The Beatles‘ Abbey Road 50th anniversary celebration dawns with the debut of a new “Here Comes the Sun” music video. George Harrison‘s song opens side 2 of the 1969 album, which was named for the studio it was recorded in. The sun at the center of the music video, which was directed by Alasdair Brotherston and Jock Mooney of Trunk Animation, was filmed in Abbey Road’s Studio Two.
Harrison wrote the song on an acoustic guitar in the garden of Eric Clapton’s “Hurtwood Edge” home in Ewhurst, Surrey, which was about a half hour drive from George’s “Kinfauns” home, according to his 1979 book I Me Mine. Sessions for the “Get Back” album (which became Let It Be), were tense, and Apple Corps, the Beatles’ business organization, was getting to be too much “like school.” Harrison “sagged off” his business obligations to get away from “dopey accountants.”
Clapton had famously played lead guitar on the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and recently collaborated with Harrison on “Badge.” The instrumental portion of “Here Comes the Sun,” is similarly structured to the Cream song. Harrison also likened the song to his song “If I Needed Someone,” which was inspired by the Byrds adaptation of “Bells of Rhymney.” John Lennon favorably compared “Here Comes the Sun” to Buddy Holly, and was publicly elated at Harrison’s growth as a songwriter.
Harrison shared his first songwriting credit with Lennon for the instrumental “Cry for a Shadow,” which the band recorded in Hamburg, Germany in June of 1961 during sessions backing up singer Tony Sheridan. Harrison’s first official Beatle song was “Don’t Bother Me,” off the With the Beatles album, which was released as Meet The Beatles! in the U.S.
According to an audio tape the band recorded for a post–Abbey Road album, Lennon was thrilled enough to bring up awarding Harrison an equal share of four songs on each album the group would release going forward. Paul McCartney balks on the tape, saying “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” which Harrison chalked up as “a matter of taste.” The Beatles recorded but rejected Harrison’s songs “All Things Must Pass” and “Not Guilty” which would later appear on his solo records.
There are only three Beatles on “Here Comes the Sun.” Lennon was recovering from a car crash which happened while on vacation with Yoko Ono, his son Julian, and her daughter Kyoko. Lennon may not have been on the song itself, but he shortened a title of one of his own songs to “Sun King” to accommodate Harrison’s masterpiece.
The initial rhythm track was laid down at London’s EMI Studios on July 7, 1969. Harrison sang the guide vocal and played an acoustic guitar with a capo on the seventh fret. McCartney played bass and Ringo Starr was on drums. They got it down in 13 takes, probably because of the intricate time changes. The song starts in straight 4/4, but veers through measures of 11/8 and 7/8. In Martin Scorsese‘s 2011 documentary Living in the Material World, Starr remembers Harrison telling him “‘Oh, I’ve got this song. It’s like seven-and-a-half time.’ He might as well have talked to me in Arabic.”
Harrison actually got his inspiration for the wandering beats from the classical music of India. The video for the song makes liberal use of Hindu imagery as it does of period photos of The Beatles and the studio. The rhythm is further subverted by the song’s fade-in, because the first beat the audience hears is the second beat of the first measure. George’s double-tracked acoustic warms the first four measures. He adds a flat-picking pattern played on a Rosewood Fender Telecaster through a rotating B3 speaker to create tension.
To relieve musical tensions he felt with the band, Harrison bought one of the first Moog synthesizers. Inventor Robert Moog’s early machines had hundreds of jackplugs, two keyboards, and a ribbon controller, which is played like a violin. According to Kenneth Womack’s book Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles, the instrument caused quite a stir in the studios. The Moog synthesizer doubles the solo guitar line and makes musical transition between verses.
Abbey Road was recorded on an eight track studio. The band had been recording on four tracks, including their 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The new studio afforded the musicians greater separation and more room to breathe. For a fuller sound, Harrison and McCartney recorded backing vocals twice. Producer George Martin scored orchestration for four violas, four cellos, double bass, two piccolos, two flutes, two alto flutes and two clarinets. The orchestra was set up in EMI Studio One but recorded onto the eight-track recording console in EMI Studio Two. The session was run using close-circuit television, with engineers Phil McDonald and Geoff Emerick communicating with walkie-talkies, according to Womack’s book. The master tape includes an electric guitar solo which was edited from the final mix.
You can watch the “Here Comes the Sun” music video here:
On Aug. 1, 1971, Harrison played “Here Comes the Sun” as a duet with Pete Ham of the Apple band Badfinger for The Concert for Bangladesh. Ham later wrote they didn’t have time to rehearse it before hitting the stage at Madison Square Garden. Harrison also performed the song on Saturday Night Live with Paul Simon. The November 20, 1976, episode aired weeks after producer Lorne Michaels offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on the show, suggesting they could pay Ringo less.
“Here Comes The Sun” is the most-streamed Beatles song on Spotify globally, with more than 350 million streams. Baby boomers aren’t the largest audience to stream the music. That honor goes to 18-24 year-olds, who account for more than 30% of Beatles listening on Spotify, the largest share among all demographics. Spotify is celebrating the release of band’s last recorded studio album with an exclusive playlist, The Beatles Abbey Road Experience, which you can listen to here:
Abbey Road was released on Sept. 26, 1969. It is being reissued as a box set which was newly mixed by producer Giles Martin, son of George, and engineer Sam Okell. It features all 17 tracks, plus 23 session recordings and demos and a 100-page hardback book with a foreword by McCartney. The Beatles Abbey Road Anniversary Edition will be released Friday, Sept. 27 by Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe. The new music video for “Here Comes the Sun” features the song’s new stereo mix. You can preorder the Abbey Road Anniversary Edition here.
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.