A good part of my youth was spent in front of my old family hi-fi system, listening to Beatles records. This was music I knew no longer existed in the modern world—not on contemporary pop radio, and not on MTV… nowhere but on what seemed to me those ancient plastic disks. To my untrained ears, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour, and especially Abbey Road sounded like they had come down from an advanced alien civilization.
What I was hearing in part—especially on Abbey Road—was the perfection of the studio as an instrument, and the major influence of the last, best fifth Beatle, George Martin. Not to diminish the incredible musicianship and songwriting abilities of the Beatles themselves, but without their engineers, without Martin at the controls, and without the state-of-the-art studios—EMI, then, of course, Abbey Road—those albums would have sounded much more down to earth: still great, no doubt, but not the symphonic masterpieces they are, especially—in my opinion—Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles recorded together (though not their final release).
So how did such a brilliant recording come to being? You can piece its construction together yourself by sorting through all of the stuff that didn’t make it on the record—outtakes, alternate album cover photos—as well as through interviews with Martin and the band. At the top of the post, see one of the cover photos that didn’t make the cut. A self-effacingly-named blog called Stuff Nobody Cares About has several more alternate photos from that session on August 8, 1969 (which McCartney conceptualized beforehand in a series of sketches). Before the album got its iconic look, it came together—pun intended—as iconic sound. Just above, you can hear George Martin describe the process of producing the band’s last recording, a “very happy record,” he says, compared to the tense, unhappy Let it Be. Afterward, hear George, Paul, and Ringo recollect their bittersweet memories of the sessions.
Near the end of the documentary clip, Paul McCartney says, “I’m really glad that most of the songs dealt with love, peace, understanding….” If that’s what “Mean Mr. Mustard” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” are about, color me surprised, but I’ve never been one to get too hung up on the meanings of the Beatles songs—it’s the menagerie of sounds I love, the unusual chord changes, and the witty little narratives, touching vignettes, and almost shockingly apt lyrical images (“Hold you in his armchair / You can feel his disease”).
But like the band themselves coming back together, the songs on Abbey Road—including that masterful closing medley—didn’t immediately fall into place; they were the product of much studio noodling and idiosyncratic Beatles brainstorming—an activity one part music hall comedy improv, one part genius happy accident, and one part good-natured family squabble. In the three clips above and below, hear the powerful Abbey Road medley come together, in fits and starts, with plenty of playful banter and off-the-cuff inspiration.
Hearing the making of Abbey Road doesn’t take away from the otherworldly final product, but it does bring the exalted personalities of the band back down to earth, showing them as hardworking musicians and natural writers and comedians who just happened to have made—with no shortage of help—some of the most mind-blowing music of the 20th century.
A Short Film on the Famous Crosswalk From the Beatles’ Abbey Road Album Cover
Hear the Isolated Vocal Tracks for The Beatles’ Climactic 16-Minute Medley on Abbey Road
The Beatles’ Rooftop Concert: The Last Gig Filmed in January 1969
The Beatles’ Final, “Painful” Photo Shoot: A Gallery of Bittersweet Images
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
They were gods who walked among us!!!
Nah, I’m just kidding. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, all of those pop groups were a prepackaged highly marketed product. Typical of the shallow celebrity culture that we live in. Time to move on.
Pure magic. Any true connoisseur of music is insightful enough to understand this.
Pound for pound, the Beatles created more musical masterpieces than any band ever. The Rolling Stones are laughable in comparison. All one need do is to check the release dates of a particular record and you’ll find that whatever the Beatles did, the Stones would try and do 8-18 months later. Of course, their(the Stones)imitations were always 2nd or 3rd rate.
These outtakes are a real treat. Abbey Road is the perfect crowning achievement to that astonishing burst of genius and creativity that was the Beatles. Even going on 50 years later, it still sounds relevant and fresh. Just try finding another rock/pop music record that was recorded in 1969-1970 that doesn’t sound corny or obviously dated–you can’t.
The Beatles weren’t Gods who walked among us. They were merely humans who somehow managed to capture music magic in a timeless bottle.
both bands were great, no doubt! the beatles led the pack but close behind were the beach boys, the stones, the spoonful, the rascals, the byrds, the mamas and papas, simon and Garfunkel, man the list goes on, all about the songs, which without nothing would have mattered w/any of these bands! and speaking of songs all had to take a step back and a backseat to DYLAN even LENNA and MACCA ,ive played and wrote for over 50 yrs. (songs that is) and all thesebrilliant creative cats were my inspiration mostly the four undisputed geniuses of 60s rock DYLAN, LENNON, WILSON, and HENDRIX really there’s no room for debate!!! GOD BLESS AND PEACE AND PROTECTION FOR ALL!!! Skinner