100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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'Come Together'
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9. 'Come Together'

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: July 21-23, 25, 29 and 30, 1969
Released: October 1, 1969
16 weeks; no. 1

"Come Together" originated as a campaign slogan for Timothy Leary, who was running for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in the 1970 election. The LSD guru and his wife, Rosemary, were invited to Montreal for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Bed-In" in June 1969, and they sang along on the recording of "Give Peace a Chance" (and were given a shout-out in the lyrics). Lennon asked Leary if there was anything he could do to help his candidacy.

"The Learys wanted me to write them a campaign song," Lennon told Rolling Stone, "and their slogan was 'Come together.'" He knocked out what he called "a chant-along thing," and Leary took the demo tape home and aired it on some radio stations.

But Lennon decided that he wanted to do something else with the lyric he had started, rather than finish the Leary campaign song. "I never got around to it, and I ended up writing 'Come Together' instead," he said. When he brought his new song in for the Abbey Road sessions, it was much faster than the final version and more obviously modeled on Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" — the opening line, "Here come old flat-top," is a direct lift from Berry's 1956 recording. (Shortly after the release of Abbey Road, Berry's publisher charged the Beatles with copyright infringement; the case was settled in 1973, with Lennon agreeing to record three songs owned by the company — two Berry songs on the Rock 'n' Roll album and Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" on Walls and Bridges.)

Paul McCartney had a few suggestions for how to improve the song, as he recalled in The Beatles Anthology: "I said, 'Let's slow it down with a swampy bass-and-drums vibe.' I came up with a bass line, and it all flowed from there." Lennon said that the "over me" break at the end of the chorus began as an Elvis parody. The lyrics are a rapid-fire pileup of puns, in-jokes and what he called "gobbledygook" that he made up in the studio. The message was clear when he cried out at the end of the second verse, "One thing I can tell you is you got to be free." But for Lennon, the hypnotic rhythm was the most important thing: "It was a funky record — it's one of my favorite Beatles tracks. It's funky, it's bluesy, and I'm singing it pretty well."

After the antagonism of Let It Be, it was almost impossible to imagine the band returning to this sort of creative collaboration. "If I had to pick one song that showed the four disparate talents of the boys and the ways they combined to make a great sound, I would choose 'Come Together,'" George Martin said. "The original song is good, and with John's voice it's better. Then Paul has this idea for this great little riff. And Ringo hears that and does a drum thing that fits in, and that establishes a pattern that John leapt upon and did the ["shoot me"] part. And then there's George's guitar at the end. The four of them became much, much better than the individual components."

"Come Together" was the final flicker of this rejuvenated spirit: It was the last song all four Beatles cut together.

Appears On: Abbey Road

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