Released: October 1969
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 116
Certified Gold: 10/27/69
"Abbey Road was an enjoyable album to make after the bad time we had with Let It Be," says George Harrison. "It was good to go back to the studio and do a new record, because the songs were good and everyone was happy."
Although Let It Be would be the last Beatles album of new material to be released, Abbey Road was in fact the last album the Beatles recorded. The band had put aside the bad vibes that had surfaced during the Let It Be sessions and come together to record one of their finest albums. The material on the album varied from John Lennon's basic rocker "Come Together" and his avant-garde ode to Yoko Ono, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," to the complex suite of songs, mostly written by McCartney, that closes the album. "We actually rehearsed," says Harrison. "We did arrangements for those songs like 'Polythene Pam' and 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,' which were just bits and pieces of songs that were tacked together, learned them, and played it as one performance."
By that time, Harrison's confidence as a writer had grown. "'Something' and 'Here Comes the Sun' were great, because I knew they were good songs, but I was a bit worried when John wrote a song called 'Here Comes the Sun' as well," Harrison says. Eventually, Lennon altered his song's title to "Sun King."
Harrison recalls writing his two tracks: "I wrote 'Here Comes the Sun' in Eric Clapton's garden and I wrote 'Something' while we were making The White Album in number one studio at Abbey Road, which was an enormous studio they used for orchestras. I used to just go in there and kind of hang out." The latter song, which Harrison composed on piano, turned out to be one of the Beatles' finest ballads.
Ringo Starr also contributed material. His "Octopus's Garden" was composed during the Let It Be sessions. Starr can be seen working on the song with Harrison and McCartney in the Let It Be film documentary. Yet the song sounds like an outtake form the Yellow Submarine era.
The cover photo of Abbey Road, named after the studio where the Beatles recorded 191 songs, features the band members crossing the street in front of the building. The Beatles' attire -- McCartney barefoot but wearing a suit, Harrison dressed in the dungarees of a gravedigger, Lennon looking like a priest, and Starr like an undertaker -- further fueled speculation that McCartney had been killed in a car crash in 1969.
Fittingly, Abbey Road winds down with "The End," a track that features solos by all four members of the band, followed inexplicably by McCartney's 23-second "Her Majesty." For the Beatles, Abbey Road truly marked the end. Says producer George Martin, "It was the last thing they ever did together, so Abbey Road has a special place for me." The rest of the public agreed, as Abbey Road hit the top in its third week on the chart. Five weeks later, the double-A side single "Something"/"Come Together" reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100, giving the group another double crown. The Beatles would go on to rack up three more Number One albums, but Abbey Road was their real swan song.
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 1996.
"Come Together" was John Lennon's major contribution to the album, becoming an American number one, but his extended "I Want You (She's so Heavy)" was an affecting curiosity.
The tour de force of the project, however, was the extended song cycle on side two, a series of fragments woven together by Paul McCartney and George Martin in a seamless whole. "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" even became an American hit for Joe Cocker in a longer version than the original.
The final bit, "The End," is one of the most famous farewells in music. Its one-line philosophy of life has been repeated to the point of trivialization by pseuds around the world.
The first buyers of this disc were surprised when an unannounced finale, McCartney's doggerel "Her Majesty," came on during the play-out. Latter-day purchasers were deprived of this surprise when the track was listed on the label.
In 1987, Abbey Road was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #13 rock album of all time.
- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.
Abbey Road is more than a first-rate Beatles album; it captures a significant historical moment. Although it was released before Let It Be, Abbey Road was the last album the Beatles recorded together -- and it presents a poignant final expression of the band's magic.
Although Abbey Road was, in part, a desperate effort to reunify the band, sad hints of the Beatles' impending demise suffuse the long symphonic piece following "Here Comes the Sun" on the album's second side, particularly in "You Never Give Me Your Money," "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight." That piece, with its elegant, melodic segues and orchestral arrangements, is the most successful outgrowth of the band's earlier experiences on Sgt. Pepper. Like that album, it largely reflects the skill and vision of Paul McCartney and producer George Martin.
Perhaps for that reason, John Lennon disparaged the album in Rolling Stone in 1971, at the hight of the Beatles' squabbling and sniping. "I never liked that sort of pop opera," he said. "It was just bits of songs thrown together." In fact, Lennon's most gripping contributions to Abbey Road -- the word-salad anthem "Come Together" and his monster-groove paean to Yoko Ono, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," which open and close the album's first side -- are charateristically wittier and more compressed than the opus on side two. George Harrison, whose growth as a songwriter was one of the fatal pressures weighing on the band, contributed two of his finest and most popular songs to the album: "Here Comes the Sun" (which he wrote in Eric Clapton's garden) and "Something." Ringo wrote and sang the catchy novelty song "Octopus's Garden" and contributed his only recorded drum solo.
The album's most touching moment comes with "The End," which stands as a moving epitaph for the Beatles and the decade that produced and embraced them: "And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love/You make."
Abbey Road was chosen as the 17th of "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years" by Rolling Stone in 1987.
- Rolling Stone, 8/27/87.
Although Let It Be was the last album of original Beatles music to be released, Abbey Road was the last to be recorded. Wanting to recapture some of the group's original good feeling, Paul McCartney contacted producer Geroge Martin and said the band wanted to record an album "the way we used to do it." Martin replied, "If the album's going to be the way it used to be, then all of you have got to be the way you used to be." Abbey Road shows the Beatles coming together one last time. There is passionate hard rock from John Lennon, mature songwriting from George Harrison, a veritable pop symphony from McCartney and the one and only recorded drum solo by Ringo Starr. Abbey Road sold 8 million copies, topping even Meet the Beatles! and Sgt. Pepper in the U.S.
Abbey Road was chosen as the 9th "Top Album of the Sixties" by Rolling Stone in 1990.
- Rolling Stone, 8/23/90.
Simply put, if you own only one rock CD, this should be the one. From the magical, mystical opening chords of John Lennon's "Come Together" (which Rolling Stone aptly described as his "word salad song"), to the momentous summation of it all (the Beatles, the sixties -- you name it) "The End," this is the essential Beatles album, and thus the essential rock & roll album. Occasional tape his notwithstanding, the CD version materially expands what was an endless vision, highlighting Paul McCartney's extraordinary bass work and searing vocal on "Oh Darling," as well as Lennon's perfectly acid guitar. A triumph. A+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
The Beatles' last unified statement finds them going out at a peak of musical achievement, from Lennon's "Come Together" to Harrison's "Something," with McCartney dominating the Side 2 medley in which the group rocks out in fine style. Abbey Road is the best-selling Beatles album ever. * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Dubbed "Sgt. Pepper Mark II" by George Martin, Abbey Road can hardly be beat for sheer songwriting excellence and audio sophistication. Amidst internal animosity and feuds, the Beatles shone one last time as a group, showing mastery of their craft most notably on Lennon's "Come Together," McCartney's "Oh! Darling," and Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something." * * * * *
- Christopher Scapelliti, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
By this time it was almost over. The Beatles, who had changed the face of popular music from a weening pup to a multiheaded dragon breathing fire from every snout, were almost ready to call it quits after seven years of well-executed dominance. Their sheen shone like the sun. They were untouchable and remained that way to their last dying gasp.... of which Abbey Road was the final grandiloquent utterance. Furthermore, it was actually conceived that way -- although the botched fake-live Let It Be actually came out after Abbey Road, it was recorded months earlier. Abbey Road could have amounted to little more than an afterthought given the malaise that had set upon the group by that time -- a malaise wrought from not only years of being together and being the preeminent superstars in the rock arena but also a weariness brought about by intricate business dealings, deaths, and complex love affairs that had all ultimately taken their toll on the musical focus of the band. However, because the Beatles were consummate professionals, the album evolved into much more than that. It became an eloquent grand finale from the greatest group in the world.
Arguments prevail as to whether it was actually too slick -- it's true, the Beatles had never known such a seamless level of gloss before. The very clean production was symptomatic of the kind of ultra-professionalism that would inevitably come to dominate in the seventies. But because they were the Beatles, it was still ultimately about songs, and like any Beatles album, Abbey Road was chock full of good ones. The Suite-like grandeur of the second side -- where each song sinuously flowed into the next -- was an innovation in itself. Credit Paul McCartney for this -- he was the one cobbling the group together, at least as far as maintaining the facade that the group was capable of any sort of unity at this pint. Abbey Road was the last time any such unity existed.
Abbey Road also represented a genuine coming-of-age for the youngest Beatle, George Harrison, at least as far as songwriting went. Although Harrison had always remained in the shadows of Lennon/McCartney in this regard (given the immense productivity of said duo, who wouldn't?), on Abbey Road he proved himself capable of competing in the same stakes as far as writing perfectly hummable pop ditties went: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something" became instant classics, covered by thousands of artists.
Any way you look at it, Abbey Road was the swansong-to-end-all-swansongs. Within a few months, the Beatles would be gone, but not forgotten. Albums like this are the reason why.
Abbey Road was voted the 8th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
"It was a very happy record," said producer George Martin, describing this album in The Beatles Anthology. "I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last." Indeed, Abbey Road -- recorded in two months during the summer of 1969 -- almost never got made at all. That January, the Beatles were on the verge of breakup, exhausted and angry with one another after the disastrous sessions for the aborted Get Back LP, later to be salvaged as Let It Be. Yet determined to go out with the same glory with which they had first entranced the world at the start of the decade, the group reconvened at EMI's Abbey Road Studios to make their most polished album: a collection of superb songs cut with an attention to refined detail, then segued together (especially on Side Two) with conceptual force. There was no thematic link, other than the Beatles' unique genius. John Lennon veered from the stormy metal of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" to the exquisite vocal sunrise of "Because." Paul McCartney was saucy ("Oh! Darling"), silly ("Maxwell's Silver Hammer") and deliciously bitter ("You Never Give Me Your Money"). George Harrison proved his long-secret worth as a composer with "Something" (later covered by Frank Sinatra) and the folk-pop diamond "Here Comes the Sun," written in his friend Eric Clapton's garden after a grim round of business meetings. And Lennon, McCartney and Harrison reputedly sang more three-part harmony here than on any other Beatles album. Let It Be was the group's final release, but this album was their real goodbye: The completion of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" on August 20th marked the last time all four members were together in the studio they had made famous.
Abbey Road was chosen as the 14th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Often neglected in Beatles all-time best album polls in favor of the more technicolor Sgt. Pepper... and the darker, less orthodox Revolver, The Beatles' last-recorded album (Let It Be was merely the last to see the light of day) is a shimmering, never-predictable array of songs and song fragments. It is as progressive as anything the quartet ever recorded, and stuffed full of emotional twists and turns, thanks to their chaotic final years together now coming to a messy close.
Despite their fundamental differences at this stage, McCartney and Lennon were still capable of writing searing material. George Harrison, for so long lumped in with Ringo Starr as a Fabs also-ran compared to the other two stellar members, had become a serious songwriter, contributing the awe-inspiring "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun," probably the sweetest song John and Paul never wrote.
But the vitriol, ecstasy, and social commentary of Lennon and McCartney is what makes Abbey Road an essential, and they come through with a vengeance. There is the sexual swamp-rock of "Come Together," the psychedelic monster "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (highlighted by McCartney's nimble bass-playing) and, of course, that unique side-two song suite, loved and loathed by Beatles-heads in equal measure. "Sun King" is a musical dose of LSD; "Golden Slumbers" is the band at their most nursery-rhyme-epic; and "The End" is a prothetic dose of virtuosity on which everyone takes a solo -- even Ringo.
- Joel McIver, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
The sixteen-minute medley that closes Abbey Road is arguably the most resourceful act of scrap-scavenging in pop music history. A parade of discards and song fragments waiting to be finished, it presents the Beatles cleaning out the cupboards, and tossing anything once deemed workable -- a neglected bit of Lennon psychedelia ("Sun King"), and unfinished music-hall production number by McCartney ("Carry That Weight") -- into one last meal.
The group had just endured two fractious recording projects (The White Album and Let It Be, which was mostly recorded before Abbey Road but released after). The breakup was a foregone conclusion, but somehow they were still "together" enough to do justice to these short, cannily sequenced vignettes. The tunes of the medley wander all over the musical map, as do the many songs on the two-disc White Album. But unlike that sprawling set, each theme here is a perfect miniature that lasts just long enough to convey a single crystalline thought. Some episodes unfold in seconds. "The End," the final punctuation mark, consists of a single Zen-koan couplet: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Could there be a better epitaph for the band that taught the world all you need is love?
Recorded in a month during the summer of 1969, Abbey Road offers plenty more than just the medley. Two of George Harrison's most illuminated melodies are here -- the idyllic ballad "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun." Also here is the most convincing exploration of blues and progressive rock the Beatles ever attempted, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." And then there's "Because." Another of the band's hazy acid-dream moments, its nine swooning vocal parts (three each for McCartney, Lennon, and Harrison) align into a spine-tingling, lighter-than-air sound. Like much of Abbey Road, it's a stupendous display of pop imagination that evaporates immediately, leaving you at once immensely satisfied and yearning for more. Sort of like the Beatles themselves.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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