By Dave Thompson
Despite such promising beginnings, the sessions were not carefree, at least this early in.
Engineer Phil McDonald informed Lewisohn, “You didn’t want to get involved, but people would be walking out, banging instruments down, not turning up on time and keeping the others waiting three or four hours, then blaming each other for not having rehearsed, or not having played their bit right.”
Recording “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” according to Lennon, was an especial chore — and he wasn’t even present for the session. He had recently been involved in a car accident and was still recovering at the time, “ … but I believe [Paul] really ground George and Ringo into the ground recording it. We spent more money on that song than any of them on the whole album, I think.” And what did they get out of it? Looking back from the mid-1970s, Lennon sneered, “a typical McCartney single, or whatever.”
It was only as the album came together and the quartet realized just how monumental it was becoming that, as Harrison later explained, “Things got a bit more positive. We did actually perform more like musicians again.”
“It was a very happy record,” producer George Martin agreed. “I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last.”
Overseeing the sessions, Martin himself was allegedly still smarting over his virtual exclusion from many of the Let It Be recordings.
He could not, however, resist McCartney’s request that the Fab Five reunite to make an album “like we used to,” and though he would again be absent from several of the upcoming sessions, it is clear that he had a lot of magic to bring to the proceedings. He too had surely tired of the art-for-art’s sake cleverness that characterized The Beatles’ last two full albums; the countless hours spent scouring the EMI sound-effects library in search of another sound or effect that nobody had ever heard before, while John and Yoko made unintelligible noises in the guise of modern art. Abbey Road would indeed be made just like they used to.
“Let It Be was such an unhappy record that I really believed that was the end of The Beatles, and I assumed I would never work with them again,” George Martin later said. “I thought, ‘What a shame to end this way.’ So I was quite surprised when Paul rang me up and said, ‘We’re going to make another record, would you like to produce it?’ My immediate answer was, ‘Only if you let me produce it the way we used to.’ He said, ‘We will, we want to.’ ‘John included?’ ‘Yes, honestly.’ So I said, ‘Let’s do it’.”
“Abbey Road was a kind of Sgt. Pepper mark two,” Martin would continue. “It was innovatory, but in a more controlled way, unlike The Beatles [the White Album] and Let It Be which were a little beyond control.” A happy medium, then, which made for a very happy album.
With Chris Thomas filling Martin’s shoes on the occasions when he was not in the studio, the Moog-heavy “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was followed into the can by McCartney’s tribute to the harmonic pop of a decade before, “Oh! Darling,” and the latest product of Starr’s wacky pen, the aquatic whimsy of “Octopus’s Garden.”
The album was clearly taking shape, then; the only question was, what would that shape ultimately be? At this point in time, The Beatles had still to formulate any cohesive form for Abbey Road. Indeed, a report in Rolling Stone in September 1970 (that is, a full year after Abbey Road was released) insisted that an entirely different LP had been in the works, one which was to be titled Hot As Sun and whose full contents remain the stuff of speculation, as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Don’t Let Me Down” were joined by such titles as “Proud As You Are,” “Dirty Old Man” and “Zero Is Just Another Even Number.” “The Beatles Album No-one Will Ever Hear,” announced the headline, and while the putative title track would reappear as a brief instrumental on McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney, it has remained that way.
According to the story that followed, the tapes for the album were either lost, erased or stolen, and it really doesn’t matter that the entire tale was a fabrication, originally published in Elektra Records’ Touch magazine and written by Bruce and Steve Harris. It entered Beatle lore regardless, and the fiction continues to this day, on the Web site www.beatlemoney.com.
Speculating upon what might have happened had The Beatles not actually broken up, the site sees Hot As Sun piece together “tracks from Paul’s and Ringo’s [first solo LPs] as well as preview tracks from John’s and George’s pending solo albums … trying to capitalize on a rumored lost album discussed in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. [EMI] wanted to release it in time for Christmas. The Beatles blocked this effort, but a few hundred were pressed for The Beatles Fan Club and the music press.”
Yes, it’s all a joke. But where fantasy leads, reality will quickly follow. The Japanese bootleg label Junk Headz has since released an album titled Hot As Sun featuring (admittedly mistitled) versions of all the songs cited in the original report, plus a clutch more from the same period, and another LP’s worth of bonus “outtakes.” Suffice to say, the songs you’ve never previously heard of tend to be jams and snippets from the Let It Be sessions, and the remainder are nothing that you don’t own already. But it’s a fascinating collection all the same: “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” / “Don’t Let Me Down” / “Hot As Sun” / “Junk” / “Polythene Pam” / “Octopus’s Garden” / “I Should Like To Live Up A Tree”/ “Zero Is Just Another Even Number” / “What’s The New Mary Jane” / “Dirty Old Man” / “Proud As You Are” / “Watching Rainbows.” All of which would indeed have made a fascinating album. But The Beatles had far greater things in store.
Among the manifold rumors and legends that populate Beatle-land, one of the most pervasive is the suggestion that John’s original vision for the album would have segregated his songs on one side, and McCartney’s on the other (with, presumably, Starr and Harrison’s contributions squeezed someplace in between). “Even before they began,” engineer Phil McDonald told Lewisohn. “I remember John saying [that].”
Somewhere around the beginning of May, however, the notion of presenting one full side of the album as a medley hove into view. It appears to have first been mooted by George Martin: “The segues were my idea, to have a continuous piece of music. Wherever possible, we would design a song that way.” Once the idea had been floated, however, McCartney leaped upon it; indeed, it is often reported that he originally envisioned linking the entire album in that fashion, as The Beatles’ riposte to the Who’s recently unveiled Tommy rock opera.
In any event, less ambitious heads prevailed, and a compromise was arrived at, a decision that placed the medley on Side 2 and all of the songs recorded so far onto Side 1. There they would be joined by the protracted silliness of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (recording of which began July 9) and the correspondingly sinister “Come Together” (July 21). In the meantime, work began on the medley, or “the Long One,” as the band referred to it during its gestation.
The first and, for a couple of months, the only song recorded for this ambitious suite (on May 6) was “You Never Give Me Your Money,” a song that McCartney wrote around the band’s dealings with their newly acquired business manager Allen Klein. McCartney told his biographer Barry Miles, “This was me directly lambasting Allen Klein’s attitude to us: no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out. It’s basically a song about [having] no faith in the person. John saw the humor in it.”
Despite this promising start, however, it would be early July before the band truly got to work in earnest, as “Her Majesty,” “Golden Slumbers” and another anti-Klein composition, “Carry That Weight” (beginning July 2), “The End” (July 23), “Sun King” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” (July 25), “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” (July 28) and, finally, “Because” (Aug. 1) were all coaxed into being.
The side, and therefore the album, would then be completed with the addition of another Harrison song, “Here Comes The Sun,” which they began tackling early into the medley sessions, on July 7. With remixing, rerecording and overdubs taking place often within a day or two of the original recordings, and the medley itself being constructed beginning July 30, Abbey Road was finally declared complete Aug. 25, 1969, five days after the final actual recording session, completing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on Aug. 20. The LP would be in the shops exactly 31 days later; the four Beatles would never be together in the studio again.