Abbey Road’s lasting effect on music can still be felt 50 years after its release. Widely regarded as being one of the most complete records of any era, the album brings together a selection of now-iconic Beatles songs while symbolising the end of the Fab Four.
Released at a difficult time in the relationship between each Beatles member, John Lennon was vocal in his criticism on the record later in his career as he reflected on a turbulent period of his life. However, Lennon’s initial track-by-track analysis of the album that he conducted on the radio shortly after its release is beyond fascinating.
The album would go on to be a chart-topper in almost every imaginable territory and was critically acclaimed to boot. Lennon would dissect the record with Tony McCarthur who, at the time, was the director of the groundbreaking Radio Luxembourg.
The LP, not specifically remembered as a ‘Lennon record’ despite ‘Come Together’ being the opening track, as George Harrison took the occasion to up to the plate and unequivocally steal the show with his songs ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Something’.
We are going to go through John’s track-by-track analysis and see what he had to say on the seminal record at the time of release.
See the descriptions, below.
McCarthur discusses whether ‘Come Together’ will be the band’s next single, unaware of what the track would later become as it arguably became The Fab Four’s most famous song. However, Lennon says he thinks it will more likely just be a B-Side to “George’s track ‘Something'”, which he calls “the best track on the album”.
On ‘Come Together’, Lennon had this to say: “I think it’s pretty funky, y’know I’m biased because it’s my song but I dig it. It just happened and there’s a nice funky sound on it.”
As mentioned while he discussed the opening track, Lennon is full of praise for ‘Something’ and believed that would become the definitive song from Abbey Road. Lennon then disclosed why he thought the track would be a success in the States: “You know how they always get our records before there out over there in America, they must have a spy in England that sends them the tapes and they were playing ‘Something’ so much because they had an advanced thing of it and they are red hot for it over there.”
Lennon was then asked about how George had made two commercially viable tracks on the album unlike his previous contributions, with John simply replying: “Yeah but they are good commercial, it’s a funky track.”
‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’
‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was written by Paul McCartney rather than by Lennon or Harrison and, reflecting on the number, Lennon described it semi-scathingly as being: “It’s a typical McCartney singalong or whatever you call them.”
Adding: “He did a lot of work on it but I was ill after the accident when they did most of that track and I believe he really drived [sic] George and Ringo into the ground recording it y’know.”
This track marked the only track on the record that Lennon played no part on and it offered up an early insight into what the future of Paul McCartney’s career would look like once The Beatles would come to a close.
The conversation between radio host McCarthur and Lennon diverts away from the track as they get caught up in a chat regarding the future of The Plastic Ono Band, a deviation that for a brief moment doesn’t deliver a song comment that is relevant to the ‘track-by-track’ analysis that they promised.
However, in a 1980 interview with Playboy‘s David Sheff John Lennon said, “‘Oh! Darling’ was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought I could have done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it.”
This number was famously written by Ringo Starr and is one that the drummer also takes up the rare slot of lead vocals on. Lennon said the song is about “being at the bottom of the sea and getting away from it all.”
When McCarthur mentions to Lennon that this is the only Ringo track on the record, Lennon explains: “It’ll be a few years before his production is going as fast as ours, it took George a few years.”
He then jokingly adds: “It’s a Singalong Singalong song.”
‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’
This track, which saw The Beatles adapt to new technology by using the Moog synthesizer, allowed the band to develop sonically and add another dimension to their sound. The risk paid dividends with the song being one of the standouts on the record.
Lennon said this about the Moog as well as the track: “It’s pretty heavy y’know the ending because we used the Moog synthesizer on it. The range from the sound is y’know from minus whatever to way over, well you know you can’t hear it.
“That machine, the Moog synthesizer can do all sound, all ranges of sound, so we did that on the end and if you’re a dog you’ll hear a lot more.”
‘Here Comes The Sun’
Another George Harrison number which Lennon commented: “It reminds me of Buddy Holly in a way.”
McCarthur then brings up how this number is a very different kind of beast to the style that George has written in the past which Lennon agrees with.
Lennon divulged: “It’s just the way he’s progressing, he’s writing all kinds of songs. Once the floodgates have now opened it becomes an effort to concentrate on writing certain types of songs. I’d prefer just writing non-melodic, straight rock but I can’t help writing other things and that applies to all of us, the songs just come out.”
This is a track that featured prominent vocals from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, it’s also seemingly a song which Lennon was filled with pride over at the time.
He discussed what lit his creative spark to create the track, stating: “Yoko plays classical piano and she was playing one day and I don’t know what she was playing, I think it was Beethoven or something so I said give me those chords backwards.”
The Beatles’ medley on Abbey Road was a 16-minute beautiful mess which comprised of eight different short songs which were ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, ‘Sun King’, ‘Mean Mr Mustard’, ‘Polythene Pam’, ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window’, ‘Golden Slumbers’, ‘Carry That Weight’ and ‘The End’.
Lennon was as honest as ever in his appraisal of these tracks, stating: “It was a good way of getting rid of bits of songs that we’d had for years. George and Ringo wrote bits of it literally in between breaks as we did it. Paul would say we’ve got 12 bars here so let’s fill it in, so we’d fill it in on the spot.”
On ‘Sun King’ he added: “It was just half a song I had that I never finished so it was just a way of getting rid of it without ever finishing it.”
Lennon would then go on to discuss how, lyrically, some of the songs link together and tell an overall narrative: “That was just luck y’know, my contribution to it was ‘Polythene Pam’, ‘Sun King’ and ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ so we just juggled them about so they made vague sense.”
Adding: “In Mr Mustard, I say his sister Pam and it was originally Shirley in the lyric so I changed it to Pam to make it sound like it had something to do with it.”
Listen to the record in full, below, with Lennon’s relaxed outlook on the record ringing through your head as you press play on ‘Come Together’ to start your journey through the weird world of Abbey Road.