Abbey Road at 50 (part 2)

Beginning in July 1969, the Beatles returned to work at a familiar location, EMI studios, home to their best recordings.  The Beatles had finished their work on Let It Be and went on holiday.

The Lennons were involved in an automobile accident while traveling.  Yoko would continue her presence in the studio with Lennon, as she had in the Let It Be sessions, but this time arriving by ambulance, stretcher or other manner assistance.  In the previous year, the Lennons had experienced a miscarriage and drug abuse, addition to their various artistic endeavors.

McCartney had a new love, Linda Eastman, who was now living with him.  Harrison, had spent time in America soaking up the music scene, and had endured a drug raid at his home.  Ringo, was enjoying life.

In his book on this period of the Beatles history, Abbey Road/Let It Be/The Beatles, Peter Doggett, writes that while Lennon was away, the Beatles worked on several of McCartney’s songs like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which either Lennon or Harrison liked.  It was during these Lennon absences that Harrison’s songs also got the Beatles treatment, since Lennon was dismissive of Harrison’s work.  This is quite ironic because Harrison may have provided the two best songs on Abbey Road.

In Lennon’s frequent absence, the others completed the bulk of the album including the medley that takes up most of side two.  Opinions differ about the origins of the concept, which McCartney and Martin constructed.

Lennon was working with his side group, The Plastic Ono Band.  He would release “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey” under that name, and was planning to perform at a concert in Toronto with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Alan White (Yes) later in the year.  “Cold Turkey” was offered up for a Beatles single but McCartney is said to have declined.

Interestingly, it is said that Lennon informed manager Allen Klein that we intended to leave the Beatles and even discussed it with McCartney, saying, “I want a divorce.”  McCartney didn’t want that type of thing out in the public ahead of Abbey Road’s release and until the Beatles collectively discussed their future.

Harrison was already thinking about a solo album, and the others were aware of his growth and frustration as a songwriter.  At the rate of two songs per album, most of his songs would never see the light of day.

For the first time, a Harrison song appeared as the A-side of a single.  “Something”/”Come Together” were released as a double A-side single.

Lennon was working on a songs he’s written that the Beatles had worked on called “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and “What’s the News Mary Jane” as a potential Plastic Ono Band single but McCartney objected.  The first song would appear as the B-side of an upcoming Beatles single and the latter would stay in the vaults for years.

McCartney was also using studio time for what would later become his first solo album.

Meanwhile, the Let It Be project languished, both the film and the soundtrack.  As the film was edited, two song that were performed in the film needed work if they were going to appear on the soundtrack album.  “Across the Universe was officially added to the album, and McCartney, Starr and Harrison completed “I Me Mine.”

Phil Spector entered the scene in early 1970.  He was aghast at the tapes Glyn Johns had assembled, even though Johns had followed the Beatles instructions.  Working quickly, Spector disposed of the back-to-basics approach, changing the mixes, and putting his touches on “Across the Universe”, “I Me Mine” and “The Long and Winding Road.” Apparently McCartney did not object to Spector working on the album, at first, his anger spiked when he heard what was done to his songs.  This would sting for years.

When Harrison, Lennon and Starr wanted McCartney to move back the release of his solo album, he erupted when Starr visited his house.  To appease McCartney, his solo album was rush released to get ahead of the May 1969 release for Let It Be, the film and album.

The Beatles own view of Let It Be, the film, was disappointment. It showed the groups, warts and all.  By the end of the year, McCartney filed his papers to dissolve the partnership.

Let’s back up a bit.

Some of the songs appearing on Abbey Road had been introduced during the Let It Be sessions. Every year in the Beatles life would be busy and 1969 was no different.

The album’s recording took place from February 22, 1969 to August 19, 1969.  George Martin was back at the controls, having only agreed to produce if the Beatles would surrender their egos to his experience.  Engineers were Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, Jeff Jarratt, Glyn Johns, Barry Sheffield, Tony Clark and Alan Parsons.

“When The Beatles regrouped in July, 1969, they worked swiftly to complete the record. Studio Two at EMI Studios was block-booked between 2.30pm and 10pm from 1 July to 29 August, with the group committed to making the recordings worthwhile.” – the Beatles Bible.


Synthesizers were fairly new on the musical scene in 1969.  Harrison secured a Moog synthesizer, which was used on several songs on the album including “Here Comes the Sun” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.

Most of what appeared on Abbey Road was recorded at Abbey Road, but not all.  “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something” were started at other London studios.

Recording technology in the 1960s was antiquated by today’s standards. Beatles albums required a lot of layering of tracks together onto only a few available audio tracks. Their sessions required a lot of “bouncing” of tracks to fit all of the instruments, vocals and orchestral backing onto four tracks, and eventually eight tracks by 1969.

“We never got past eight-track. All of The Beatles’ work was on two-track, four-track or eight-track. Sgt Pepper was four-track. By Abbey Road we had got to eight-track, and we thought it was too many! We thought it was too big a luxury.” – Paul McCartney


“I first heard about the Moog synthesizer in America. I had to have mine made specially, because Mr Moog had only just invented it. It was enormous, with hundreds of jackplugs and two keyboards.” – George Harrison

The Moog synthesizer, with all of the patchchords and knob controls, was a challenge to learn.  One had to be an electrical engineer, mad scientist or crazed musician to program it.

690808_abbey-road_01Iain Macmillian photographed the Beatles using the crosswalk on Abbey Road on August 8, 1969.  Three of the Beatles wore suits, although McCartney had removed his sandals.  Harrison wore denim, more in keeping with American casual wear.  Macmillian was given only a scant few minutes to get the photograph.  Standing on a stepladder, Macmillian had the Beatles walk across the street, walking toward the studio and then walking away.  A policeman held up traffic while they shot the photos.  The album designer was John Kosh, who designed many album covers for the The Who, Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, ELO and many others.

Image result for abbey road album cover

The location of the photo has for five decades served as a tourist haven for photographers.  The road sign has been stolen many times, as the license plate for the Volkswagen Beetle parked in the background.  That car is still around and a few years ago was displayed in a museum.

220px-Paulmccartneyalbum-paulisliveEven Paul McCartney has revisited the album cover, using the crossing as the background for his Paul is Live album.

The Abbey Road album cover was a source of conflict between the Beatles and EMI, their record company.  The managing director, when he found out they did not plan to print the album title or the band’s name on the cover, went ballistic.  In his mind, the public wouldn’t know it is was a Beatles’ album, even though it had the photo of the band on the cover.  This was an example of the corporate suits that the Beatles had to deal with for the past seven years.

“We went through weeks of all saying, ‘Why don’t we call it Billy’s Left Boot?’ and things like that. And then Paul just said, ‘Why don’t we call it Abbey Road?'” – Ringo Starr

The album, had a tentative title of Everest.  Originally, they got the idea from engineer Geoff Emerick’s brand of cigarettes, which had an image of the mountain on the pack.  This figured into one the hair-brained ideas of where to stage a concert, but the idea of travel and confinement did not interest the Beatles.


The musical credits.

John Lennon: vocals, guitar, piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, Moog, white noise generator, tambourine, maracas, handclaps
Paul McCartney: vocals, guitar, bass, piano, electric piano, harmonium, Hammond organ, Moog, wind chimes, tape loops, handclaps
George Harrison: vocals, guitar, bass, harmonium, Moog, handclaps
Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, bongos, congas, maracas, cowbell, timpani, tambourine, anvil, handclaps, effects
George Martin: Lowrey organ, Hammond organ, electric harpsichord
Billy Preston: Hammond organ

“Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album – but everybody felt it was,” said George Martin, years later.

All four Beatles were together in the recording studio for the last time on 20 August 1969, when they finalized a mix of Abbey Road.

On September 26, 1969, Abbey Road was released in the U.K., and October 1 in the U.S.


End Part 2.

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