My previous posting of Long and Winding Road inspired me to dig out another classic Beatles composition. For those who don’t know, the Abbey Road Medley ends side two of the Abbey Road album. It was the last album they recorded.
The medley was apparently McCartney’s idea, although producer George Martin also claimed credit. It seemed an apt end to such a prestigious career. No one was sure whether it would be the last recording, but Harrison later said “it felt as if we were reaching the end of the line.” So the medley presented a great opportunity to showcase their wide talents while tying things up neatly. As the Rolling Stone said: The Abbey Road medley is the matured Beatles at their best: playful, gentle, acerbic, haunting and bonded by the music. Their harmonies are ravishing and complex; the guitars are confident and cutting.”
Despite this praise Lennon dismissed the concept as “junk” claiming that “none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together.” Personally, I’m not sure that’s true. There does appear to be an element of reviewing their career, at least from McCartney. The medley transitions through songs like “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” inspired by an overeager fan during the Beatlemania era, through to the later financial troubles addressed in the superficially upbeat “You Never Give Me Your Money.” The latter was apparently directed at Allen Klein, brought in by Lennon to handle the financial problems that were consuming their time. The song “Carry That Weight” contains a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and features all four members singing the refrain “You’re going to carry that weight a long time.” It’s believed the line was McCartney acknowledging that whatever they do post-Beatles will always be compared to, and unlikely to match up to, what they achieved together. And then there was “The End”. Firstly, the name speaks for itself. Secondly, each member has a solo, which was a nice way to sign-off. Ringo, who disliked drum solos, recorded his with guitar parts which were subsequently muted. Then McCartney, Harrison and Lennon (in that order) took turns to do a two bar solo before repeating three times. If you listen, you can hear their different styles and guitar sounds. The solos were recorded live so it was one of the last times they all played together. After the solos comes a heavy piano part with the profound line “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” All in all, it serves as a fitting end to such a prestigious career…except it wasn’t…
“Her Majesty” originally appeared between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” but McCartney disliked its inclusion and asked for it to be cut. The engineer, John Kurlander, had been told not to throw anything out so after McCartney left he attached the track to the end. The Beatles liked the result and it was included on the album. So despite “The End” building to such a climatic end to their career, it wasn’t the end. And then some time later the previously recorded, but unreleased, Let It Be album was released, so Abbey Road wasn’t even their final album. Despite this, I think Ringo summed it up best when he said “Out of the ashes of all that madness that last section is one of the finest pieces we put together.”