80s. Usually, when it was broken up into sections, the station would play the medley from "You Never Give Me Your Money" through to "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," or begin the medley at "Golden Slumbers" through to "The End."
  • Graphic artist Kosh, also a friend of John's, designed the album's back cover; he would go on to design some of the '70s greatest rock album covers, such as The Who's Who's Next and the Eagles' Hotel California. Assistant engineer Alan Parsons soon found himself as head engineer for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon; he later had success fronting his own band, the Alan Parsons Project.
  • Abbey Road has sold over 12 million copies since its release in the US alone and 30 million worldwide, making it the 20th most popular album of all time.
  • As might be expected, the iconic nature of the cover has led to endless pilgrimages of Beatles fans looking to replicate the band's crossing, not to mention several parodies and tributes from other bands (the most famous being a nearly-nude Red Hot Chili Peppers crossing for their Abbey Road EP). The "28IF" sign from that Volkswagen was stolen several times over the years, as was the "Abbey Road" sign featured on the back cover. The car in question now resides in a German museum; the intersection on the back cover moved to a painted sign to avoid theft until the junction itself was replaced by the city with a block of houses. In December 2010, London recognized the crossing as a legally protected site of "cultural and historical importance."
Tracklisting:

Side One:

  1. Come Together (2:38)
  2. Something (3:23)
  3. Maxwell's Silver Hammer (2:09)
  4. Oh! Darling (3:09)
  5. Octopus's Garden (6:24)
  6. I Want You (She's So Heavy) (3:49)

Side Two:

  1. Here Comes the Sun (2:38)
  2. Because/b> (3:23)
  3. You Never Give Me Your Money (2:09)
  4. Sun King (3:09)
  5. Mean Mr. Mustard (6:24)
  6. Polythene Pam (3:49)
  7. She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (2:38)
  8. Golden Slumbers/b> (3:23)
  9. Carry That Weight (2:09)
  10. The End (3:09)
  11. Her Majesty (3:49)
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