The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road has gone on to become a defining moment in the illustrious career of one of the greatest bands to have ever walked the planet and, to this day, continues to be regarded as one of the finest records ever made. It is one of the band’s rockiest records but across seventeen individual tracks, (yes, we’re counting ‘The Medley’ as their individual songs) we get to see a distillation of everything that made The Beatles great.
It was the band’s eleventh studio album and saw the Fab Four incorporating genres such as blues, rock and pop, a record which also makes prominent use of Moog synthesizer, sounds filtered through a Leslie speaker, and tom-tom drums. It showed a band still desperate to innovate and create, never happy to sit on their creative hands and let them rot idly by. At the time, the group were well aware that this was likely to be their final album and they arguably saved the best until last. Below, we’re ranking the songs of The Beatles seminal album Abbey Road.
One thing that The Beatles have that most other bands could only hope for is a group of quality musicians as well as expert songwriters and wonderful singers. An iconic record on The Beatles’ roadmap, least of all because of its album artwork, it was another moment of creative evolution as all four members took the wheel of the ‘Yellow Submarine; for a turn or two and rallied against the awful recording sessions for Let It Be.
Though the four members of the band, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, were possibly as far apart personally as they ever had been, the album provides a moment to showcase their talent and provide a view of why, despite being individuals, they worked so well together as a group.
Below, we take a close look at the songs that make up that sound and rank them in order of greatness.
Ranking The Beatles album Abbey Road from worst to best:
17. ‘Mean Mr Mustard’
Recorded as a single piece alongside ‘Sun King’, there’s not much to really sink your teeth into with ‘Mean Mr Mustard’. The song was written by Lennon while the band were in India in 1968 and, if you’re not a huge fan of this song then you needn’t worry, Lennon wasn’t much of a supporter either.
Speaking in 1980, he said of the song: “That’s me, writing a piece of garbage. I’d read somewhere in the newspaper about this mean guy who hid five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else. No, it had nothing to do with cocaine.”
16. ‘Polythene Pam’
Re-telling the story of a young Liverpool scrubber, of course with a heavy dose of poetic licence, ‘Polythene Pam’ sees Lennon channelling his inner-poet as he explains in 1980 to Sheff, “That was me, remembering a little event with a woman in Jersey, and a man who was England’s answer to Allen Ginsberg, who gave us our first exposure… I met him when we were on tour and he took me back to his apartment, and I had a girl and he had one he wanted me to meet.”
“He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did. She didn’t wear jackboots, and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag– Just looking for something to write about.”
15. ‘Her Majesty’
Though it may only last 26 seconds, there is something golden and beautiful about ‘Her Majesty’. McCartney said in 1969, “That was just… I don’t know. I was in Scotland, and I was just writing this little tune. I can never tell, like, how tunes come out. I just wrote it as a joke.”
There’s something innocent and joyous about this song that elevates it above the aforementioned tracks. At under 30 seconds, the song is a bit of a throwaway but as throwaways go, it’s a marvellous one.
14. ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’
One of the most infamous songs in The Beatles back catalogue, it’s hard, if you’re a diehard fan, not to equate this song to huge disharmony within the group. It’s a song of Paul McCartney’s creation that showed that the Fab Four were near breaking point.
Meticulously recording and re-recording the song over and over managed to drive even the affable Ringo to breaking point. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2008, he said, “The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad.”
The song may be sonically impressive but lacks in any real joy outside of picking out the instruments.
13. ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window’
A song about the ‘Apple Scruffs’, a group of people who held an ongoing vigil outside the band’s headquarters as well as Abbey Road studios and even the band members’ homes. The song is said to have been based on a genuine incident involving a scruff breaking into his home and stealing a precious picture.
“That’s Paul’s song,” Lennon told David Sheff. “He wrote that when we were in New York announcing Apple, and we first met Linda. Maybe she’s the one that came in the window. I don’t know; somebody came in the window.”
12. ‘Sun King’
Don’t listen to Lennon who routinely called the song “garbage”, ‘Sun King’ is one of the finer moments from ‘The Medley’ that takes up most the second side of Abbey Road. The singer most likely got the song’s title from The Sun King, Nancy Mitford’s 1966 biography of the French King Louis XIV, the song quickly bypasses French and descends into cod-Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
It all adds up to a bit of irreverent nonsense that within the context of the group was always an enjoyable experience. Only this year, McCartney talked of the song and its lyric ‘chicka ferdy’: “There was a thing in Liverpool that us kids used to do, which was instead of saying ‘f-off’, we would say ‘chicka ferdy!’. It actually exists in the lyrics of The Beatles song ‘Sun King’. In that song we just kind of made up things, and we were all in on the joke. We were thinking that nobody would know what it meant, and most people would think, ‘Oh, it must be Spanish,’ or something. But, we got a little seditious word in there!”
11. ‘Octopus’s Garden’
If you’re looking for a silly little ditty that doesn’t mean too much then Ringo Starr has you covered with this childlike nursery rhyme, ‘Octopus’s Garden’. Working as Starr’s second composition, the track was born after Starr had temporarily left the group. “I wrote ‘Octopus’s Garden’ in Sardinia,” the drummer told Anthology.
“Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day… I stayed out on deck with [the captain] and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous, because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar – and we had ‘Octopus’s Garden’!”
10. ‘Carry That Weight’
Recorded as one with ‘Golden Slumbers’ McCartney’s section of side two’s medley is a distillation of his sonic preferences. Lush and perfectly arranged, ‘Carry That Weight’ may well be a small piece but it makes a big impact.
“I’m generally quite upbeat but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can’t be upbeat any more and that was one of the times,” recalled McCartney to Barry Miles. “We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like forever! That’s what I meant.”
9. ‘Golden Slumbers’
“That’s Paul, apparently from a poem he found in a book, some eighteenth-century book where he just changed the words here and there,” recalled Lennon in 1980 and the song certainly has a poetic quality, the title alone is some of Macca’s more intuitive work.
The beginning of the album’s ending, ‘Golden Slumbers’ has a habit of dividing fans. Some see it as a masterpiece of small proportions while others see it as another throwaway. “I was playing the piano in Liverpool in my dad’s house,” remembered McCartney of the track, “And my stepsister Ruth’s piano book was up on the stand. I was flicking through it and I came to ‘Golden Slumbers’. I can’t read music and I couldn’t remember the old tune, so I just started playing my own tune to it. I liked the words so I kept them, and it fitted with another bit of song I had.”
8. ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’
The Medley will go down in Beatles history and this song is one of the key reasons. One of the more well-rounded pieces in the ensemble, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ is the gateway to the medley and offers up a bright vision of what’s to come.
“We wanted to dabble, and I had a bit of fun making some of the songs fit together, with key changes (into the long medley). That was nice. It worked out well,” says McCartney of the idea for the second side of the album.
About the song specifically, Macca told Barry Miles, “This was me directly lambasting Allen Klein’s attitude to us: no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out. It’s basically a song about no faith in the person, that found its way into the medley on Abbey Road. John saw the humour in it.”
The beautiful song ‘Because’ has some serious credentials behind it and it really shows. The song was inspired by Beethoven, as Lennon explained to David Sheff in 1980, “I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano. Suddenly, I said, ‘Can you play those chords backward?’ She did, and I wrote ‘Because’ around them.”
It’s a simply beautiful song with some emotive and clean lyrical content, it’s also a reminder of The Beatles’ early roots as it features a classic three-part-harmony. “The song sounds like ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ too,” said Lennon. “The lyrics are clear, no bullshit, no imagery, no obscure references.”
6. ‘The End’
Aside from the throwaway ‘Her Majesty’ at the end of the album, it is the final song from Abbey Road and is certainly one of the band’s most beautiful moments. Not only in the song, which is tuneful and bodacious at every turn, making use of the orchestra at hand, but also contextually within the band. Aptly titled ‘The End’ it was a clear representation of things to come.
The song is also notable for including one of the only Ringo Starr drum solos on The Beatles entire discography. “Ringo would never do drum solos,” remembered McCartney. “He hated drummers who did lengthy drum solos. We all did. And when he joined The Beatles we said, ‘Ah, what about drum solos then?’, thinking he might say, ‘Yeah, I’ll have a five-hour one in the middle of your set,’ and he said, ‘I hate ’em!’ We said, ‘Great! We love you!’ And so he would never do them.”
Also featuring Lennon, Harrison and McCartney duelling on guitar solos and the entire song sings of greatness.
5. ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’
The track was a slight hangover from the Let It Be sessions, it was the first track to be recorded for the album despite this, it was also one of the final songs on the album to be fully completed. It sees Lennon at his most honest and visceral on the album, “‘She’s So Heavy’ was about Yoko,” recalled Lennon when discussing the song in 1970.
After a reviewer claimed the song to be simple Lennon’s reply was as cutting as ever, “When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream. And in ‘She’s So Heavy’ I just sang ‘I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,’ like that.”
Sonically the track matches up with Lennon’s repetitive lyrics and it adds a certain weightiness to the song that feels in keeping with the singer’s vision.
4. Come Together
Initially written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary as the pro-drugs activist ran for office in California, Lennon recognised the potential of the song and as soon as Leary’s race was cut short made sure to include it as part of their canon. By the time Abbey Road rolled around this track began to be a big signifier of things to come.
At this point in the band’s journey, Lennon was operating almost as a solo artist and comprised this track largely away from the rest of the band. But the song did get changed during the session, “We said, ‘Let’s slow it down. Let’s do this to it, let’s do that to it,’ and it ends up however it comes out,” remembered Lennon at the time. “I just said, ‘Look, I’ve got no arrangement for you, but you know how I want it.’ I think that’s partly because we’ve played together a long time. So I said, ‘Give me something funky and set up a beat, maybe.’ And they all just joined in.”
The song was somewhat similar to a Chuck Berry song and saw Lennon pay off the rock ‘n’ roller in an out of court settlement. When speaking to David Sheff about the track, Lennon said, “It’s funky, it’s bluesy, and I’m singing it pretty well. I like the sound of the record. You can dance to it. I’ll buy it!” (laughs)”.
3. ‘Oh! Darling’
Getting lost in a bluesy number is something that The Beatles can do effortlessly. On this beauty, the Fab Four are in the groove and deliver one of their smokiest numbers of all time. Musically attuned to McCartney’s vocal, the song really hangs on his singing performance.
“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,'” remembered engineer Alan Parsons. “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’.”
It was also a piece of contention between McCartney and Lennon, with the latter suggesting he could sing the song better than his counterpart, “‘Oh! Darling’ was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought that I could’ve done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it. If he’d had any sense, he should have let me sing it. [Laughs.]”
‘Something’ has gone on to typify George Harrison’s songwriting. Not only does Harrison provide one of the most sumptuous lead guitar lines heard in any Fab Four song but his lyrics are rich with authentic emotion.
The track was formed around the line “something in the way she moves” which was adapted from fellow Apple Records artist, James Taylor, and sees Harrison manage to write a perfect love song without falling into the saccharine potholes that can befall so many.
Once dubbed “the greatest love song ever written” by Frank Sinatra, the song remains a shining moment of Harrison’s career and The Beatles too. it was also another moment which proved the Fab Four could never stay together forever.
1. ‘Here Comes The Sun’
Sometimes playing hooky can really work out for you. In ‘Here Comes The Sun’ you have all the proof you need. The song was written in Eric Clapton’s back garden while Harrison avoided laborious band meeting at Apple HQ. It was in this place of frustration that Harrison created one of the most uplifting songs ever written.
“‘Here Comes The Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘Sign that’,” recalled Harrison in Anthology. “Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever; by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go and see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes The Sun’.”
If you ever wanted to start your day correctly then it is a must that this Abbey Road song is the first track you listen to. If it so happens to be a sunny day then you know that everything’s going to be OK.