23. 'Abbey Road Medley'
Recorded: May 6-August 18, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
Not released as a single
The original idea was McCartney's, but George Martin claimed that the final triumph of the Beatles' life as a recording band — the eight-song medley dominating Side Two of Abbey Road — was at least partly his. "I wanted to get John and Paul to think more seriously about their music," the producer said. "Paul was all for experimenting like that." McCartney, in fact, led the first session for that extended section of the album — on May 6th, 1969, for "You Never Give Me Your Money," his deceptively sunny indictment of the business nightmares at Apple Corps.
Lennon was a lot less interested in the medley, although he contributed some of its most eccentric parts, like the sneering "Mean Mr. Mustard" and the quick, funky put-down "Polythene Pam." He subsequently dismissed the concept as "junk" in Rolling Stone, saying that "none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together."
He was right in one sense. The 16-minute sequence — veering from "Money" and the luxuriant sigh of Lennon's "Sun King" to McCartney's heavy-soul shard "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and the sweet lullaby "Golden Slumbers," and closing with McCartney's famous prescription in "The End" ("The love you take/Is equal to the love you make") — has no narrative connection. But 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. "We were holding it together," McCartney said proudly. "Even though this undercurrent was going on" — a reference to the pressures and differences that had been pulling them apart since the White Album — "we still had a strong respect for each other even at the very worst points."
The Beatles recorded the sections of the medley at various times, out of order, during the July and August 1969 sessions for Abbey Road. "Mean Mr. Mustard" dated back to early 1968. The lingering hysteria of Beatlemania cropped up in "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," which was inspired by an overeager fan. But the emotional heart of the suite was the financial woes that were consuming the Beatles' energy and were on the verge of bankrupting them. Lennon was instrumental in the hiring of Allen Klein, the business manager of the Rolling Stones, to straighten out the books and the chaos at Apple Corps; McCartney wanted the band to hire Lee and John Eastman, his future father- and brother-in-law. McCartney admitted that "You Never Give Me Your Money" was "me directly lambasting Allen Klein's attitude to us — all promises, and it never works out."
Later, in "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" (the former with lyrics copied from a lullaby published in 1603), McCartney returned to the theme of exhaustion. "I'm generally quite upbeat," he said, "but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can't be upbeat anymore, and that was one of those times. 'Carry that weight a long time' — like forever!"
The swapping of guitar solos in "The End" was a band brainstorm. Harrison thought a guitar break would make a good climax. Lennon suggested he, Harrison and McCartney all trade licks. McCartney said he'd go first. Coming after Starr's first and only drum solo on a Beatles record, the scorching round-robin breaks — with Harrison in the middle and Lennon at the end — were cut live in one take, a last blast of natural brotherhood from a band only months from splitting.
"I didn't know at the time that it was the last Beatles record that we would make," Harrison said of Abbey Road. "But it felt as if we were reaching the end of the line."
"Out of the ashes of all that madness," said Starr, "that last section is one of the finest pieces we put together."
Appears On: Abbey Road