The track-by-track breakdown is something that almost every artist is expected to do in the promotional run up for their new album. Even though it blunts the impact of a first impression, audiences are dying to know what specifically influenced or informed all the songs they’re about to devote an extended period of time listening to. It might seem like a modern phenomenon, but going through the background of every song has been an interest to music fans since the start of the album era, and even George Harrison got involved.
While being interviewed by Australian reporter Ritchie Yorke on the day of Abbey Road‘s release, Harrison breaks down each of the album’s tracks in his own inimitable fashion. Harrison is game and friendly in his usual manner, but he provides more than just what the songs happen to be about. Instead, he gives background and even his own interpretation of his bandmates’ songs as well as his own, revealing a more intimate look into one of the most legendary albums of all time.
Starting with leadoff track ‘Come Together’, Harrison reveals that the song was actually one of the final tracks on the album to be completed. Harrison cited John Lennon’s car crash and subsequent recovery as the reason behind the song’s delayed recording, and cites its blues influence as informing the song’s propulsive drive.
When ‘Something’ comes up, Harrison references James Taylor ‘Something in the Way She Moves’ and explains that he wrote the song during The White Album sessions but couldn’t come up with adequate words (as shown in The Beatles: Get Back). Harrison says he imagined someone like Ray Charles singing the song and originally gave it to Joe Cocker to record.
One of the most difficult recordings that The Beatles ever completed was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, Paul McCartney’s jaunty murder tune that saw little enthusiasm from the rest of the group. Ever the professional, Harrison calls it an “instant whistle-along tune” while acknowledging that “some people will hate and some people will really love it.” Harrison compares it to ‘Honey Pie’ and calls the song “fun”, which is probably the nicest thing any of the members not named Paul McCartney has ever said about ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.
Harrison continues by calling ‘Oh! Darling’ a “typical 1950-60 period type of song”, which Harrison compared to the doo-wop sound. The guitarist doesn’t really have much to say on the track, other than observing that song is mostly “Paul shouting”. Evidently, ‘Oh! Darling’ was another song that found little favour among the band, as McCartney has yet to perform the track live.
One of the sweetest and most memorable parts of The Beatles: Get Back was seeing Harrison assist Ringo Starr in bringing ‘Octopus’s Garden’ to life by helping flesh out its chord structure and arrangement. Harrison gives all the credit to Starr, however, and calls the song “lovely” while observing that “Ringo is writing his cosmic songs without noticing.” Harrison’s praise is most effusive for ‘Octopus’s Garden’, and he clearly has a really connection to not only the song but its writer as well.
The connection between ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ and the heaviness with which the band were contending with at the time is brought up by Harrison. Harrison is referring specifically to the intense jamming that makes up the song, but he very well could have talked about the discourse in the group as well: ‘I Want You’ was the final time all four Beatles would ever be in the studio at the same time. Harrison also compliments John Lennon’s ability to change time between the song’s sections, chalking it up to natural ability rather than implicit skill.
As they move to side two, Harrison once again gets to talk about one of his own classic songs, ‘Here Comes the Sun’. Harrison doesn’t demure at mentioning the “hell that was business” that inspired him to run off to Eric Clapton’s garden to compose the song. Harrison traces the song’s roots all the way back to Rubber Soul‘s ‘If I Needed Someone’ no doubt finding comparisons in the two songs’ high capo-heavy chords and the riff that rotates around the central A chord in the D major shape.
Harrison goes on to call ‘Because’ “one of the most beautiful tunes” that the band had ever done and cites the famous inspiration provided by Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. He highlights the group’s three-part harmonies as a highlight of the song, and Harrison goes so far as to call ‘Because’ “possibly my favourite one on the album because it’s so simple.”
Finally, Harrison takes on the ending melody. Harrison struggles a bit to really get through something interesting to say about all the tracks, but he does bring up a few interesting points. Those include mentioning ‘Los Paranoias’, White Album outtake from McCartney that Harrison conflates with Lennons’ ‘Sun King’. ‘Los Paranoias’ was recorded without Harrison when McCartney was making a demo for the song ‘Step Inside Love’, which eventually appeared on the Anthology 3 compilation.
Harrison ends by trying to slot in Abbey Road among the band’s catalogue, but comes up at a loss. He mentions how some people within the band’s camp believe it to be sonically closer to Revolver than some of the band’s other albums, but himself has difficulty coming to a definitive conclusion on the record. Just six days before the interview, John Lennon had told the other members he was leaving the band, but Harrison makes no mention of that incident or the band’s quickly-deteriorating future in the breakdown.
Check out Harrison’s breakdown of Abbey Road down below.