September 26, 1969– Abbey Road, the last recorded album by The Beatles, is released.
Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album by The Beatles, meaning that the recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Although Let It Be is the final album released by the band, most of that album had been recorded before the Abbey Road sessions began.
The unusual double A-side single from the album, Something and Come Together, was released a few days later, topped the Billboard Charts in the USA and Britain.
It was a perfect ending to a landmark career, with the band still in its prime, capable of amazing songwriting and recordings by any measure.
The Beatles wanted to come back after the serious downer of the Get Back sessions, which, nearly a year after they had finished recording, still couldn’t be constructed into an album that the band could get behind. So, they returned to the studio on Abbey Road in the summer 1969, with no idea of what they would do. They weren’t getting along, their musical interests had split in four ways; John Lennon didn’t really want to continue with The Beatles; Paul McCartney did, but only on his terms. It seems that they all sensed that this would be the end. But, what a way to go out.
The Beatles and their producer George Martin had a mastery of the studio that was undeniable. Abbey Road still sounds fresh and innovative 48 years after it was released. Even if it’s basically a McCartney and Martin album, as you tell from on the famous 16-minute second-side medley, everyone in the band is in top form. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was conscious of being important, and Let It Be strained to be significant (and they both have greatness), but Abbey Road doesn’t have misstep or throw-away in any of its 10 tracks.
Lennon’s I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and McCartney’s Carry That Weight are about the atmosphere at Apple Records. It was “heavy”. Heavy was a word that was used during that era: “Heavy, man”. They are balanced by George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, the bright, optimistic first track on side-two.
Side one ends with McCartney’s Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Ringo Starr’s Octopus’s Garden, two silly, charming songs in The Beatles tradition of silly, charming Beatles songs. But, side two is something new. A suite of songs runs from You Never Give Me Your Money through Her Majesty and it feels like The Beatles signing-off in a grand fashion. From the bits and pieces of songs that had piled up, McCartney and Martin pieced together a song cycle bursting with light and hopefulness, and this glorious stretch of music moves away from all the bad vibes that had built up over the previous two years. From The Sun King to Lennon’s witty fragments Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam (with Mustard’s lyric about “sister Pam” melding the pair of pieces), and the one-climax-after-another sequence of She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, and Carry That Weight, the nine fragments add up to so much more than the sum of their parts.
It just feels warm and wondrous. And then, the perfect finish: a song titled The End, with alternating guitar solos from John, George, and Paul and a nice drum solo from Ringo. It was a sweet and appropriate curtain call from a band that just a few years earlier had been four lads from Liverpool with more confidence than skill. This is how to finish a career. It was also the end of the 1960s.
The Beatles never record another album together. But, they were still young men: Harrison was 26-years-old, McCartney was 27, Lennon was 28-years-old, and Starr was 29. The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, had been released six and a half years before. Twelve studio albums and dozens of hit singles, that’s a lot of weight to carry for a short amount of time.
Abbey Road was unique among The Beatles’ albums. It doesn’t have the band’s name nor the title on its front cover. It’s just the four members pictured walking away from the Apple Studios. The iconic photograph was taken by Iain Macmillan, a friend of Lennon and Yoko Ono; he died in 2006, taken by cancer at 67-years-old.
In the background an American tourist, Paul Cole, is pictured standing next to a police van. Cole was unaware he was pictured on a Beatles album cover until years later. The Volkswagen Beetle parked on the other side of the road was sold at auction in 1986 for $33,000, and is currently on display at the Autostadt Museum in Germany.
Fans knew that The Beatles recorded most of their music at the studios on Abbey Road, but the release of the album made the building and the street famous. The marked pedestrian walkway is a favorite destination for tourists, with countless photographs being taken of fans following in The Beatles’ footsteps. There is now a webcam so you can see the crossing at any time.
The artwork and cover have been given homage by Kanye West, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 1993, McCartney adapted the original artwork for his album Paul Is Live.
McCartney wore sandals for the first two shots taken Macmillan, but afterwards took them off and walked barefoot. This was one of the clues in the “Paul Is Dead” urban legend, which began as soon as the album came out.
There were three more clues on the front cover:
The order in which The Beatles walked was said to be reference to a funeral procession: Lennon dressed in white as a priest; Starr in a black suit as an undertaker; McCartney being barefoot, as corpses were buried; and Harrison as a gravedigger. McCartney is also out of step with the others and has his eyes closed. He is pictured holding a cigarette with his right hand. But, it was well-known that he was left-handed, suggesting that the man in the picture was an impostor.
A VW has the license plate LMW 28IF. LMW for “Linda McCartney weeps” and 28IF was referring to McCartney’s age if he had lived. Except that in 1969, he would have been 27-years-old.
On the back cover, some people claimed to see the Grim Reaper cast as a shadow on the wall next to The Beatles’ name.
Abbey Road entered the albums chart at number one, and remained there for 11 consecutive weeks. It was bumped by The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed for a week in December, but came back to number one for six more weeks and spent a total of 81 weeks in the charts.
It was the best-selling album of 1969, the fourth best-selling of 1970, and the fourth highest-selling of the entire decade of the 1960s. In the first six weeks, four million copies of Abbey Road were sold worldwide, with a further million by the end of 1969. It was the first The Beatles album to sell more than 10 million copies.
Abbey Road has remained in print since its first release. The album continues to be reissued on vinyl.
“And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love