Pros:I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Come Together & The End
The Bottom Line: A fitting album to end a career on even if it wasn’t the last release. The Beatles were fully developed and despite their personal conflicts the music was excellent.
Although Abbey Road was the last album recorded by The Beatles, it was released out of sequence before Let It Be, which they had recorded only a few weeks prior to beginning the Abbey Road sessions. The signs were already there that The Beatles were unlikely to continue as a band and it is said that after the Let It Be squabbling Paul wanted to do an album the way they used to do them.
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Opening with Come Together was, in my opinion an inspired decision. That percussive opening with the keyboards underneath it grabs your attention right away. And back in 1969, it was dramatically different from anything else on the radio. The chugging, bluesy beat and the wilfully obscure lyrics make it a truly unique delight, even 40 odd years later.
Something was something of a novelty when it was released as a single because it was written by George Harrison. It was released as a double A-sided single with Come together and it went on to become their first Beatles number one hit not written by Lennon & McCartney. As if that wasn’t enough it is also the second most covered Beatles song ever. (Yesterday is the most covered). Great words, a great tune and some classic George Harrison guitar licks make up what is still a top song today.
Some of the light-hearted stuff is on this album too and there is no better example of this than Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. The juxtaposition of a jolly little tune with a sinister lyric works so very well. Anyone who has seen the Let It Be movie will find it hard to forget the scene where this song is being recorded with the late Mal Evans playing the hammer.
Oh! Darling is a desperate plea by someone afraid of being dumped. I can only Macca must have needed some repair work done on his vocal chords after what he did to them on this song. The Beatles meet torch songs meet rock ‘n’ roll.
Ringo got a look in with a song too. Octopus’s Garden is another you can see being rehearsed on the Let It Be film. It’s a little novelty item as most of the songs Ringo was allowed to sing were, but it is still catchy and enjoyable.
In my opinion I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is the best song on Abbey Road and one of the best Beatles songs ever. I really like the heavy approach they take at certain points of the song and there are some really good bluesy touches as well. It’s the sort of song that makes you wonder, what if The Beatles had chosen a less poppy path. I just love that section with the descending chords and Billy Preston playing cool organ sounds underneath it all. For the record this song also has three other interesting things about it; it is the second longest Beatles song (only Revolution # 9 is longer); it has only 14 different words in its lyric and the overdub session for it was apparently the last time all four Beatles worked in the studio together.
George Harrison’s second contribution to Abbey Road is Here Comes The Sun the first song of what in the old days used to be side two of the album. John Lennon is absent from this recording with George playing all guitars, Paul supplying bass, and bvs and Ringo on drums. It is another much covered song with covers from artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Richie Havens, Peter Tosh and a Swedish Heavy Metal band called Ghost. I recommend you check out the latter. It is actually very good with some cool harmonies and a nice heavy edge to what remains a gentle song. You can find a clip on YouTube.
Because is an interesting piece. It opens with an electric harpsichord played by The Beatles’ producer George Martin and then John Lennon brings in a guitar on which he played the same lines as the harpsichord and a choral effect is heard from the blended Beatle voices. If the song sounds somewhat classical, it is no accident. Lennon is reputed to have written it after hearing Yoko play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano. He says he asked her to play the notes backwards and he then used that as a basis for Because.
You Never Give Me Your Money It is also the first track in what became known as the side two medley, so named because all songs from this point on run into one another with no breaks. The lyric is supposedly about the problems The Beatles were having getting paid by their then manager Allen Klein. It features John Lennon playing a really fuzzy lead guitar and a riff that returns later in Carry That Weight.
Sun King is a slow ballad with Beach Boy type harmonies and some wacky nonsense lyrics in the middle of it. Listen out for a couple of stray Spanish phrases and at least one Scouse one here.
Fuzz tones are used by The Beatles quite a lot on this album and on this track it is Paul McCartney who uses them on his bass Mean Mr. Mustard. The effect is good if somewhat flatulent.
Polythene Pam is a typical piece of Lennon tomfoolery. It has a great little riff and some really nutty lyrics. Lennon sings as he speaks here with a very noticeable Liverpudlian accent. I understand the name Polythene Pam came from an (obviously seriously disturbed) Beatles fan from the old Cavern Club days. She used to eat polythene (raw and cooked). I’m guessing she is no longer alive.
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window is probably equally well-known for the cover by Joe Cocker and included on his second album along with his cover of Something. There are two versions of what inspired this song; one is that it was about a groupie who climbed in the bathroom window at the McCartney home and the other has it that it was a story told to McCartney by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues about an incident that happened to them. Either way it is a great song and despite Joe Cocker’s excellent version, this is the best one for me. I particularly like George’s country sounding electric guitar.
Lennon missed the main recording sessions for Golden Slumbers as a result of a car crash. This track features no guitars with Paul on piano and George playing bass. McCartney oscillates between sweet vocals and really harsh ones here and it really gives the song some excellent tones. In case you didn’t know; the most of the lyric has been lifted from a poem by Elizabethan playwright Thomas Dekker.
Carry That Weight weighs in hard on the heels of Golden Slumbers and then brings back the theme from You Never Give Me Your Money.
The End was originally supposed to have been the end of the album until Her Majesty which was originally dropped from the line-up mysteriously made its way back onto the album. It is only a short song in the style of those short pieces live bands always used to knock out before going for a break in their set. I love because it features Ringo’s drumming in the spotlight (albeit briefly) and some of the heaviest, dirtiest guitar sounds ever to come from The Beatles. McCartney, Harrison and Lennon each taking alternating solos.
Abbey Road ends with Her Majesty which is a McCartney solo effort. Originally it was planned to go between Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam in the medley but was rejected because Macca didn’t like how it sounded there. The idea was for it to be left off altogether, but one of the sound engineers decided to leave it on anyway.
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