The Abbey Road Medley at 50 Years: A Perfect Beatles Goodbye

An edited version of this article by Tim Hatfield about the “Abbey Road” medley appears in Beatlefan #242. Here is the unedited version, complete with academic notes and references.

The Beatles' Last Photo Shoot August 1969 (1) copy

I’m a Beatles fan.  There are still a lot of us, and not even all of us are now in their 70’s, as I am.  I’ve been a fan since that Sunday night in February of 1964 when a bunch of guys crowded into our freshman dorm room and watched on the Ed Sullivan Show as they won over an entire nation in mourning after our young President was murdered. I was more of a fan when I got to see the Beatles perform live in Cincinnati – twice! In August of 1964, then two years later when it didn’t matter to me that John Lennon had said in an interview that they were more popular than Jesus.  Objectively, that may have been true, but it teed off a lot of people.  Not me.

 

Flash forward to 2011, when as a recently retired college professor I audited my colleague Paul Vance’s “Beatles as Musicians” course at Winona State University in Minnesota.  He knew that I was still a big fan, and that my favorite Beatles “song” was the medley of songs that made up most of the second side of the Abbey Road album.  And the more I’ve thought about the medley, it has seemed to me that it was a microcosm of the important elements of the Beatles’ complete body of work, as well as a view into some of their history as a group.

 

I’ve let those thoughts about the medley percolate for these eight years, until now, 50 years after the release of Abbey Road.  There were a lot of momentous things going on in the summer of ’69 – Apollo 8 on the moon, Woodstock – so it may have been easy to overlook what would be the final album produced by the Beatles.  But it, too, has left a lasting mark on the culture; it certainly has stayed with me all these years. Let me discuss some of those basic elements from the Abbey Road medley and all the Beatles’ previous albums, with representative examples from both.  The elements will include harmonies and wordplay, unique characters in the songs, and experimentation with instrumentation and multiple musical genres.

 

Background

 

Although Abbey Road was released before the Let It Be album, the work on Abbey Road was done after the chaotic, acrimonious sessions that resulted in Let It Be.  The Beatles were all but finished as a group, and their personal and professional relationships were in tatters.  But it seems that they decided that Let It Be was not the ultimate piece of work that they wanted to leave to the world.  It took assurances from them to their producer George Martin that if he was willing to produce another album for them, they would commit to the kind of true collaboration that had marked their early career.  In a Rolling Stone interview, Martin recalled this: “They said, ‘Let’s try and get back to the way we were in the old days, and will you really produce the next album for us?’ … We were really amicable and really friendly. We really did try to work together” (Greene, 2016). In his 2014 book, Hunter Davies affirmed Martin’s view: “And surprisingly, despite all the chaos and confusion, the splits and splinters in their personal and professional lives, they went out on a high.  George Martin has said he thought it was their best album” (Davies, 2014, p. 333). They did work together; they did go out on a high.  Abbey Road, culminating in the medley, was the Beatles’ final collective gift to the world.

 

Preceding the medley was George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”  Its presence may be indicative of the group’s commitment to a final, inclusive, positive collaboration for the album.  The high quality of Harrison’s work speaks for itself, but throughout the life cycle of the Beatles his contributions were typically considered secondary to the songs of Lennon/McCartney, and often were ruled out of albums even when they were superior to some of the Lennon/McCartney songs that were included instead (e.g., think about the White Album).  So here, the very intentional decision to begin the last side of the last album to be created by the Beatles with George Harrison’s sweet, lyrical reminder that the sun would, indeed, keep coming up and that things would be all right may have been a supportive symbolic statement about George and his work, as well as a heads up that this album was coming from a unified band.  Abbey Road, though including the lengthy medley, is not just an album cobbled together from “Paul songs” and “John songs.” The artful melding of multiple song fragments from both John and Paul, however, resulted in the medley.

 

And, as an aside, I would like to think that I am not the only person who wishes the medley of songs was the last to be produced by the Beatles.  For whatever the reason, though, the impish “Her Majesty” was the final track on side B side of Abbey Road, literally the last song of their last album [Michael Starr’s biography of Ringo mentioned that the song was added by Apple engineer John Kurlander (2015, p. 210)].  But at least “Her Majesty” was playful, it was fun, in a way evoking the playful, fun days early in the band’s career, captured so well in the brilliant film A Hard Day’s Night and evident in every freewheeling press conference during those heady early days when it was fun and exciting to be a Beatle.

 

Harmonies and Wordplay

 

The tight, 3-part harmonies so prevalent in Beatles songs from the very beginning of their career was highlighted in the first sung notes of “Because,” the first song of the Abbey Road medley.

 

Beginning with an extended “Ahhhhhh” over a harpsichord accompaniment, the 3-part harmony was tripled into a 9-voice choir before launching into a series of musical puns, reminiscent of one of their earliest hit tunes, “Please Please Me,” including at the same time some double entendre evoking 60’s pop/drug culture:

 

Because the world is round it turns me on….
Because the wind is high it blows my mind….
Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry (1)

Each of the remaining songs contained moments of the same kind of close harmonizing.  In “You Never Give Me Your Money” this was most evident in the second verse:

 

I never give you my number
I only give you my situation
And in the middle of investigation
I break down

 

“Sun King” opens with another three-part harmony “Ahhhhhh” and the tight harmony continues throughout, until the end when “John reverted to singing gibberish” (Davies, 2014,p. 349).

 

The John and Paul duet to begin “Mean Mr. Mustard” splits into a harmonious “Such a mean old man,” then continues into the second verse when the narrative begins to describe “His sister Pam….”

 

“Polythene Pam” is a John Lennon solo, with harmony in the background vocals, including a “She Loves You”-like “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The following “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” mirrored that form, with Paul singing solo above background harmonies until the layered “Didn’t anybody tell her” to the end of the song.

 

And, true to “The End,” the sweet harmonizing completed the medley with this rhyming couplet:

 

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

 

Prior Harmonies

 

You’re invited to reflect on your own favorite examples of harmonies in Beatles songs, but here I just want to highlight the fact that harmony was, indeed, a core component of the Beatles’ sound throughout their career They clearly didn’t invent harmonizing in vocal music.  For example, barber shop quartets from a century earlier were all about harmonizing.  As young boys living in World War II-era England, the not-yet Beatles must have had some awareness of the Andrews Sisters’ harmonies over the radio.  And as teenaged aspiring musicians, when they were listening to and absorbing every kind of popular music they could get their hands on, the sweet two-part harmonies of Don and Phil Everly (think “Dream”) and others were duly absorbed as they developed their own sound.  But what is significant is that the quality and prominence of the harmonies in the Beatles’ body of work took pop music to another level.

 

“Love Me Do,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and the title track from the Please Please Me album are some early examples of the inclusion of two or three-part harmonies.   “All I’ve Got to Do,” “All My Loving,” “Please Mr. Postman,” continued this on the With the Beatles album, during the early days of the band’s career when their original music was liberally interspersed with covers of other artists’ songs.  Beatles for Sale included “I’m a Loser,” “Baby’s in Black,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “Every Little Thing,” and “Eight Days a Week.”

 

The Hard Day’s Night album notably included “If I Fell,” “I’ll Be Back,” and “Things We Said Today.”  And one year later Help, another album attached to a movie, had the title song, “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Tell Me What You See,” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” as additional examples.

 

During the middle Sixties, when the Beatles began to experiment boldly, they were no less committed to close harmonies. 1965’s Rubber Soul includes “Nowhere Man,” which begins with several bars of a cappella harmony just as the group began “Because” in the medley, as well as “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl, “I’m Looking Through You,” and the haunting “In My Life.”  A year later, Revolver included “Here, There and Everywhere,” “She Said, She Said,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “I Want to Tell You” (the latter of which diverged into more dissonant harmony).

 

The watershed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, while remembered for so much more, stayed true to the Beatles’ harmonies.  “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Lovely Rita,” the refrain in “Good Morning Good Morning,” and the title song and its reprise are good examples.

 

Immediately following in that same year are the title track of Magical Mystery Tour, “Your Mother Should Know,” “Penny Lane,” and the tour de force “All You Need is Love.”

 

1968’s White Album, the two-album set re-released with outtakes in 2018, although containing what seem to be a greater proportion of individual efforts than other albums, does continue the harmony tradition, beginning with the background vocals in “Dear Prudence” and including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Birthday,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Revolution 1,” and “Savoy Truffle.”

 

And even during the interpersonally unharmonious final months of the Beatles, vocal harmony was still very present in their music. “Two of Us,” “I Me Mine,” “One after 909,” and “Get Back,” which also was performed as part of their final live performance on the Apple Records roof, are noteworthy.

 

Prior Wordplay

 

Although not as present in their songs as the harmonizing, the Beatles’ clever use of language also sets their body of work apart from that of other artists.  As above, I am not attempting to provide an exhaustive list of every example of clever wordplay from among the Beatles’ more than 200 songs, but instead representative examples of them.  As mentioned above, this began early in their career.  Indeed, their very name, thanks to creative spelling, morphed an insect into something rhythmic, musical (and, perhaps, influenced the naming of other “animal” groups with alternative spellings – e.g., the Byrds and Monkees).

 

From their earliest albums, the wordplay is present.  One clear example is the repetitive, though different meanings of “please” in “Please Please Me.”  Grammar check software often highlights the redundancy, but the polite adverb “please” precedes the request to behave in a way that satisfies or makes one happy – the second “please.” Concise, clear, creative.

 

Some of the background vocals on Rubber Soul’s “Girl” were even playfully naughty, with a repetitive, staccato “Tit tit tit tit tit tit tit…” underlying this verse:

 

She’s the kind of girl who puts you down
When friends are there
You feel a fool
When you say she’s looking good
She acts as if it’s understood
She’s cool, ooh, ooh, ooh

 

On Revolver, George Harrison’s “Taxman” in just a few seconds skewers the British tax system, which profited greatly from the Beatles’ huge popularity and success:

 

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

 

The following song on Revolver, the melancholy “Eleanor Rigby” describes the title character, one of the many “lonely people,” in this way:

 

Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door

 

John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus” on the Magical Mystery Tour album briefly self-cites “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Lady Madonna” with the lines “See how they fly, Like Lucy in the sky, See how they run.” Repeatedly in the song, as well, there are clever (some would say strange or trippy) language and images, including invented words like “Goo goo g’joob,” “crabalocker,” “textpert,” and “snide” as a verb:

 

Sitting on a corn flake
Waiting for the van to come…
I am the egg man
They are the egg men
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob….

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun

If the sun don’t come, you get a tan

From standing in the English rain….

Semolina Pilchard

Climbing up the Eiffel Tower

Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna….

 

On the same album (and on the flipside of the “I Am the Walrus” 45) Paul McCartney’s “Hello Goodbye,” was an entire song of point/counterpoint words and phrases.  And at the conclusion of the huge collaborative effort on “All You Need Is Love,” broadcast live around the world, John Lennon inserts one of the verses most associated with the Beatles when they first became world famous: “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The White Album may be a highwater mark of Beatles’ wordplay.  It opens with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” which includes a reference to Georgia, one of the republics of the former Soviet Union and now a country, when referring to the desirable girls in the country.  The references to the U.S.S.R. girls are also a clever homage both to the Beach Boys for their earlier “California Girls,” as well as to Ray Charles’ 1960 hit “Georgia on My Mind” (“Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind”).

 

“Glass Onion,” the third song on the White Album, has multiple self-citations of previous Beatles songs.  Indeed, as described in the website TheBeatlesBible.com,

 

“Glass Onion” was John Lennon’s answer to those who looked for hidden meanings in The Beatles’ music. It was a song deliberately filled with red herrings, obscure imagery and allusions to past works. Fully aware of the power of The Beatles’ own mythology, and with a general dislike of those who over-interpreted his work, Lennon deliberately inserted references to “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Fool on the Hill,” and “Fixing a Hole” (Gooden, n.d.).

 

I told you about the walrus and me, man
You know we’re as close as can be, man
Well here’s another clue for you all
The walrus was Paul.

 

I told you about strawberry fields,

You know the place where nothing is real

 

Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet, yeah

 

I told you about the fool on the hill

I tell you man he living there still

 

Fixing a hole in the ocean

 

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” borrowed the colorful language “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra’” from Jimmy Scott, a Nigerian conga drum player friend of Paul McCartney (Goodden, n.d.).  While not qualifying as original clever wordplay by the Beatles, it is one example of the wide net employed by the band to gather ideas for songs during their career.

 

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” also on the White Album, was vilified in some quarters because the assumption was that it promoted the shooting of illicit drugs.  John Lennon stridently denied this, noting that he wrote the song after George Martin showed him a newspaper headline promoting guns (Goodden, n.d.).  And the terrible irony does not escape me that years later John Lennon himself was murdered with a warm gun.

 

Just three songs later in the White Album, Paul McCartney’s gentle metaphor “Blackbird” stood in support of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, when so many people were actively involved in moving beyond “waiting for this moment to arise.”

 

The White Album’s next song also included some biting social commentary about social class in George Harrison’s “Piggies.”  While it opens with the reference to “the little piggies crawling in the dirt,” accompanied by barnyard pig grunts, it quickly morphs to human “piggies,” both poor and rich:
And for all the little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in

And while the lower class ”piggies” are in the dirt, the upper class “piggies” not only keep them there, but ultimately are caught up in their own greed, which can put them at odds with the other “bigger piggies,” even to the point of cannibalizing each other:

Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts?
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt….

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon

 

John Lennon’s “Come Together” on Abbey Road’s A Side reprises his inspired Lewis-Carroll-like wordplay from “I am the Walrus”:

 

Here come old flat top

He come grooving up slowly

He got joo joo eyeball

He one holy roller

He got hair down to his knee

Got to be a joker he just do what he please

 

He wear no shoeshine

He got toe jam football

He got monkey finger

He shoot Coca Cola….

 

The Let It Be album notably includes “Across the Universe,” with the Sanskrit mantra “Jai guru deva, om.”  It is one of John Lennon’s favorite pieces of work because as poetry the words can stand by themselves:

 

Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me

 

Unique Characters

 

Unique, vivid characters were the centerpieces for many Beatles songs, going back to early in their career, and figuring prominently in a couple of the songs in the Abbey Road medley.

 

The two songs in the medley featuring vivid characters refer, in fact, to siblings: Mean Mr. Mustard and “his sister Pam,” Polythene Pam.  Mr. Mustard, a down and out guy, “sleeps in the park…in a hole in the road” while “saving up to buy some clothes” and hiding “a ten-bob note up his nose.”  His sister Pam, on the other hand, a “go-getter,” has a job in a shop and continues to reach out and do kind things for her brother, like taking “him out to look at the queen,” which he thanklessly responds to by “always shout[ing] out something obscene.”

 

Pam, a colorful character in her own right, is “attractively built,” a “killer-diller” when she’s “dressed to the hilt” in her “jackboots and kilt” that can even attract the attention of the “News of the World.”

 

Vivid characters, fully realized in just a few verses of these two songs.

 

Prior Unique Characters

 

Early in their career, when the Beatles’ albums were a blend of some of their original work and covers of songs from other (mostly American) artists, the characters in the songs were typically generic, referred to with personal pronouns (you, she, me) rather than proper names.  This did not diminish the appeal and popularity of the songs by any means – consider “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving,” “Love Me Do,” “What You’re Doing,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “Till There Was You.”  One notable exception was their cover of Arthur Alexander’s 1962 song “Anna,” which was on the Beatles’ 1963 Please Please Me album.

 

This basic pattern continued through the group’s two movie albums, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!  In the former, virtually every song has a reference to an unnamed love object – a special “you,” as in “When I get home to you…,” “I should have known better with a girl like you…,” “If I fell in love with you…,” “You can’t do that.”

 

Although not a universal element in every song on the Help! album, the continued general references to a “you” or a “she” are there, plus one warning to another “you” (in “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl”): “I Need You,” “It’s Only Love,” “You Like Me Too Much,” and “Tell Me What You See.”  As they had done before, the Beatles ended the B side of Help! with an example of a direct loving reference to a woman, thanks to Larry Williams’ 1958 song “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”

 

Beginning later in 1965, with the Rubber Soul album, direct references to characters began to appear more and more in the Beatles’ songs.  The unnamed girl in “Norwegian Wood” was the centerpiece of John Lennon’s storytelling, and Paul McCartney’s “Michelle” directly named the object of his affection, although some have said that the French lyrics in the song were an attempt to impress his real-life love at the time, Jane Asher.  Revolver (1966), although not having received nearly the acclaim of the following year’s Sergeant Pepper, is seen by some as the true beginning of the Beatles’ most creative, groundbreaking period.  And in Revolver, besides the generic narrative about a greedy “Taxman,” there were two narrative songs about specific characters.  One, the lonely figure “Eleanor Rigby,” is fictitious.  The other, the drug-friendly M.D. “Doctor Robert,” also may be fictitious, but over the years there has been significant speculation about whether he was an actual person (Rybaczewski, n.d.).

 

The monumental Sergeant Pepper album in 1967 (Rolling Stone called it the best album of all time) (Runtagh, 2017) was replete with direct references to specific characters, beginning with the title song.  John Lennon’s son Julian’s drawing of an elementary school classmate inspired the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as well as the controversy about whether it was a veiled ad for LSD (Runtagh, 2017).  The story of a runaway girl was the impetus for making her the haunting “she” of “She’s Leaving Home.”  A 19th century poster describing an entertainment provided all the details for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”  A parking meter maid, “Lovely Rita,” starred in that song.  And multiple newspaper articles provided the material for, arguably, one of the most famous popular music songs of all time, “A Day in the Life.”

 

The Beatles’ meditation retreat in the Indian ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga proved to be a very generative time for material for the 1968 double White Album.  “Dear Prudence” was about the shy younger sister of Mia Farrow, also present at the ashram.  The lead character in “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” was another attendee, who told the story of his tiger hunt.  “Mother Nature’s Son,” though not named, was inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures about nature (Goodden, n.d.).  “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” told the story of Desmond and Molly Jones, he with a “barrow in the marketplace” and she as a “singer in a band” as they build a life together.  And “Sexy Sadie” (check the cadence when changing the lyric “Sexy Sadie” to “Maharishi”) reportedly is about the Maharishi himself, a reflection of John Lennon’s ultimate disillusionment with the man.  Other songs in the album referred to actual persons from the Beatles’ life experiences.  “Martha My Dear” is seen by some as a means of Paul McCartney’s working through the breakup with his longtime girlfriend Jane Asher, although McCartney said years later that it was about his pet sheepdog. And the beautiful “Julia” is John Lennon’s tribute to his mother, who died when he was a boy.  The iconic title character of the “Hey Jude” single, perhaps the most famous concert singalong song of all time, was Paul McCartney’s empathetic gift to a very young Julian Lennon after after his parents’ divorce. On Abbey Road’s A Side, the murderous Maxwell Edison cut a wide swath with his now-famous silver hammer.  Finally, the Let It Be album included “Maggie Mae” as well as “Get Back,” about Jojo as well as Loretta Martin, she of the high heeled shoes and the low-neck sweater.

 

Experimentation with Instrumentation and Musical Genres

 

The Beatles are an object lesson of the importance of being students of all types of music, and of continuously integrating their learning into their body of work.  This not only involved their writing and performing different types of music, but also their ongoing inclusion of very diverse instrumentation.  Early naysayers about the Beatles pointed out that they were “just another” band with three guitarists and a drummer.  True enough.  But while most bands remained within the rigid confines of that model, for the Beatles it was just a point of departure for the many places their creative genius took them, culminating in the Abbey Road medley.  As will be pointed out in the next section, some examples of diverse instrumentation can be traced back to some of the Beatles’ earlier work, and accelerated significantly beginning in 1965. The same can be said for the inclusion of very diverse musical forms.  Indeed, when writing about the White Album alone, Jon Parales’ piece (2018) cited a raft of musical genres:

 

The album’s variety is its own statement of purpose, extending the “Sgt. Pepper” idea that the Beatles’ music was no longer bound by format, era, or style.  The songs confidently acknowledge and parody influences and peers: blues, country, doo-wop, parlor songs, 1920’s jazz, psychedelia, musique concrete, orchestral easy listening, Baroque harpsichord, bossa nova, Jamaican bluebeat, English brass bands, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys.  For the Beatles in 1968, it all was fair game (p. C6).

 

“Because,” the first song in the Abbey Road medley, is perhaps most memorable for its harmonizing rather than for any complicated instrumentation.  A harpsichord, Moog synthesizer, and very unobtrusive guitar and bass provided the accompaniment for the song, inspired by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  “Yoko was playing Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and John asked her ‘to play some of the chords in the reverse order – and the resulting sounds inspired him to write ‘Because’ ” (Davies, 2014, p.347).

 

“You Never Give Me Your Money” begins with a piano solo before the first two verses, after which the song abruptly changes tempo and style to a vaudevillian sound through the mention of “that magic feeling,” accented by chimes.  The song ends with the repeated child-like “One two three four five six seven, All good children go to heaven,” a channel marker bell (an homage to the harbor in their native Liverpool?), and the chirping of crickets, another example of musique concrete introduced earlier in their career.

 

“Sun King” – a reference back to George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” which immediately precedes the medley?  The initial lyric is identical, plus the additional word “king.” – veers into playful pidgin Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and invented language that John Lennon described in this way:

 

We just started joking, you know, singing “quando para mucho.” So we just made up, ah, Paul knew a few Spanish words from school, you know.  So we just strung any Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something. And of course we got “chicka ferdy” in. That’s a Liverpool expression…(Giannella, 2010).

 

A brief drum riff bridges “Sun King” into the first of three consecutive narrative songs performed with no additional instrumentation to the Beatles foursome, just as they had at the beginning of their career.  “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” describe the characters and the situations on some detail, before giving way to the much more florid, complex rock band with symphonic backup structure of the remainder of the medley.  “Polythene Pam’s” final lyric even revisits the Beatles’ earliest successful days, reprising the iconic “Yeah, yeah, yeah” from “She Loves You.”

 

“Golden Slumbers,” which Hunter Davies (2014) noted began with two original lines by Paul McCartney, then referenced a 1603 poem by British writer Thomas Dekker (p. 354), is more reminiscent of the Beatles’ increasing complexity as a group beginning in the mid-1960’s.  After some brief piano chords preceding the initial lyric “Once there was a way,” a string ensemble is introduced, to be joined in the following “Carry That Weight” and “The End” by a brass section and timpanist which swelled the ranks of the total musicians to more than 30.  Chan (2009) noted in his extensive Beatles World website that the session musicians played 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 1 string bass, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 bass trombone, and timpani.  Midway through “Carry That Weight” the orchestra reprises the “You Never Give Me Your Money” theme, with additional accompanying lyrics by the Beatles.

 

The melodic bridge to “The End” is followed by three brief lines of lyrics, then solos by each of the Beatles, including the first ever by Ringo:

 

For the first and only time on a Beatles record, Ringo played a drum solo, reluctantly, on “The End,” the album’s last track (notwithstanding the twenty second “Her Majesty,” added by Apple engineer John Kurlander) (Starr, 2015, p. 210).

 

As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of “Her Majesty” after the medley does not negate the power of medley’s concluding rhyming couplet, followed by a final harmonious “Ahhhhh” (mirroring the initial harmony in “Because”) over the guitar and orchestral crescendo. Davies (2014), like myself, believes this is a potent career-ending moment for the Beatles:

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make

 

Paul said he wanted to finish, like the Bard, with a couplet, then exit left.  Interesting that he went out on words, with a final lyrical flourish.  Words did matter to them (Davies, 2014, p. 355).

 

In addition, the critical importance of the concept of love in the Beatles’ body of work underscores the significance of the “love couplet” being the final statement by the group.  Other writers have explored the pivotal nature of the theme of love in all its forms in the Beatles’ music – innocent young love, yearning love, joyful love, unrequited love, lost love.  And it is no coincidence that the wildly successful Beatles partnership between George and Giles Martin and the Cirque du Soleil is called, simply, LOVE.

 

Prior Experimentation with Instrumentation and Musical Genres

 

Even in the “three guitars and drums” early Beatles albums there was some additional instrumentation, in part because George Martin, their producer, collaborator, and an excellent keyboardist, had their backs.  On the Please Please Me album, Martin inserted piano riffs on “Misery” and “Please Please Me,” as well as celesta fills on “Please Please Me” and “Baby It’s You.”  Also on that album, John Lennon played the harmonica on “Chains,” “Love Me Do,” and, most memorably, in the introduction to “Please Please Me.”

 

With the Beatles, also out in 1963, also included George Martin, both on a Hammond organ (“I Wanna Be Your Man”) and piano (“You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Not a Second Time,” and John Lennon’s cover of Barrett Strong‘s “Money”).

 

1964’s Hard Day’s Night was another step forward, beginning the title track with a robust, memorable chord, and including a 12-string guitar and spritely electric piano solo. “I Should Have Known Better” began with an extended harmonica riff.  The undergirding drone-like piano on “Any Time at All” brought another new sound, and the very prominent acoustic guitar on “And I Love Her,” “Things We Said Today” and “I’ll be Back” did likewise.  Finally, George Harrison also played a 12-string guitar on “You Can’t Do That.”  That same year Beatles for Sale included some country and western covers, their own “Baby’s in Black” which was also country influenced, and on “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” experimented with double-tracking John Lennon’s vocal.

 

During this time besides their EMI records in Britain, Beatles songs also were released on a series of Capitol Records in the USA.  This is mentioned here because on one of them, Something New in 1964, the German version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from the group’s Hamburg days was included.  Although there are only a handful of Beatles songs with some lyrics sung in languages other than English, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” is the first.

 

1965 was a pivotal year in the Beatles’ evolution as musicians, with the release of both the Help! and Rubber Soul Albums.  The title track of Help!, released at the time of their second film of the same name, began in the Capitol version with a big band flourish that included a sitar, then launched into a brief cover of the theme from the James Bond movies before the Beatles sang one word.  The song itself early on took the form of a layered round of lyrics:

 

When…

When I was younger, so much younger than today

I never needed…

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

Now…

And now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

And now I find..

And now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors….

 

“The Night Before,” the second song on the album, began with a major electric piano riff over the guitars.  The album includes another covered country tune, “Act Naturally,” sung by Ringo, and a skiffle-influenced song “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” sung by Paul.  And in a first glimpse of things to come on future albums, Paul’s mournful “Yesterday” included the accompaniment of a string quartet.

 

Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood” includes very prominent sitar work by George, the unique, very audible deep intakes of breath (toking?) by John on “Girl,” and several verses sung by Paul in French, as mentioned earlier, on “Michelle.”

 

1966’s Revolver, seen in retrospect by some as the true creative breakthrough for the Beatles as opposed to the more acclaimed Sergeant Pepper a year later, begins with a grunted “One, two, three, four, one, two” before the biting “Taxman” critique begins. The next song, “Eleanor Rigby,” is a chamber piece, with an ensemble of violins, viola, and cello taking the place of all the traditional rock band instruments.  Immediately following is George Harrison’s “Love You To,” demonstrating the influence of his interest in Indian music with the inclusion of traditional Indian instruments sitar, tambura, and tabla to go with the guitar and bass.

 

Changing gears completely, the sweet “Here, There, and Everywhere” is spare and harmonious, with some of the only discernible percussion being the Beatles’ gentle finger snaps near the end of the song.  What could be considered a children’s singalong song, “Yellow Submarine,” follows, and includes an oom-pah band interlude and a musique concrete channel marker bell (like the intro to “Sun King”) plus verbal commands being given and received by the submarine crew members.  “She Said She Said,” inspired by an actual trippy experience with an American actor at a California party, featured intricate sitar-like electric guitar work by George.

 

Side 2 of Revolver begins with “Good Day Sunshine,” featuring George Martin’s introductory piano chords and spritely honky-tonk piano solo.  “For No One” is another chamber piece, with Paul playing bass, piano, and clavichord; it also includes counterpoint and a long solo on a French horn.  “Got to Get You into My Life” incorporates a trumpet introduction and trumpet and saxophone riffs.  And finally, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is both very Indian influenced, avant garde, and conceptual.  Both the sitar and tambura were on display, along with lyrics inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, plus a variety of musique concrete nature sounds and tape loops, played both forward and backward.  As a conceptual piece to complete the Revolver album – i.e., to have it revolve completely — the guitar solo from “Taxman,” the first song on the album, is played backwards on “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Vance, 2011).

 

“Rain,” the B side of the Beatles single “Paperback Writer,” also produced in 1966, included both slowed tape loops and a backwards voice track of some of John Lennon’s lyrics.

 

What Revolver foretold of the Beatles’ intense focus on studio creativity, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band transformed into an art form that popular music had never experienced before.  The conceit that the Beatles were no longer the Beatles, but instead a different band altogether, was in and of itself, a new form of popular music.  Beyond that, there were no limits as to musical genres, instrumentation, and orchestration.  The “new” band was introduced on the title track as if it were in concert, preceded by the murmuring of an audience as they launched into their self-introductory song, complete with four French horns backing them up.  This was followed with “A Little Help from My Friends,” sung by Ringo (or his alter ego, Billy Shears) and the controversial “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which the Beatles steadfastly maintained was not an LSD song.

 

“Fixing a Hole,” about a mundane home repair, utilized harpsichord accompaniment, and the haunting “She’s Leaving Home” harked back to Baroque chamber music with a chamber ensemble of violins, violas, cellos, double bass, and harp taking the place of guitars, bass, and drums [A good friend reminded me that when Sergeant Pepper came out, the American composer Ned Rorem said “She’s Leaving Home” was “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote,” and that Leonard Bernstein likened the Beatles to Robert Schumann (The Telegraph, 2000)].

 

The content of the last song on the A side of the album, “Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was lifted almost verbatim from an antique 1843 poster found by John Lennon, and the Beatles’ standard instruments are augmented with two different organs, bells, tape loops, glockenspiel, and harmonium.

 

George Harrison’s only song on the album is the first track on side 2 of Sergeant Pepper.  “Within You Without You” follows in the footsteps of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an homage to George’s continued interest in Indian music and spirituality.  With the exception of overdubbed strings, only Indian instruments (and no participation by the other three Beatles) were used on the more than five minute track, accented at the end by a musique concrete laugh track to lighten the mood of the piece (Goodden, n.d.).

 

“When I’m Sixty-Four” was in stark contrast, an old-fashioned British music house-sounding song with a clarinet duet introduction and flourishes, plus a well-placed chime.  “Lovely Rita,” the next song, included all the Beatles playing combs with paper, a memorable honkytonk piano solo by George Martin, and some playful musique concrete moaning and groaning by the band at the end of the track.

 

An even more pronounced inclusion of musique concrete immediately followed, with the crowing of a rooster to announce “Good Morning, Good Morning.”  Two saxophones, a trombone, and French horn were featured, Paul contributed a particularly savage guitar solo, and considerable time and effort was put into the musique concrete section at the end of the song, which ended with a chicken’s cackling, John’s whispering “Bye,” and a countdown into the reprise of the title track.  The recording engineer Geoff Emerick reported that John Lennon had requested

 

the sound of animals escaping and that each successive animal should be capable of frightening or devouring its predecessor! So those are not just random effects, there was actually a lot of thought put into all that…[it] features a cat, dogs barking, horses, sheep, lions, elephants, a fox being chased by dogs with hunters’ horns being blown [author’s note: and, thanks to headphones, the sound of the pounding horses’ hooves running right through your head], then a cow and finally a hen (Goodden, n.d.).

 

The reprise of the title track, a more up tempo version than the first song on the album, segued directly into what many consider (and what many others have written about in detail) the Beatles’ creative masterwork, “A Day in the Life.” It was a true collaboration of Lennon and McCartney, the melding of two quite different songs (not unlike the combining of partial songs for the Abbey Road medley) with what amounted to a full symphony orchestra to augment the band.  The languid reading of the news of the day by John, on the one hand, coupled with the peppy, practical recounting of the beginning of the day by Paul, on the other hand, made for a unique, if not revolutionary pop song.  The transition between the two, a growling crescendo after the first “I’d love to turn you on” and the ringing of an alarm clock, was mirrored at the end of the song, again following “I’d love to turn you on,” by a huge, cacophonous ascending crescendo ending in a resonating piano chord that took almost 40 seconds to fade out, then silence, then ten rapid repetitions of “Never could be any other way” as a second fade-out.

 

Magical Mystery Tour, begun just days after the completion of Sergeant Pepper, was for a TV movie of the same name.  Four trumpets played flourishes on the title track, and a flute and a recorder were included in the instrumentation for “The Fool on the Hill.”  The instrumental “Flying” featured John on mellotron, with the all four Beatles chanting “ahhhhhhhh” for the incidental music for the movie.

 

George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” featured him on Hammond organ, which was double tracked in part.  “Your Mother Should Know” is an homage to the old Busby Berkeley music-house tunes, heavily keyboard influenced with both organ and piano.”

 

“I Am the Walrus” had a major string section, clarinet, French horns, and 16 additional backup singers comprising the ensemble for the trippy lyrics and the lengthy symphonic fade out accompanied by taped conversational voices.

 

“Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” variations on the theme of childhood places remembered by Lennon and McCartney, respectively, were quite different stylistically and considered by some to be competitive pieces by the two songwriters.  “Strawberry Fields” began and ended with the mellotron and was dreamy/avant-garde/psychedelic in tone, with a false ending followed seconds later by cacophonous swirly-sounding mellotron, trumpet, and snare.  It was one of the favorite songs that John Lennon wrote.

 

Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane,” immediately following, is in stark contrast: an upbeat remembrance of a boyhood street, the barber shop there, and the mundane goings-on of the neighborhood.  Also heavily orchestrated with woodwinds and horns, it has a memorable little riff of tubular bells by Ringo preceding an extended piccolo trumpet solo.

 

The final track on the album is “All You Need is Love,” recorded in the summer of 1967, and arguably the song heard in live performance by the most people in history (some estimates were as high as 400 million) because it was performed on a satellite feed to the TV networks of 25 nations late in June of that year.  A symphonic ensemble played several bars of the national anthem as the introduction to the song – not “God Save the Queen,” but France’s “Marseillaise” – and for the live broadcast a rock Who’s Who including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, and Keith Moon were at Abbey Road studio singing along with the chorus. The conclusion of the song was a long fadeout that included trumpet and saxophone flourishes, strings playing the main theme of “Greensleeves,” the repetitive “Love is all you need” lyric, and two reprises of the iconic “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The White Album, previously cited as a major repository of Beatles lyric wordplay, also has several noteworthy examples of divergent instrumentation and musical genres.  “Martha My Dear” begins with a McCartney piano exercise, and has a British music hall sensibility and a major interlude by a brass band, including a tuba.  “Blackbird,” on the other hand, is a spare production, with McCartney’s acoustic guitar accompaniment to his single voice track.  “Piggies” features a harpsichord and is interspersed with musique concrete pig grunts throughout. “Yer Blues” truly was a primitive blues song with very basic instrumentation by the four Beatles, and even recorded in a tiny, acoustically imperfect room at Abbey Road to enhance the raw feel.

 

“Helter Skelter” was an effort to make a loud, primitive, raw rock and roll song, and succeeded to the point that at the end of the song Ringo’s final utterance was “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”  The Beatles were pleased with how the song came together; but, unfortunately, the chaotic song also was picked up as a motivating anthem by the notorious psychopath Charles Manson and his family of killers.

 

“Honey Pie” revisits the old music hall/vaudeville style of “Martha My Dear,” even to the point of engineering an old-fashioned megaphone-tinged voice with the verse “Now she’s hit the big time,” overlaid with the scratchy sounds of early phonograph records.  A jazzy 1920’s-sounding saxophone and clarinet interlude completed the package.

 

“Revolution 9,” the longest track on all the Beatles albums, was arguably also the most controversial in that it was the most obvious departure from their popular sound into the avant-garde.  It was totally comprised of tape loops — music, conversations, crowd noises and chants, random sounds, a car crash — played forwards and backwards in a chaotic manner.

 

And as chaotic as “Revolution 9” was, the White Album ends with John Lennon’s sweet, lushly orchestrated lullaby for his son Julian, “Good Night.”  Sung by Ringo, and with no instrumental or vocal input from the other Beatles and no traditional rock band instrumentation, the gentle lyrics were accompanied by the orchestra and a group of back-up singers.

 

Finally, when comparing Side A of Abbey Road with the medley, it would be inaccurate to say that the medley reprised the Beatles’ previous body of work.  Although many of the song fragments that were stitched together into the medley had been written previously, the album in its entirety was crafted in the summer and fall of 1969.  Still, the harmonies and wordplay, the vivid characters, the diversity of styles were also evident throughout Side A – the staccato lyrics of “Come Together”; George Harrison’s love song “Something”; “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” the unlikely upbeat tune about a psychopathic killer; McCartney’s soulful, bluesy “Oh! Darling”; the kids’ song “Octopus’s Garden,” sung by Ringo; and the dense, relentless “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

 

To come full circle, all the elements were evident in the brilliant Side B medley.

 

The Medley as a Window into the History of the Beatles as a Group

 

This final section should be considered simply speculative, not comparative as the rest of this piece has been.  At the risk of appearing to take part in the kind of parlor game of ferreting out hidden meanings in Beatles lyrics that John Lennon particularly despised, I would like here to point out several parts of the medley that may point toward the group’s real-life experience.  In most cases I am taking the lyrics quite literally, and invite the readers to consider which historical connections from the medley they themselves think may be most valid.

 

“You Never Give Me Your Money” has been discussed in the literature previously, however.

 

You never give me your money

You only give me your funny paper

And in the middle of negotiations

You break down

 

I never give you my number

I only give you my situation

And in the middle of investigation

I break down

 

Interpersonal issues aside, it is well known that the business side of the Beatles/Apple enterprise was a major headache for the band members, particularly after the death of their manager Brian Epstein.  They were artists, not accountants or business managers, and their frustration with the “corporate” side of being Beatles was frustrating at least, if not debilitating for the band’s continued viability.

 

The next section of the same song changes focus:

 

Out of college, money spent

See no future, pay no rent

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go

 

I associate this with the band’s early days, especially during their time in Hamburg, working long hours for little money, but with open-ended time to work on their craft and to be creative, which kept their hopes up so that, despite having “nowhere to go” they still had “that magic feeling”:

 

But oh, that magic feeling

Nowhere to go

Oh, that magic feeling

Nowhere to go

Nowhere to go

 

The bridging guitar section of the song moved them forward toward the hoped-for success:

 

One sweet dream

Pick up the bags and get in the limousine

Soon we’ll be away from here

Step on the gas and wipe that tear away

One sweet dream

Came true today

Came true today

Came true today (Yes it did)

 

Their dream did become a reality, they did graduate from gritty subsistence living in Hamburg and playing at the Cavern in Liverpool to limousines, jets, and unimaginable worldwide acclaim and success.

 

The “Mean Mr. Mustard”/Polythene Pam”/”She Came in through the Bathroom Window” section of the medley was simply story-telling from the band’s experience.  The former was based on a person in a news story; the second on a woman from the Beatles’ club days; the third on an actual incident that happened to Paul.

 

“Golden Slumbers” makes me wonder about the band’s wish/need to get back to a more simple, restful, “real” life, away from all the Beatles hype and the madness inherent in such a public life.  Could that have been the “homeward” cited here?:

 

Once there was a way to get back homeward

Once there was a way to get back home

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

Golden slumbers fill your eyes

Smiles awake you when you rise

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

Once there was a way to get back homeward

Once there was a way to get back home

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

A more simple, peaceful life could have been considered “golden,” with a lullaby appropriate for a new period of life, now in its infancy.

 

“Carry That Weight” seems to me so transparently to relate to the crushing weight of fame that the Beatles had to face increasingly as their career progressed.  The constant scrutiny, the ever-increasing expectations for them to come up with brilliant “next things,” the second-guessing of everything they said and did, had to be a significant counterpoint to the material success, the glitz and perks of being so successful and famous.

 

Boy, you gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

 

The melody of “You Never Give Me Your Money” reappears here, and to me seems to link the interpersonal weight of the Beatles existence with the previously-cited joyless business side of being Beatles.

 

I never give you my pillow

I only send you my invitation

And in the middle of the celebrations

I break down

 

Offering someone “my pillow” implies a more personal, even intimate relationship; sending “my invitation” is more formal, businesslike.

 

And while the world at large is still celebrating the Beatles and their creative influence and greatness, wasn’t it clear by now to the band members themselves that the group was dying, on borrowed time, “breaking down?”

 

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

 

The reprise of the “carry that weight” chorus, given what came before in the medley, not only reinforced the enormity of the burden of fame, but also could have been sung with the knowledge that, with the disbanding of the group, the burden was about to be lifted.

 

It is fitting, then, that the next, last song of the medley is “The End.”

 

Oh yeah, all right

Are you gonna be in my dreams

Tonight?

 

Given all that the Beatles had been through together, how could they not have been in each other’s dreams?  And on balance, despite the feverish, acrimonious final months of the group before intentionally coming together for their final positive collaboration on Abbey Road, the dreams would be positive, not nightmarish.  And the repeated “Love you, love you” verse immediately preceded what I would like to think is akin to the kind of extended jam that the Beatles doubtless spent hours doing as they got to know each other when they first came together as a group.  Each band member – even, as noted earlier, the reluctant Ringo – played an extended solo, until their love for each other and their legacy to the world – love – was enshrined in the couplet that completed the medley:

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

1     Unless otherwise noted, throughout the paper many of the lyrics were downloaded from Chan, D. (2009).  Dale Chan’s Beatles World. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.thebeatleshk/MIDILyrics/Albums.html or Davies, H. (2014). The Beatles lyrics. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

 

2     Unless otherwise noted, throughout the paper information about instrumentation in Beatles songs was downloaded from Goodden, J. (n.d.). The Beatles Bible: Not quite as popular as Jesus. Retrieved May 20, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.beatlesbible.com  

 

3     The author is very grateful to his talented musician friend Rich MacDonald for very astute and helpful clarifications about musical concepts and definitions.

 

References

 

Chan, D. (2009).  Dale Chan’s Beatles World. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.thebeatleshk/MIDILyrics/Albums.html

 

Davies, H. (2014). The Beatles lyrics. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

 

Giannella, M. (1993 and revised 2010).  The Beatles: Information for hardcore collectors of Beatles music.  Retrieved September 4, 2014 from the Worldwide Web:  http://beatlesong.info/mg/sun_king_deciphered.html

 

Goodden, J. (n.d.).  The Beatles Bible: Not quite as popular as Jesus.  Retrieved May 20, 2019 from the Worldwide Web:  http://www.beatlesbible.com

 

Greene, A. (March 13, 2016).  Beatles Producer George Martin Dead at 90. Retrieved March 13, 2016 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/beatles-producer-george-martin-dead-at-90-20160309

 

Pareles, J. (2018, November 8). Deep inside the White Album, 50 years later. New York Times, p. C 6.

 

Runtagh, J. (2017, May 18). Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” at 50: Remembering the Real “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Retrieved February 19, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/beatles-sgt-pepper-at-50-remembering-the-real-lucy-in-the-sky-with-diamonds-121628

 

Rybaczewski, D. (n.d.).  Beatles music history: The in-depth story behind the songs of the Beatles!  Retrieved April 24, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.beatlesebooks.com/dr-robert

 

Starr, M. S. (2015).  Ringo: With a little help. Milwaukee, Wi: Backbeat Books.

 

The Telegraph, “Comment” (September 10, 2000).  “The Beatles: Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.” Retrieved September 4, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/4254793/The-Beatles-Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da.html

 

Vance, P. (2011, March 15). Lecture: Undergraduate course The Beatles as Musicians. Winona State University, Winona, MN.

 

 

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1 Response to The Abbey Road Medley at 50 Years: A Perfect Beatles Goodbye

  1. Kathy Urbanic says:

    Wonderful insights!

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