In a newly unearthed recording from 1969, the Beatles’ principal songwriters discuss tentative plans for a follow-up to their final LP Abbey Road, a revelation that shifts the canonical narrative of that album’s recording sessions and the band’s eventual break-up.
The tape — which dates back to September 8th, 1969, two weeks before Abbey Road‘s release — features a contentious conversation between John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison at Apple headquarters in London’s Savile Row. With Ringo Starr hospitalized and undergoing tests for intestinal issues, his bandmates talk about recording another album and a potential single for the Christmas market.
“Ringo, you can’t be here, but this is so you can hear what we’re discussing,” Lennon says in the audio, which Beatles author-historian Mark Lewisohn played for The Guardian. The singer proposes that each principal songwriter — Lennon, McCartney and Harrison — contribute four songs apiece to their next record, with Starr allotted two “if he wants them.” He also references the “Lennon and McCartney myth,” likely arguing the pair should retire their longtime on-paper partnership and credit their own songs individually.
In response, McCartney challenges the idea that Harrison carries equal songwriting weight. “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” he says on the recording. Harrison — who contributed two of his most iconic tracks, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” to Abbey Road — fires back, “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.”
Lennon notes that no one else in the band “dug” McCartney’s quirky Abbey Road track “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and argues that his bandmate should donate material in a similar vein to outside performers, including the Welsh folk artist Mary Hopkin. McCartney maintains that he recorded the song “because [he] liked it.”
Lewisohn — who has written multiple Beatles books, including the acclaimed 1988 tome The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years — utilizes the audio in his upcoming stage show Hornsey Road, which traces the band’s final run using tape, film, photographs, memorabilia and new audio mixes.
As the author told The Guardian, the recording bucks the traditional view that the Beatles recorded Abbey Road as their resilient swan-song after the notoriously fraught Let It Be sessions. “It’s a revelation,” he said. “The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high. But no – they’re discussing the next album. And you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up, but when you hear this, he isn’t. Doesn’t that rewrite pretty much everything we thought we knew?”
A Super Deluxe 50th anniversary Abbey Road reissue featuring unreleased takes and demos is out September 27th via Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe.