I live near Abbey Road.

Every day I see little groups of Japanese or Spanish tourists make their pilgrimage to Abbey Road studios and stand on the famous zebra crossing.

They often take the 189 bus to their destination. Abbey Road is a fairly long road, however and they sometimes make the mistake of excitedly jumping off the bus as soon as they see the first street sign, and then proceed to walk to the studios, singing Beatles songs in broken English as they go.

Many people write messages on the whitewashed walls at the entrance, but even the Great Wall of China couldn't hold all the comments left behind by Beatles fans.

The walls are therefore whitewashed every few days to provide a blank canvas for the next group of devotees.

I often wonder whether people realise that the ode to their hero, which they might have spent their lives wanting to put on that wall, will last only a few days.

But they seem to go home happy.

I used to work within a three-minute walk of Abbey Road, in NW6. The road itself winds for several miles through one of the nicer neighbourhoods in London, and, apart from the recording studio (which is surprisingly small when viewed from the outside, as the building extends back from the road), it also goes past the Saatchi Gallery and some crime-ridden futuro-60s concrete housing estates that resemble sets from Space: 1999.

As you might expect, most of the street signs are twelve feet off the ground, secured firmly to buildings.

The studio itself is an enormously competent, expensive operation, in which countless classic albums have been created and films have been scored. Bands aspire to record there, and some of the old 60's equipment - eight track mixing desks and valve-based speaker stacks - remains for musicians who want to capture the essence of the past, such as Oasis, who recorded 'Be Here Now' there.

Throughout the 1960s the studio (at 3 Abbey Road, St. John's Wood) was actually quite primitive, retaining four-track machines long after the competition had upgraded to eight-track; Let it Be was recorded elsewhere, and George Martin left to found his own studio, AIR, on the ill-fated island of Montserrat. Abbey Road was the only Beatles album recorded on Abbey Road's eight-track equipment.

Unfortunately, the white VW Beetle that features on the album cover has long since moved.

This is my favorite Beatles album. It was originally going to be called Everest, and this was the title that was worked with for much of the recording sessions. The name was from a brand of cigarettes that engineer Geoff Emerick smoked. As part of this idea, it was proposed that The Beatles would be flown to Nepal, so that the picture could be taken in the Himalayas, but with the way that they were fighting at the time, this wasn't very likely. So, they ended up going to the crosswalk directly outside of the studio. This album is like a final hurrah for The Beatles, and represents what they wanted to be their last album (Phil Spector and John Lennon had other ideas with Let it Be). The last time that all four of them were in the studio together was on August 20, 1969. But, this album represents a spectacular final acheivment.

There are many things that are simply amazing about this album. What other group would have every member of the band on the album within the first five tracks? For me, the best part of this album is the "long medley," as it is known, that closes the album. It starts on You Never Give Me Your Money and continues through Her Majesty. Several of the songs on this medley, expecially Sun King, Polythene Pam, Mean Mr. Mustard, and She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, all great songs, would never have been included if not for this medley. It begins softly, with the piano of You Never Give Me Your Money, and varies up and down in both volume and tempo (Sun King to the raucous solo at the end of Polythene Pam to the soft ballads Carry That Weight and Golden Slumbers to the driving rock of The End to the soft finish with Her Majesty). The medley provided the excuse to include the otherwise throwaway songs: Polythene Pam, about a fetishist that they knew in their Cavern Club days; She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, about one of the apple scruffs stealing a prized photo belonging to Paul; and Sun King, about nothing in particular. Originally, the medley wasn't intended to end the album. On the LP that was actually released, the first side ended with I Want You (She's So Heavy), but this was originally planned for the conclusion of the album.

Concerning Her Majesty: as was said above, this song wasn't originally listed on the album. It was entirely recorded by Paul because he was the first one to come to the studio after the long, two month vacation. He recorded this song, which was originally planned to go between Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam (which, as was also said above, accounts for the opening chord). But, Paul disliked it, and told one of the engineers to cut it. This engineer had been told never to throw away anything that The Beatles recorded, so he added in the 30 second pause, and placed it at the end. After hearing this, Paul loved it, (The Beatles loved things that seemed 'random'), and so it was included as a quasi-hidden track.


Sources:

If the Beatles had made no other record besides this one, they still would have a major impact on Rock and Roll.

Abbey Road is perfect, booming in with "Come Together", leading in to the beautiful George Harrison composition "Something" - "the best love song in the past 50 years," - according to Frank Sinatra. Side one also has a gem from Ringo Starr - "Octopus' Garden", and it ends with the cascading "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".

Side Two opens with another Harrison great, "Here Comes the Sun" - written after a morning in Eric Clapton's garden. The album soon dives into a medley, like nothing else before in rock. This is mostly Paul McCartney-dominated, with song like "She Came in Through The Bathroom Window" and "Golden Slumbers", with an honourable mention to John Lennon's "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam".

It ends out with the aptly titled "The End", and then, almost as an afterthought - "Her Majesty". A fitting farewell indeed.

Album Title: Abbey Road
Artist: The Beatles
Release Date: September 26, 1969
Record Label: Apple / Capitol
Peak Chart Position: US #1; UK #1

Track Listing
Come Together (4.20)
Something (3.03)
Maxwell's Silver Hammer (3.27)
Oh! Darling (3.26)
Octopus's Garden (2.51)
I Want You (She's So Heavy) (7.47)
Here Comes the Sun (3.05)
Because (2.45)
You Never Give Me Your Money (4.02)
Sun King (2,26)
Mean Mr. Mustard (1.06)
Polythene Pam (1.12)
She Came in through the Bathroom Window (1.57)
Golden Slumbers (1.31)
Carry That Weight (1.36)
The End (2.19)
Her Majesty (0.23)

Singles
Come Together b/w Something
Released on October 6, 1969 (US) and on October 31, 1969 (UK) on Apple Records
Peaked at #1 in the United States and in the United Kingdom

Making of Abbey Road
In early 1969, The Beatles embarked on something known as the Get Back project. In essence, the goal of the project was to prepare the already-fractured Beatles for their first tour in three years, and it was intended to record their preparation of new material for the tour, culminating in a live performance. The performance actually occurred on January 30, 1969, but in early February, the goal of a tour was abandoned and the video and tape from the sessions were shelved. During the sessions, both George Harrison and John Lennon had walked out on the group, claiming to have quit the band at various points.

For all the bad publicity that Paul McCartney got for his decisions during this time, it was his fortitude that basically caused Abbey Road to happen. In early April, realizing the group was fractured, Paul assembled the original team together, the team that had basically made their earlier albums such magic. He got George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr all back into the studio together, and then brought in producer Sir George Martin. Martin had walked out early in the Get Back project because the band refused to cooperate with one another. He offered the group an ultimatum: do what I say and behave, or I walk. The group, apparently sensing that this was their last shot at putting an album together, agreed to this.

Recording commenced on April 10, 1969, and to say that the project was ambitious is an understatement. Paul dubbed the project Everest, in terms of the world's tallest mountain, because he wanted the album to be a rock-and-roll epic that would stand above all else for all time. Arguably, this is actually what happened.

Rather than spending a solid, continuous chunk of time together in the studio, the group convened in small bits and pieces at Abbey Road to record the album. Every time the members were together, however, they remained on exceptional behavior, and Abbey Road marked the first time since Rubber Soul that none of the band members actually walked out on the sessions. Nevertheless, virtually all of the tracks here, regardless of writing credits, are more or less solo works; there was very little interaction and cooperation among the group members on the construction of the pieces here.

By August 24th, the album was over; the Beatles had completed the final album of their career and would never unite in the studio again. Let it Be, assembled from the tapes from the Get Back project, would be released the next year, but this was truly the last hurrah of the Beatles. This was their Everest. Did they reach the top?

The Album Cover
The album cover depicts the four Beatles crossing the street in front of Abbey Road studios on Savile Row. It was taken on a cool but clear day near the end of the Abbey Road sessions on August 8. The idea was brilliant; the execution was simple; the image is timeless.

John leads the procession, sporting a beard and long hair, his face obscured from the camera. He is the only one in a white suit, along with white shoes. He is followed by Ringo, sporting a black suit, a short beard, and collar-length hair. Next is Paul, who stands out for several reasons: he is wearing a black suit like Ringo, but he is the only barefoot member of the troupe, he is the only one with short hair, he is the only one that is clean shaven, he is the only one with a cigarette, and he is the only one out of step with the others. These facts are fundamental clues in the whole Paul is Dead "conspiracy theory" that involves a great number of clues and coincidences in the music and imagery of the Beatles that supposedly indicates that Paul is dead. This is bunk. George brings up the tail of the group, wearing blue denim and sporting a beard and long hair.

Although the "Paul is Dead" rumors are bunk, there is the unmistakable imagery of a funeral procession here. The "living" members of the procession are all in step. John, the preacher, is wearing a white suit. Ringo, the pall bearer, is also dressed in a suit. George, the grave digger, is clad in work clothes. Paul, the corpse, is out of step and is closely shorn compared to the other two. This may be more than coincidence, but it is really hard to say for sure on things like this.

After the final picture was taken, the boys followed this procession straight back into Abbey Road and directly into the studio, where they worked on The End.

Track Details

Come Together (4.20)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This is a tripped-out number written by John, describing LSD guru Timothy Leary. It's undeniably catchy, however, with a killer hook. The lyrics are largely nonsensical; in the parts where some sense can be made, it is buried under heavy metaphor and simile. I tend to think that, as with I Am The Walrus, John was lyrically toying with the audience. In both cases, though, the song is an audio experience.

Something (3.03)
Written by George Harrison
George Harrison hit two grand slams on Abbey Road with his two alloted tracks. This was one of them. Second only to Yesterday as the most covered song of all time (and often misattributed to Lennon and McCartney), this is a searingly beautiful love song, delivered with a dose of psychedelic, dreamy guitar work that makes you want to hold someone you love close to you and dance slowly.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer (3.27)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This is the cheery tale of a homicidal maniac that finally makes it onto a Beatles album after not making the cut for the White Album and being discarded during the Get Back project. Paul was convinced that this was a hit single, and it was almost as much a point of contention in the group as John's insistence that Revolution 9 was a hit single. This song is just plain weird, but it has more than a tubful of dark humor going for it.

Oh! Darling (3.26)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This song is intended to be a parody of doo wop style music, a la Frank Zappa's Ruben and the Jets, but the musicianship of the group make this an enjoyable song on its own; in fact, most people don't seem to realize that this song is parody at all, but a fun rock / doo wop number. Undeniably, the humor of the group peeks through in places here, and it's nice to hear them having fun after all.

Octopus's Garden (2.51)
Written by Richard Starkey
This is Ringo Starr's second song to appear on a Beatles album, after Don't Pass Me By from the White Album. It's a surrealistic song about escaping to a better place; one could think of it as a poor man's Yellow Submarine. Ringo delivers it with his usual good cheer; if you like this one, you'll like much of his 1970s solo work.

I Want You (She's So Heavy) (7.47)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This is a rock track in the old-school Santana mold, dissolving into a long guitar jam that ends abruptly. Nothing particularly special here, but it is quite good as guitar jams go. On the record, this finishes out the first side quite nicely.

Here Comes the Sun (3.05)
Written by George Harrison
The second home run by George Harrison on the album, Here Comes the Sun is breathtakingly beautiful. There's nothing else to really say about it other than that; it can take your breath away while you listen. From the opening guitar notes to George's mellow voice carrying the song through, it shows the majestic simplicity and beauty of Harrison's music. Just amazing. The hand-clapping bits with the chant of "Sun sun sun here it comes" is some of the most amazing stuff ever recorded to acetate. Here comes the sun... and I say "It's all right"

Because (2.45)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
The phrase that describes this song is icy grandeur; the repeatedly overdubbed harmonies and repeated notes on the harpsichord is cold and ethereal.

You Never Give Me Your Money (4.02)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Starting with this track through The End, the album becomes a lengthy medley. All of these tracks flow into each other and you can scarcely notice the segue between each song (except for perhaps between Sun King and Mean Mr. Mustard). This is the song that indicates that the Beatles are dead. It's inspired completely by the blow-up in the group over money earlier in 1969, and the melancholy of the opening mixed with the detached jazziness of the middle third of the song. But oh that magic feeling / Nowhere to go pretty much says it all; Paul knew that the dream was over, and he was able to express it musically here, several months before it really ended. Just listen to this song in context of what was happening to them at the time; they were the most famous band in the world, and they were falling apart.

Sun King (2,26)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This was a relatively uninspired number by John Lennon, composed of a few song scraps he had laying around. It fits into the mood of the second half of the disc, but a mellowed version of Not Guilty would have been a much better follow up to the preceding track and probably a better segue into the Mustard/Pam tracks to come. But I digress, I am a George Harrison junkie. The refrain of Here comes the sun king seems to refer to George's track earlier on the side, but this is the most forgettable piece of the second side of Abbey Road.

Mean Mr. Mustard (1.06)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This is a throwback to the days of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with the comical lyrics and over-the-top waltz-based music about a London derelict. This is John's contribution to a pairing, which would be met by the next track.

Polythene Pam (1.12)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Polythene Pam is a McCartney track, with much more rock influence than Mustard, but which tells the story of Mustard's crossdressing "sister." It's a fun, short rock number which turns straight into the next track.

She Came in through the Bathroom Window (1.57)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Another rocker, this time a bit more mellow, but it tells an odd tale about a woman who breaks into someone's apartment, followed by the two falling in love. Is this woman Polythene Pam? Likely, it is one of the Apple Scruffs, but the song is lyrically ambiguous, making it unclear. The song further slows near the end, turning into...

Golden Slumbers (1.31)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
... the ballad-like Golden Slumbers, which seems to mesh with You Never Give Me Your Money in that it longs for a past that is now lost. It's very plaintive and mournful, but it segues into the building chorus that is...

Carry That Weight (1.36)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
This is basically a continuation of You Never Give Me Your Money, bringing together the entire medley into one giant note of the end of The Beatles. Yes, it seems that as the chorus of the group singing You're going to carry that weight a long time goes by, they know it is over.

The End (2.19)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
If the end isn't clear yet, The End makes it clear. A repeated chant of {The End] over some Sgt. Pepper-esque guitar work building to a big culmination
    And in the end the love you take
    is equal to the love you make


Her Majesty (0.23)
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
After twenty seconds of silence, however, is the true end to the album. Originally intended as part of the medley, it was instead tacked onto the end of the album for convenience. However, the band neglected to mention it on the playlist that they gave to the label, so the song never appeared on the original LP jackets for Abbey Road. It's just a simple little off-the-cuff ditty, nothing particularly of note other than it is the end of the final album by the Beatles.

Abbey Road and Me
One of my earliest visual memories is of the cover to this album. I remember finding it in a stack of my mother's old LPs. Aside from this one and the White Album, all of her Beatles records were of their older music, from the era of A Hard Day's Night. I was familiar with the way the Beatles looked, then; I knew that they were young mop-tops who sang a lot of lovey-dovey pop songs that all sounded the same.

Something about the cover made me look at it for a while. I think it was George Harrison who really jumped out at me, clad in blue denim while the other members of the group were all in suits. And then something compelled me to put this on the record player.

I listened to the second side first, not really paying any attention, so the first notes I ever heard from Abbey Road were the opening notes of Here Comes The Sun. By the end of the song, I was in tears; my mother actually heard me crying, so she came in to try to figure out what was going on. I heard her coming and hid the records quickly (I wasn't supposed to use the turntable) and tried to hide what was going on, but I left the record playing, and Because started drifting in softly from the speakers.

She stopped, looked at me strangely for a moment, and then said, "You know, George always got to me, too." Then she turned around and walked out of the room.

I listened to the record for days afterward. I was five years old and already becoming a music addict, owning singles by The Police, Culture Club, and a full album (gasp!) by Rick Springfield. But this was something different. This was alive in a way that the others couldn't compare to. Soon after, I listened to the White Album for the first time, but it just didn't quite compare, but my mother's comment about George stuck in my mind, so when I discovered All Things Must Pass, it was a similarly transcendent experience for me (especially the title cut).

That morning when I was five, I discovered the Beatles. This opened the floodgates for me to a world of music, a world that has introduced me to things like Doolittle and Being There. The first notes of Here Comes The Sun still bring a shiver down my spine; in fact, the whole album is like an amazing journey through the shared musical experience we all have.

If You Liked This Album...
... start moving both forward and backward through the music of the Beatles. Pick up The Beatles (The White Album) next, probably, then add Let it Be and the first solo albums, especially All Things Must Pass, because George Harrison was really on a roll from 1968 to 1970.

A Single Story Theory of the Abbey Road medley

Like Frank Lynn Meshberger, M.D., I just thought everyone knew this. I obsessed on Abbey Road in college, and in my many listenings sort of pieced it together in my own head. But the more I talked with friends, and the more I read reviews on what may be the greatest medley in rock history, I realize that I might…just might…have seen the giant brain in the fresco.

Let me try now to convert you.

While the rest of the album is great, there is something special about the last 22 minutes, the medley which begins with You Never Give Me Your Money and continues until the end of the album, Her Majesty. Others have opined about the musical qualities of the music, so I will stick to the implied narrative.

Connections

I first realized that the songs interrelate from the repetition of form and melody between You Never Give Me Your Money and Carry That Weight...“and in the middle of X, I break down.” I then sought connections between the two and found them. Then I heard the connections between Mean Mr. Mustard—who “always shouts out something obscene” at the Queen—and Her Majesty, which also deals with a guy and the Queen. Finally, there are the references to wealth with the “limousine” in You Never Give Me Your Money (not to mention the title) and the “silver spoon” in She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. So, once you find these connections, it’s not a matter of if they are connected, but how.

Rather than take you through the labyrinthine step-by-step process I went through in my investigation, let me cut to the chase and describe the end product.


Interpretation

You Never Give Me Your Money
Some young, handsome, hippy guy is begging for money from an attractive girl reading a newspaper in the park. She turns him down, but the guy is a charmer and gets her into a conversation. Eventually he asks her why she is there and in her answer the girl starts crying. She explains that she has run away from her wealthy family because they don’t understand her. She has been dancing to support herself but is now looking for other work. He comforts her. After the emotional moment is passed and the conversation winds down, the girl wants to keep in touch, so she asks him for his phone number. He changes the subject. She pressures him, and he breaks down and spills his story.

He is a recent college dropout with no job and no prospects. He lives in the park with friends. He doesn’t mind it too much. He enjoys the freedom. (That magic “nowhere to go” feeling.)

She is charmed by him. She believes he is on to something, a secret, perhaps. Surprisingly, she decides to join him and “be a hippy” in the park. (Gender swapped shades of Hair here.) He’s extremely happy about this.

The 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 segue
In celebration they join some of his friends and they light up a joint. She has never done it before. She's not sure, and doesn't mention it, but joins in.

Sun King
As evening sets on the park, she starts to feel her high, and we begin to feel things from her perspective. The music is slow and the lyrics are stream-of-consciousness, quite like being stoned. She feels removed and sits as an observer, looking at everybody laughing and happy. She feels that this must have been the right decision because it feels to good, so welcome.

Quando paramucho segue
The party continues and the drugs get a little harder. Things get a little confusing, but not out of control. The two of them decide to go for a walk. As they encounter people in the park, they make up stories about them to entertain themselves.

Mean Mr. Mustard
They see a drunk homeless fellow. At first their story of him is positive and sympathetic until he shouts some epithet at the hippies to leave him alone and then goes off mumbling something rude about the Queen.

Polythene Pam
As the drugs hit her harder, they leave Mean Mr. Mustard and connect his story to a passing drag queen.

She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Here is a cut in the story, suggested by the lack of lyrics (the same way Shakespeare indicates action by breaking his iambic pentameter) and the change in the music. When the scene “fades up,” we’re months later and seeing things from the guy’s perspective.

Since the drug evening, many things have happened. The girl passed out and fell into a coma that night. She woke up brain damaged. (“Sucking her thumb by her own lagoon.”) He has taken responsibility for the girl as best he can.

A brief note on the enigmatic “Sunday’s on the phone to Monday, Tuesday’s on the phone to me.” I interpret this to mean: At one point in the past, Sunday, they were living for the future, Monday, but only the protagonist is having to deal with the current consequences, Tuesday, because she is not quite living in the real world.

He tries a number of coping mechanisms including blaming her and lamenting how her protected life never prepared her. He has tried getting a job but couldn’t hold it because of the heavy responsibilities he has for her. He is feeling hopeless.

Golden Slumbers
The entire event forced the guy to grow up. It was sort of a horrible, worst case scenario object lesson for him: Though we feel immortal when we are young, that nothing can hurt us, events have consequences. The slumbers are hers, the world where she now lives. He bemoans their mutual loss of innocence.

Carry That Weight & The End
He accepts his responsibility for her and its implications for the future, though he occasionally loses control. He hopes that the smiling girl he met in the park returns to him in his memory and dreams. He did what he did because he was in love, and he accepts his responsibilities because he still loves her.

Her Majesty
This song references Mean Mr. Mustard’s “shouting out something obscene” at the Queen, but from a first person perspective. Tucked away at the end of the medley, I like to think of it as a kind of narrative Picardy third that returns to a minor detail of the story to let us empathize with Mr. Mustard’s perspective. It almost starts to take us out on another journey through his story, and always leaves me thinking that everyone has their own complex, emotionally engaging life stories, and we can uncover them, or surf them, if we choose to.


Conclusion

This story doesn’t account for all of the details of the songs. I think it would require too much of a stretch. Plus I think there is a healthy dose of Se non è vero, è bene trovato in the lyrics.

So is this right? Is this what the songwriters meant? I’ve read the interviews with John and Paul. I know what they said the songs meant and didn’t mean. But I think should be Twainian about this: it should have happened this way, and that's what's important.

Give it a listen, and tell me I’m not insane.

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