Welcome to the fourth and last article of my “Beatles series”. From their early Liverpool days to the Germany tour, from performing with leather jackets on to performing in proper suit and tie with identical hairstyles, The Beatles has gone through many things. The firing of Pete Best and inclusion of Ringo Starr which changed the Beatles sound, also talking about their drug filled days and drug filled albums like ‘Rubber Soul‘ and ‘Revolver‘ which created a legacy. After that, shedding some light at ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘ which defined this band’s greatness. I’ve tried to cover all the important elements of this band but still there will be some interesting stories and turning points that might’ve been left behind. So If you feel like there’s something I should’ve included in my articles, please write it in the comments. Now, let’s get talking about the last years of The Beatles…
Just like ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ which were released in 1967, Beatles came up with another record breaking single in August 1968. ‘Hey Jude’ is maybe the most famous song by the Beatles. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon-McCartney, this song was originally written as a lullaby for Lennon’s son Julian. Paul understood what Julian was going though while his parents were getting a divorce. Cynthia had found out about John and Yoko Ono’s affair, so the fights and custody battles were hard on little Julian. In the first version it was called as Hey Jules(as in Julian) but Paul changed it to ‘Jude’ when the band started recording it cause it sounded better. The songs is very mellow and Paul’s voice with amazing backing vocals by Lennon and Harrison makes this song one of the sweetest and beautiful song by the Beatles. Paul starts the song with simple chord progression of F C and Bb after which the whole band joins in but the most delightful parts comes at the last bridge in which the whole band mumbles which I really can’t really explain here. Listen to the song and you’ll understand all about it.
Now let’s talk about the album which helped The Beatles to solidify their place in Hall Of Fame…
Abbey Road (1969)
It is one of the longest album by the Beatles, it had 17 songs and the total time length of 47:02 minutes! Side two of this album had a 16-minute long medley of short songs which were incomplete or exempted from past albums (how cool is that).
Like every other Beatles album even this one got instant commercial success. Till date Abbey Road remains one of the Beatles’ best-selling albums. Though most of the critics believes ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd is the greatest music album ever, on the other hand many also think that ‘Abbey Road’ is the closest second or even neck and neck with Pink Floyd’s masterpiece. That being said, I’m not a music critic and I’m not even worthy to criticise or compare Beatles work with any other so listen for yourself and write me in the comments.
And not only its music but even the album cover of this project is regarded as the most iconic one ever (before you blast off, ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana is surely the most recognizable one, but ‘Abbey Road’ is slightly more ‘iconic’). This was the first Beatles album cover without the name of the band, in fact without any kind of word on it. It was just four bandmates walking on the Abbey Road. Regarding the album cover John Kurlander (sound engineer) said, “It was around July, someone joked that the four of them should take a private plane over to the foothills of Mount Everest to shoot the cover photograph. I don’t remember who suggested ‘Look, I can’t be bothered to schlep all the way over to the Himalayas for a cover, why don’t we just go outside, take the photo there, call the LP Abbey Road and have done with it?’ That’s my memory of why it became Abbey Road: because they couldn’t be bothered to go to Tibet and get cold!”. While Geoff Emerick who was long time member of the Beatles group had something interesting to say about this:
In in an interview Geoff says, “For people who don’t know the geography, they’re actually walking away from the EMI Studios – or Abbey Road Studios, as everybody knows it now. This was intentional on their part – they didn’t want to be seen as walking toward the studio. When I saw that photo, I did think to myself, ‘They’re sending a message, maybe it’s the end.’
Each song from Abbey Road is extraordinary, Octopus’s Garden had sweet guitar licks by Harrison and Ringo’s sleek vocals. In fact, the last four albums by the Beatles at least had one song in which Ringo was the lead singer. ‘Golden Slumbers’ has one of the most the beautiful vocals by Paul, but since nowadays we take the word ‘beautiful’ very lightly, I’m going to say that Paul’s vocals in Golden Slumbers is out of this world…
‘Here comes the sun’ is maybe one of the most recognizable song ever and it was written by George Harrison, fun fact about this song: Harrison wrote this song in Eric Clapton’s garden while evading to go to business meeting of the Band. And “Something” was the second song which was written and composed by Harrison in Abbey road and both of these songs got tremendous critical acclamation, so you could say ultimately Harrison reached or got the same level of recognition as Lennon-McCartney’s writing. In this album Harrison even made a revolutionary use one of newly invented Moog Synthesizer, this instrument could make all sorts of sounds in all sorts of range. You could hear the sound of this newest technology in songs like ‘The End’, ‘I Want You’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. It gave a very different feel to the album cause no one had listened to these kind of sounds.
Let’s talk about Ringo’s contribution in this album:
Drummers from all over the world still look up to Ringo’s drumming in ‘Come Together’, ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’, ‘I Want You’ and the solo in ‘The End‘. Many think that Ringo Starr was much underrated and this album definitely proves them right. Drumming in this album and of course in past albums was so tight and compound that many just didn’t took notice, because it merged so beautifully with the songs. Somewhat Starr’s full potential was not recognized in the Beatle era or in the ‘60s. Here a link to the video in which some of the most famous drummers of our time talks about Ringo’s style and his influence on them. I personally don’t think that Ringo was just the ‘lucky one’, he had so much to offer and maybe he just didn’t mind Lennon and McCartney getting all the attention. Though while recording ‘The White Album’ Ringo left the band for two weeks because he thought he wasn’t playing great and felt like an outsider in the band. While the band broke up in 1970, you could see the signs of conflicts in 1968. Usually I don’t make assumptions and write about it, but I think during and after ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band‘ Paul had somehow restricted the musical freedom of the group and that’s why Ringo was not able to express his drumming style in those last years of Beatles. This is clearly my assumption which I hope doesn’t offend anyone.
I’ve another opinion related to this album- maybe ‘White Album’ is the most “rock” project by the Beatles but Abbey Road has the most “rock” song by the Beatles, which is “I want you (she’s so heavy)”. It was kind of progressive-rock song which in itself created a new genre. Lennon wrote this song which was based on his relationship with Yoko Ono. Final editing of this song was done on 20 August 1969 and this was the last day that all four members of the Beatles were together in a recording studio. Abbey Road was released on 26th Sept 1969 and by that time John had announced his departure from the Beatles to the band mates. Shattered by John’s exit, Paul went to his family farm in Scotland. And there, after being followed by ‘Life’ magazine reporters he told them “The Beatles thing is over” but no one took that statement seriously. Though no official announcement was made till March of 1970, people knew something was wrong among the Fab Four. Finally on 10th April 1970 Paul officially announced that he was exiting the Beatles. Evocative’
I’m really glad that Abbey Road was the last album that they recorded together. Because I didn’t want them to end this beautiful journey with ‘Let It Be’, an album which was recorded while many altercations in the band and without the full commitment for the project.
Personal Favorites: Come together, Octopus’s Garden, I Want You(She’s So Heavy), Here Comes the Sun, Golden Slumber, The End and Her Majesty(especially for the guitars)
Let It Be(1970)
Though recorded before Abbey Road, ‘Let Is Be’ was released later and this is the last ever Beatles album released. Recordings of this album started in early 1969, soon after the release and great success of ‘The white Album’, there was a time gap between that where Beetles were without any new concept or material to work on. So Paul suggested going back to the roots, when they used to play in small clubs. Period before the Beatlemania, before all the drugs and conflicts among the band. “The idea was that you’d see the Beatles rehearsing, jamming, getting their act together and then finally performing somewhere in a big end-of-show concert,” McCartney recalled in Anthology.
But the nostalgic feel and the magic that Paul was hoping for didn’t happen, nor while jamming or while creating and recording the new songs. By the second week of Get Back/Let It Be rehearsals Harrison quits the band because he was fed up with being ridiculed by John about the lyrics and Paul’s dictatorial musical directions. Reportedly after this Lennon said they should call in Eric Clapton in place of Harrison since “He’s just as good and not such a headache”. Many believed that Harrison’s flourishing songwriting skills is one of the main reason behind the band’s breakup, because John and Paul were not able to adjust with it. Still Harrison returned to Get Back/Let It Be rehearsals after other agreed to some of his demands. And just like that the “big end-of-show concert” which Paul had imagined was canceled because Harrison was not up for it. Instead they performed at the rooftop of Apple’s headquarters, they filmed and recorded the whole set and till date that is one of my favorite Beatles performance. Here’s one of the version of “Don’t Let Me Down” that they performed on the rooftop.
As I told you, while recording Let It Be a lot of tension in the group, but for a brief period that tension was gone. When the American keyboard player Billy Preston was invited by Harrison to join them for some sessions, everyone was very relieved by the entry of new musician in the group. “He got on the electric piano,” Harrison later recalled. “And straight away there was 100 percent improvement in the vibe in the room. Having this fifth person was just enough to cut through the ice that we’d created among ourselves […] Everybody was happier to have somebody else playing, and it made what we were doing more enjoyable.” Preston played with the Beatles for several of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Lennon was so impressed by him that he proposed adding him in the band but Paul declined the idea. Preston also accompanied the band for its rooftop concert and his playing in Don’t Let Me Down got huge applause from the critics.
Though many believe that this album was not up to par with other creations by the Beatles, still it had some great songs. Across the Universe was maybe the most imaginative and expressive song that was written by John Lennon, lyrics were very much influenced or related with the group’s time in Rishikesh and meditation. The repeated use of ‘Jai Guru Deva‘ suggests many meanings like ‘power the the divine god’ or Lannon’s way of remembering Maharshi’s favorite phrase ‘all glory to the guru’. The song had great spiritual feel which was which was complemented with equally great melody, in with Rolling Stone, Lennon referred to the song as perhaps the best and most poetic lyric he ever wrote.
Another great song “I Me Mine“, which was written by George Harrison was the final song recorded by the bickering Beatles in January 1970, while John was holidaying in Denmark other three Beatles recorded this song with engineer Phil Spector. Lyrics of this song is very powerful, you could clearly comprehend that Harrison is talking about how egocentric person had became or is becoming and the eternal problem of selfdom. The bass, blues part in the middle and the cello and violin at the end gives this song an emotional and powerful feeling. Author Jonathan Gould says that this song was taunt to selfishness of John and Paul by George Harrison, reason behind why it was properly recorded by Phil Spector was that during the filming John and Yoko Ono were dancing on this song. You may feel like I’m writing more about the fights and breakup of the Beatles rather than focusing on the album, but the reality is that this whole album is about that only. The fight, ego clashes, musical conflicts and the end of The Beatles.
As you know Let It Be was recorded before the Abbey Road but the reason why it was released latter was the fraction among the group while recording it. Because of all the arguments, they abruptly ended this project and with that the idea of live television appearance and a concert was also scrapped off. But there was significant amount of video tapes and sound recording of Get Back a.k.a Let It Be sessions. So Beatle gave all the material to Phil Spector to get something out of it. But before this thing could get completed Beatles convinced George Martin to start and record Abbey Road (which was finished before Phil could finish up with Let It Be project). So this is why Let It Be is technically the last album which was release by The Beatle but Abbey Road is truly the last album that was recorded by The Beatles. Read more about Let It Be here...
Personal favorites: Let It Be, I Me Mine and Across the Universe
Before I end this article and my four part series about The Beatles, I would like to mention the role of George Martin and why he is famously called as the ‘Fifth Beatle’. George Martin is legendary English record producer and sound engineer. He started his career by working in BBC’s classical music department and after that joining EMI records. In EMI he started as assistant to Oscar Preuss who was the head of EMI’s Parlophone Records at that time. He became part of the band when someone introduced him to Brian Epstein(manager of The Beatles), and by the second meeting George was very impressed by Epstein’s enthusiasm about the band so he signed them.
George Martin acted as band’s music arranger, producer and as a mentor to the ‘Fab Four‘. Since George had some experience recording comedy albums and novelty records Beatles were very impressed by him and respected him a lot. At the time Beatles were in early 20’s and had no idea about the music business. George Martin contributed in many ways in the success of the Beatles. Not only he guided them in the music business, he also gave inputs in the songs. Playing piano in their first album Please Please Me to suggesting the string quartet in legendary Beatles songs like Eleanor Rigby and Penny Lane, George helped in creating the famous “Beatles sound”. George left the EMI in 1965 but still worked with them in some capacity, he has also worked with many other artists like Elton John, Kenny Rodgers, Gary Brooker and with bands like The Dakotas, The Actions, Little River Band and Cheap Trick.
And just like George, even Brian Epstein and Geoff Emerick played very important part in the success of The Beatles. Brian Epstein was like the guardian for the Beatles. He kept them away from the bad press, looked after the business and their interests, even handled the investments of the Fab Four. He was part of the inner circle because he was with the Beatles from the start, in 1961 when the band had no official manager and no one was interested or hyped up about that job, he stepped in to manage them. He gave them the chance to work with George Martin and get signed by EMI which was one of the biggest record company at that time. On the other hand Geoff Emerick joined the gang a little late. In 1966 EMI appointed Geoff as the sound engineer for the Beatles when he was only 20 years of age. He shaped the Beatles in their second half of their career with all the crazy and innovative styles of recording the songs, his phenomenal work on Sgt. Pepper’s lonely Hearts Club and Abbey Road is class apart and big credit goes to him for making these two of the most successful albums by the band.
In the end I’m just going to say that we’re immensely lucky to be living in the era in which we can listen to the songs by The Beatles. Fab Four shaped the modern day music industry, hundreds of musicians look up to this legendary band while millions were and still are being influenced by their music. I guess Beatlemania is still on and getting bigger everyday…
Stay tuned for more!