The Beatles’ penultimate studio album, Abbey Road, was released in September of 1969 and delivered a last bask in greatness for the band; but they had finished the recording John Lennon had announced his departure.
From the various interviews, documentaries and books that have been made since the release from the album, it’s clear that none of the members of the Beatles could see them being together beyond Abbey Road. The foursome had been through a lot in the previous 7 or so years; they had started as boys in Hamburg in 1962 before being catapulted to world fame only 2 years later. They had produced countless masterpieces and shaped popular music forever, but by 1968 the bonds between the members were under strain as they went through a series of recording sessions from which nothing of any quality was yielded; these sessions later became known as the ‘Get Back Sessions’ and were largely filled with arguments rather than musical creation.
They gave up on the Get Back sessions and headed back to the EMI studios on London’s Abbey Road in the summer of 1969 with the intention to make one last “good album” as George Harrison said. This wasn’t going to be easy, however, as the band were still more divided than unified; one of the main problems was that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had very different musical interests and they were the ones who provided the band with direction for the last decade. The fact that Lennon was fast falling out of love with the band was an added aggravating factor.
It was McCartney that came up with the idea that they should make an album “like we used to”, with their longtime producer George Martin having a similar amount of control to the one he enjoyed during their early recording sessions. George Martin acted as a watchful eye over the band in the previous years and had a way of getting the best out of its four members; something McCartney was aware of. And so it was decided, one more crack of the whip.
The last crack produced a brilliant album, one that has stood the test of time as good as any of its contemporaries. When viewed as songs in their own right, some tracks here sound as fresh now as they ever have and when viewed as a whole, there can be no mistaking that you’re listening to a band enjoying the peak of musical creativity. Although I do not consider this to be best album the Beatles made (revolver takes that title if you ask me) it is still a pleasure to listen to. Here are four musicians with a mastery of recording studios, and an unrivalled songwriting ability, all playing at the peak of their ability.
George Harrison (dubbed ‘the quiet one’) really came into his own on this record and contributed two masterpieces, both of which rival the songwriting prowess of the Lennon-McCartney machine. ‘Something’ was chosen to be a single, suggesting the rest of the band knew its quality and indeed, in the years that followed, Tony Bennet would say the song was “the finest love song ever written” something many of us would be inclined to agree with. Similarly, ‘Here comes the sun’ combines Harrison’s aforementioned incredible songwriting ability with his skill inside a recording studio; he uses a combination of studio effects to achieve his desired sound. Bizarrely, the sound he created was criticised for being too electronic at the time of the record’s release.
Lennon also managed to reclaim his mojo and performed fantastically on this record, putting to bed any idea that he was past his best. ‘Come together’ opens the album and does well in combing a dirtier and leaner rock and roll sound with more modern (perhaps Harrison inspired) studio experimentation. The added meat around the rock and roll bone of Lennon’s contributions to this album give them a kind of “band” feel, rather than them sounding like they were the result of Lennon going out on his own, as some previous material did.
Although largely orchestrated by McCartney, I feel that the parts of this album that shine through are the songs made by Lennon and Harrison; it’s these contributions that ultimately give the album its feel as well as provide the stand out takeaways from it. That said, however, I am not taking anything away from the way the record is orchestrated. McCartney was the brains behind the way the album was produced and pieced together, and what a job he does; recorded entirely on an eight-track tape machine, with synthesisers and effects pedals woven into the fabric of the record, the resulting sound is modern even by today’s standards. The overall sound is a journey of emotion, some songs convey longing and uncertainty (‘Something’ and ‘I want you’), while others are happy and reflective (‘Here comes the sun’ and ‘Golden Slumbers’), giving the album a fairly wistful feel to it. Ultimately though I think the overwhelming theme here is one of joy. I can’t not get a warm feeling from this record and it feels like the perfect way to close things off for the band, McCartney, together with George Martin, successfully did away with the band’s bad run of form and led the band to the best album they had made in the last two years.
Possibly the best thing about this album is how it ends, with the track ‘The End’, which really is the band’s last hurrah. The song features solos from all 4 members of the band (the only drum solo Ringo ever did while with the Beatles) and acts as the perfect grand finale to say goodbye to one of the best bands the world has ever seen. A fantastic end to a fantastic journey.