The eleventh and next to last studio album of the Beatles is Abbey Road. They started to work on songs for this album in April of 1969. As the tracks for Let It Be, the last album, were recorded in January of 1969, Abbey Road really represents the last recording sessions of the Beatles as a group. It came out on September 26, 1969 (UK) and October 1, 1969 (US). By then John Lennon had effectively separated from the band, performing with the Plastic Ono Band, though his withdrawal was not publicly known. Veterans George Martin and engineer Goeff Emerick saw the album through to completion.
The Beatles had just concluded the "Get Back" sessions at Apple Studios. Relationships among group members had deteriorated greatly since the days of The White Album, and were worsened by the nearly ruinous "Get Back" project. The creative energies of the members had already departed, in some cases, to other interests. McCartney, who was the one most committed to pulling the group back together, thought that it would be sensible to launch a recording project in the manner of old, with tracks laid down by the group as a whole, collaborating musically. George Martin agreed, on condition that he have full production authority, as in the old days. From the very beginning of Abbey Road the band and the production staff all knew it would be the last hurrah.
Recording in earnest took place between July 2 and August 19, though some material had already been created. (For example, The Ballad of John and Oko and Old Brown Shoe had been produced as singles earlier, and John had recorded I Don't Want Her (She's So Heavy) in February in the Trident Studios, accompanied by Billy Preston on the Hammond organ.) The first tracks of the album (side 1 on the LP) is an eclectic mix of individual songs, singles really. The remainder consists of fragments of unfinished Lennon/McCartney compositions, patched together in medley format or with short segues. In a sense, the Beatles were cleaning out the repertoire.
I Want You (She's So Heavy) was the first side closer. Guitar arpeggios, increasing in volume, suddenly come to a sudden stop. Lennon directed that the tape be cut at that point. The end of side two also proved unusual, innovative and surprising: The band plays a medley that lasts for 16 minutes. It starts with McCartney's You Never Give Me Your Money, then blends into Sun King, in which George, John and Paul return to their old, close-harmony style, then Lennon's Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, and then four songs by Paul: She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End, in which Ringo plays a drum solo for the only time in the Beatles' history, and each guitarist contributes a series of round-robin solos. The medley ends with perhaps the most long-remembered line from the Beatles era: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." The album takes a long pause (originally 14 seconds) and then Her Majesty, plays, for all of 23 seconds. This is perhaps the first "hidden track" in popular music.
Production of the album was entirely on eight-track tape, the first time the Beatles enjoyed that luxury for all recordings. Abbey Road also saw the introduction of the Moog synthesizer to the instrument mix. Harrison has bought one from its inventor, and managed to employ it on several tracks on the album. By the time Abbey Road came out, monaural records were passé. A monaural mix was never made.
Curiously, critics received Abbey Road warmly, calling it "tightly constructed," which, if true, is more a kudo to producer George Martin than to the band itself. And in spite of a few lukewarm appraisals, Rolling Stone magazine listed at number 14 in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It topped the charts in the US and the UK as well as in several other countries. By 1980, Abbey Road had sold over 10 million copies, a high mark for the Beatles. RIAA ranks it as 12x platinum, including CD sales. It was the greatest commercial success of any album in their career together.
It is worth noting that Abbey Road was not only the last Beatles album to be recorded, but also the beginning of another career: Assistant Engineer Alan Parsons moved on to engineer The Dark Side of the Moon for Pink Floyd and famously, all the albums of The Alan Parsons Project.
The name of the album came late in the production process. When the band landed on "Abbey Road" as the title, they went outside and had the cover picture taken. That was on August 8, 1969. In the photo, the sequence is Lennon, Starr, McCartney and Harrison, walking across a cross-walk away from the studio: something of a symbolic gesture, given that it was their latest and last recording. Paul is out of step with the others and the only one who is barefoot. This cover is one of three that do not bear the name of the group. It is the only one that does not display its title.
|Side A||Lead Vocals||Written by||Length|
|Maxwell's Silver Hammer||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||3:27|
|Octopus's Garden||Starr||Richard Starkey||2:51|
|I Want You (She's So Heavy)||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||7:47|
|Here Comes the Sun||Harrison||George Harrison||3:05|
|Because||Lennon, McCartney and Harrison||Lennon/McCartney||2:45|
|You Never Give Me Your Money||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||4:02|
|Sun King||Lennon, McCartney and Harrison||Lennon/McCartney||2:26|
|Mean Mr. Mustard||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||1:06|
|She Came in Through the Bathroom Window||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||1:57|
|Carry That Weight||Lennon, McCartney and Harrison||Lennon/McCartney||1:36|