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Abbey Road

Categories: Beatles albums

Beatles Abbey Road cover art
— Why did The Beatles cross Abbey Road?
— To get to the other side...

It's worth stopping and looking both ways before you start crossing the zebra, and considering the fact that the whole project might never have even got off the pavement had Get Back come off to everyone (or anyone's) satisfaction. The Beatles would, in all probability, have called it a day right after the rooftop concert at the end of January '69, and gone their separate ways, having indisputably 'passed the audition'.

As it was, with Glynn John's best efforts rejected, and the movie in post-production, there was seen to be no rush to do anything with what would become the Let It Be album some sixteen months later.

Besides, Beatle Boys had other things on their minds...

Mr Starkey, astutely looking to expand his horizons, had talked his buddy Peter Sellers into getting Terry Southern's novel, The Magic Christian, made into a movie. Filming began in early February, with 'only the drummer' as co-star.

McBachelor broke every girl in the world's heart (bar one) on March 12th, marrying Linda Eastman in a low-key ceremony at Marylebone Registry Office. The London Drugs Squad broke into the Harrison household the same day, finding — or planting — a hefty chunk of hashish. Ah well, George and Pattie hadn't been invited to the wedding, anyway... They paid the fine and cleared off on holiday.

"The Ballad Of John And Yoko" began about a week after, with the would-be weds finding themselves denied maritime passage on account of Mr Ono's dope bust straight after completing The White Album (the first in a long series of hassles it would cause them). Permission was finally granted for them to get married in Gibraltar near Spain on the twentieth: the subsequent Bed-In honeymoon and Bag-In interviews inaugurating their campaign of media-grabbing 'Peace Stunts' .

In the meantime, however, there was still the music.

The George Martin produced "Get Back" single was slated for release in April, with the Len-Mac only "Ballad" recording being made shortly afterwards, GM again at the controls. The at least temporary burying of hatchets which the two ventures implied was probably instrumental in the decision to reunite the Fab Five in the studio. The fact that EMI had finally got round to plugging in their eight-track recording system must've been a lure, too. All of the band had enough songs (or bits of 'em) to make an album out of: so, why not?

Mr Martin established the ground rules from the outset: once bitten, twice shy. 'Only if you let me produce it the way we used to' — everyone involved, and no-one playing up. None of them really knew that it was going to be their last record, but everyone sensed it. The bulk of the sessions were wedged into the month of July, and The Beatles really were on their best behaviour for the occasion. Paul recalls walking on eggshells, trying not to be boss(y), though the other three, accustomed to — or at least conditioned to — the situation, were actually expecting him to take the lead. John's convalescence from a car accident in Scotland kept him out of the picture (and, more than likely, a few arguments) for a couple of weeks at the peak of the proceedings.

Dark Horse Harrison, having kicked in another B-side with "Old Brown Shoe", pulled out two immaculate conceptions for the album: "Here Comes The Sun" and — undoubtedly his most enduring Beatlesong, "Something" — which also became his first and only A-side single as one of The Four. Having been bitten by the production bug on his own solo releases and other people's records, he co-worked with his senior namesake more closely than ever before; also collaborating on the orchestral arrangements.

'I was certainly not missing being in the band', he observed: but, nevertheless, he was fully involved in the realization of their final masterpiece. George's rudimentary knowledge of the Moog synthesiser would also prove to be a key factor in the Abbey Road Sound Experience and — it goes without saying — his guitar playing, acoustic and electric, was as tight and innovative as it had always been.

All in all, Baby Beatle was clearly demonstrating that he was a big boy now, and would be more than capable of finding his way in the big, wide world outside of 'The Flying Trelinis'.

The Film Starr likewise had his eye fixed on his post-Fab future, in musical terms as much as cinematographic ones. In addition to his "Octopus's Garden" offering for the LP, and his shiny new calf-head tom-toms making his percussive contributions even more softly solid than ever, he must've been at least starting to contemplate his Sentimental Journey solo debut during those long, customary sit-there-while-we-overdub sessions. Its recording — with GM at the desk — began in October, shortly after the release of AR.

And, despite his reservations ('I don't wanna do no bloody solo'), his arm got twisted into doing one at "The End" of the tale, without being twisted so hard that he couldn't actually pull it off! Furthermore, his rhythm patterns remain fundamental to the album's overall structure: giving a loose cohesion to the separate themes on the first side and, more often than not, providing the links between the disparate parts of 'The Medley' on the second.

The genesis of said 'suite' remains wrapped in the clouds of Beatle memories. Paul is still 'wary of claiming these things': though his was certainly the dominant voice, right from the beginning of the trip, through to the Final Word. Whatever the case, John raised no objections to the plan: 'It was a good way of getting rid of bits of songs'.

Having got rid of two of his own with "I Want You (She's So Heavy"), he actually surprised everyone with his level of interest and involvement in the project as a whole, and the construction of the medley in particular. His beautiful "Because" provided the perfect prelude, with "Sun King" serving as one of its sweetest sections, in amongst McCartney's observations, recollections and lullaby.

Lennon was also quick to point out the contributions of George and Ringo in making it all come together. Maybe it was that final burst of cooperative creativity — the eventual album opener was the last track to be recorded — which led him to observe that it was going to be 'more Beatley than the double album'.

Following the 'unhappy' experience that had been Get Back, George Martin demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that if there had ever been a Fifth Beatle, then he it was. Their learning-curve had been mutual right from the beginning of the road: from mono into stereo, double-tracking and over-dubbing, through to tape-looping pitch-shifts. For Abbey Road — all eight tracks of it — their intuitive understanding and collaborative spirit was gloriously restored. 'Everybody worked frightfully well', he recalled.

With the bulk of the recording completed by the end of July, work began on the medley montage. Although a number of its component parts had already been combined in performance, others needed to be integrated via cross-fades and splices, with additional instrumentation required to smooth the passage. The first rough mix enthroned "Her Majesty" between "Mr Mustard" and "Polythene Pam", though she was swiftly ousted. The final confection was the result of almost a week's studio craft-graft with — as mentioned — everyone helping to carry that weight.

Mr Martin proved to be no slouch in mastering those eight-track controls, with Macca inevitably leaning over his shoulder. 'We thought it was too big a luxury!' commented the latter. Geoff Emerick's return as engineer was also crucial in reuniting of the old team — and it's interesting to note the presence of an eighteen-year-old apprentice name of Alan Parsons cutting his teeth on the project.

As the delivery date drew near, there still remained the question of christening the new baby. Billy's Left Boot (?) was quickly kicked out, then Everest (after Emerick's favourite cigarette brand) was briefly considered. Finally naming the record after the NW8 street which housed EMI's London studios, subsequently renamed in honour of the record, was probably Paul's inspiration — though, again, he's hesitant about taking the glory.

The front-sleeve procession — or cort├Ęge, if you will — was pushed along by John 'just wishing the photographer [Iain Macmillan] would hurry up...' Clues about Paul's demise were, yet again, 'greatly exaggerated': other shots from the ten-minute session reveal him to be in step with everyone else, ciggieless, and wearing sandals. The '28 IF' Beetle actually belonged to a local resident and was quite often parked close to the crossing. More intriguing, perhaps, is the identity of the blue dress-wearer on the back...

A couple of weeks later, The Four assembled at John and Yoko's newly acquired country estate, Tittenhurst Park, for what would become their final photo shoot. By the time the record was released — towards the end of September '69 — Allen Klein was in, peeling away the excesses of Apple, and John Lennon was out, having informed the others that he was 'pretty much leaving the band' just before flying out to Toronto with his Plastic Ono Buddies. The second POB single, "Cold Turkey" (the first to carry a Lennon-only writing credit), was issued the following month.

The Beatles knew it was all over.

'Pretty much', at least.

Klein (ever an eye on the margins) persuaded everyone to keep it to themselves for a while longer. With inevitably mixed feelings, the four distracted themselves with various solo ventures — recorded and/or performed. In the meantime, salvage work was commenced on Let It Be.

And then the shit really hit the fan.
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