If there was some sort of intergalactic version of Family Fortunes and every living thing in the universe was asked to name an album, the first title to spring into many peoples mind’s would be Abbey Road. Love it or loath it, it is a defining feature in the unfurling tapestry of popular culture. As such, it also underpins the legacy of The Beatles themselves.
Even the doubters and disparagers of the band can’t deny the impact that they had on art, and if they do, then they simply can’t grasp the context. At a time when scientific progress boomed, the ‘Fab Four’ ushered it into art in such a way that changed the medium forever. Stereo Sound had only been invented a handful of years earlier and yet, with the help of producer George Martin, they were twisting into songs like mad scientists achieving creative alchemy.
If Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the epochal moment of invention, then Abbey Road saw them honing and refining their artistic science, the culmination of which was the famed medley. This eight-part sonic journey wraps up in ‘The End’ and the famed lyric (that still remains a little nonsensical to this particular writer) “The love you take, is equal to the love you make.” However, as any keen-eyed fan will tell you, ‘The End’ merely marks 13 seconds of silence.
Thereafter comes ‘Her Majesty’, surely one of if not the finest piece of pop music under 30 seconds ever. Its sweet and lullaby-like sound makes it a befitting way to say goodnight for the band on what was the last record they ever recorded (albeit it was released before Let It Be). However, neither the silence nor the placement of ‘Her Majesty’ was ever intended, and yet it weirdly sparked a ‘hidden track’ craze that endures to this day.
Originally, ‘Her Majesty’ was simply meant to reside between the medley sections ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ and ‘Polythene Pam’ but it sounded rather jarring amid the changing time structures and chordal progressions. Thus, Paul McCartney asked sound engineer John Kurlander to remove it from the running order and destroy the tape.
As it happens, EMI had a policy not to destroy any Beatles tapes. Instead, Kurlander spliced it on at the end of the record as a temporary storage method for the master track. As he recalls: “I picked it up off the floor, put about twenty seconds of red leader tape before it and stuck it onto the end of the edit tape. The next day, down at Apple, Malcolm Davies cut a playback lacquer of the whole sequence and, even though I’d written on the box that ‘Her Majesty’ was unwanted, he too thought, ‘Well, mustn’t throw anything away, I’ll put it on at the end.’”
Flash forward to a run-through of the medley sometime later – when the track finished, the band discussed the pros and cons, and then within 13 seconds they were interrupted by the resonant first chord of ‘Her Majesty’. As Kurlander adds: “I’m only assuming this, but when Paul got that lacquer he must have liked hearing ‘Her Majesty’ tacked on the end… We never remixed ‘Her Majesty’ again, that was the mix which ended up on the finished LP. This is why ‘Her Majesty’ doesn’t have a final guitar chord – it lays unheard, at the beginning of ‘Polythene Pam.’ And the jarring electric guitar chord that begins ‘Her Majesty’ is actually from the end of the original ‘Mean Mr Mustard.'”
The band loved the jolt it offered as a finale and kept it in place, however, the sleeves for the record had already gone to print. Thus, when fans snatched a copy of the album they were greeted with the same surprise and suddenly the ‘hidden track’ was spawned. The rest, as they say, is ancient history.