When The Beatles made Abbey Road, it was clear that the end was nigh. The relationship between John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had become fractured beyond repair. The situation between the band couldn’t have been lower. Personally, they were floundering, so it remains a miraculous achievement that the album was even finished at all.
The four members of the band, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, were possibly as far apart personally as they ever had been. The record provides a moment to showcase their talent and provide a view of why, despite being individuals, they worked so well together as a group. It seems they had achieved their creative peak.
Somehow, they managed to put their problems aside and produce a masterpiece against the odds. Even though it wasn’t their final album, they all became strained, and by the end of the recording, one leg starting to creep out of the door, and almost a decade of being in the spotlight had started to weigh them down.
Creatively, they had all began to lean in different directions and simply weren’t the same people that started The Beatles all those years prior. They had all changed to differing degrees. Some were now fathers, and life was no longer straightforward like back in the day.
Remarkably, that animosity didn’t poison the record. The Beatles knew Abbey Road managed to leave the toxicity at the door and create something that epitomises their resilience.
5 stories from the recording of The Beatles album ‘Abbey Road’
‘Oh Darling’ took a week to get right
‘Oh Darling’ is arguably Paul McCartney’s finest vocal performance on the album. He finds an extra level of grit in his voice, which amplifies every note he sings, adding pain at every corner and that darkness was no happy accident. In fact, it took him a week of torturing his voice to get it prepared for the take.
McCartney later admitted, “When we were recording ‘Oh! Darling’ I came into the studios early every day for a week to sing it by myself because at first, my voice was too clear. I wanted it to sound as though I’d been performing it on stage all week.”
Engineer Alan Parsons added, “Paul came in several days running to do the lead vocal on ‘Oh! Darling’. He’d come in, sing it and say, ‘No, that’s not it, I’ll try it again tomorrow.’ He only tried it once per day, I suppose he wanted to capture a certain rawness which could only be done once before the voice changed. I remember him saying, ‘Five years ago I could have done this in a flash,’ referring, I suppose, to the days of ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Kansas City’.”
George Martin was strict
After the nightmare of working with the then-psychopath, future murderer producer Phil Spector, The Beatles came crawling back to George Martin to work with him again, and he only agreed to do so under strict conditions.
Without Martin’s guiding hand keeping them on the straight and narrow, then Abbey Road would have come out sounding like a sprawling mess as each member attempted to drag it in a different direction.
Despite being the most famous band the world has ever seen, there was innate respect built into their relationship with Martin, and through him ruling with an iron fist, he managed to get The Beatles back with a shared vision once more. “It was a very happy record,” George Martin later quipped about the album. “I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last.”
George Harrison proved his songwriting credentials
During the early years of The Beatles, George Harrison was comfortable in the backseat while Lennon and McCartney rode at the front of the vehicle lighting a cigarette with the roof down. However, with Abbey Road, Harrison began feeling more confident in his songwriting capabilities, and his two additions to the album would steal the show.
‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ showed that Harrison was no longer at ease with being a backup dancer. In fact, at this moment in time, he was as talented with a pen as any of his bandmates. The dynamic between ‘The Fab Four’ had altered, and there was no way back.
Speaking about ‘Something’, McCartney thought it was Harrison’s coming out party and said, “I thought it was George’s greatest track – with ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ They were possibly his best three. Until then he had only done one or two songs per album. I don’t think he thought of himself very much as a songwriter.”
Ringo initially hated ‘The End’
Ringo Starr’s drumming technique is often criticised, but understated is always the way he preferred to play. Let’s get it right, Ringo contributed some of the most stylish and simply captivating fills of all time. For a long time, an outsider to the music community at large as being below par, in no small part thanks to his resistance to drum solos.
When the band pitched the idea of a solo in ‘The End’, Ringo initially scoffed at the notion. He took a wealth of convincing before he gave in and delivered one of the mighties performances of his career. “The thing that always amused me was how much persuasion it took to get Ringo to play that solo,” engineer Geoff Emerick later recalled.
“Usually, you have to try to talk drummers out of doing solos! He didn’t want to do it, but everybody said, ‘No, no, it’ll be fantastic!’ So he gave in – and turned in a bloody marvellous performance.
“It took a while to get right, and I think Paul helped with some ideas, but it’s fantastic. I always want to hear more – that’s how good it is. It’s so musical, it’s not just a drummer going off.”
John Lennon’s head was elsewhere
Some ten years after its release, in an interview with Playboy’s David Sheff, he doubled down on his critique: “Everybody praises the album so much,” Lennon said. “But none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together.”
In the Anthology, George Martin spoke about how Lennon was challenging to work with during recording and, more specifically, how he was never on board from the beginning. However, the democratic nature of being in the band meant that he went along with the wishes of the other three members.
Lennon wanted the tracks to be a bit rougher around the edges with less impetus on medley and production, a viewpoint that would end up being the final straw for the founding member.