Beatles Didn’t Intend Abbey Road as Final Album
The Beatles mythology is dispelled by a tape recently unearthed by rock historian Mark Lewisohn.
“And, in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take,” the Beatles harmonized on the penultimate song of their last album, Abbey Road. But a new tape shows the band wanted to add to the equation. The story of the band is well-known even to the most casual Beatlemaniac and the common mythology maintains the group went into the studio fully intending to record a proper farewell. But the tape, found by Mark Lewisohn, captures the band planning further output, according to The Guardian.
The tape was made Sept. 8, 1969, two weeks before Abbey Road was released. It captures a band meeting between John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison at Apple headquarters in London’s Savile Row. It was recorded for Ringo Starr, who was in the hospital getting checked for intestinal issues. The subject was the band’s next album and a possible single for they could get ready in time for Christmas.
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“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,” Lewisohn told The Guardian. “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?”
The meeting, caught on Lennon’s tape recorder, opens with him saying “Ringo, you can’t be here, but this is so you can hear what we’re discussing.” The band’s future looks promising as Lennon suggests splitting up the songwriting pies into more equal slices for subsequent albums. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison would get four songs each, and Starr would get two “if he wants them.” McCartney balks at giving Harrison an equal share of the vinyl.
“I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” McCartney is heard critiquing. “That’s a matter of taste,” Harrison responds. “All down the line, people have liked my songs.” During the Let It Be sessions, McCartney vetoed Lennon’s idea of adding Billy Preston to the band full-time because “four Beatles were enough.” Those sessions, which were filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the band’s final film, caught the Beatles disintegrating into separate parts. Lewisohn says the band “were in an almost entirely positive frame of mind” while recording Abbey Road. “They had this uncanny ability to leave their problems at the studio door – not entirely, but almost.”
On the tape, Lennon says “silly” songs like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which no one in the band “dug,” should be given to other performers, like Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkins, who’d recently recorded McCartney’s song “Goodbye.” Lennon asks whether McCartney even liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” “I recorded it because I liked it,” Paul says.
Lennon also suggests breaking up the “Lennon/McCartney” songwriting credit, which he calls “the Lennon-and-McCartney myth.”
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The tape is a part of Lewisohn’s upcoming stage show Hornsey Road. Early recording sessions for Abbey Road were held at Olympic in Barnes and Trident on Hornsey Road in London’s Soho district. The show will tell the story of the album using tape, film, photos, new audio mixes of the music, anecdotes and memorabilia. “It’s a story of the people, the art, the people around them, the lives they were leading, and the break-up,” Lewisohn told the Guardian. The stage show was inspired his appearance as the keynote speaker at a three-day symposium on the Beatles’ White Album at a university in New Jersey.
Lewisohn is one of the world’s most trusted authorities on the Beatles, who he calls “the Shakespeare of the 20th century.” He reputedly can say what any member of the band was doing on any given day in the 1960s. He wrote the book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, a history of their EMI Recording Studios sessions. He also helped research the band’s own Anthology book in the mid-90s.
His research uncovered the existence of a recording of McCartney’s avant garde piece “Carnival Of Light,” as well as evidence of the Japage Three, a band name Lennon, McCartney and Harrison performed under in 1958. He found a letter the band’s original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, wrote in Hamburg in 1960, suggesting McCartney “turned out the real black sheep of the trip.”
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Lewisohn is currently writing the musical analysis trilogy The Beatles: All These Years. The first volume, Tune In, which covered the band from formation through early recordings, was published six years ago. Turn On will cover the 1963 to 1966 period, and Drop Out will take readers from 1967 to 1969. He says those volumes may not come out for years.
Though Let it Be was the last album the Beatles released, Abbey Road was the band’s final recorded studio album. The sessions took place during the year McCartney married Linda Eastman, Lennon married Yoko Ono and used their honeymoon as peace protests, and Lennon released the single “Give Peace a Chance” with the Plastic Ono Band. It was also the year the Beatles split their decision on new management. Brian Epstein, their manager, died in 1967, and by 1969 three Beatles wanted to have Allen Klein handle their affairs, while McCartney wanted his father-in-law John Eastman.
The Beatles will reissue Abbey Road, remixed from the original multi-track tapes by Giles Martin, son of George Martin, on September 27, 2019 for the 50th anniversary.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.