"Abbey Road was really unfinished songs all stuck together. None of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all": A track-by-track guide to the final album recorded by The Beatles

The Beatles in 1969
(Image credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo)

In contrast to the White Album and Let It Be, Abbey Road – released in September 1969 – found The Beatles operating relatively cohesively; attempting to pull together, in step with one another if not exactly on the same page. "Abbey Road was really unfinished songs all stuck together," bemoaned John Lennon. "None of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all.”

It was the final collection of songs The Beatles recorded together, and our track-by-track guide tells its story.


Come Together

Very much John Lennon’s song, Abbey Road’s opener started out as Let’s Get It Together, a campaign song for Timothy Leary, standing against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California. 

Lennon kick-started his lyric with a phrase from Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me (‘Here come old flat-top’), but neglected to cut the line from the finished recording. Berry’s publishers initiated plagiarism proceedings but settled out of court in 1973 on condition Lennon record three of their songs (hence his 1975 album Rock ’N’ Roll). 

With a thinly veiled Lennon as central protagonist, Come Together is a groove-based espousal of the counter-culture, rich in selfconfessed ‘gobbledygook’, which references Yoko Ono (then recovering from a car accident, in a hospital bed actually in Abbey Road Studios) and features the zeitgeist-defining line ‘you got to be free’. 

Recorded across nine days in July, all four Beatles featured, with Lennon on double-tracked guitar solo, Paul McCartney on bass and piano, and Ringo shuffling beautifully on juju drums. Outwardly good-natured, there was tension in the air; “Shoot me” Lennon whispered over the opening bars. McCartney told journalist Ray Coleman: “On Come Together I’d have liked to have sung harmony with John, and I think he’d have liked me to, but I was too embarrassed to ask him.”


George Harrison didn’t make many dents in Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting predominance, but when he did he made them count. First worked on during sessions for the White Album, Something – with Harrison taking double-tracked lead vocal and delivering a soaring complementary guitar solo to die for – was his masterpiece. 

Lennon added piano and a four-minute extended instrumental coda (ultimately shelved but for a small snippet in the middle-eight), while McCartney’s over-busy bass vied for attention. With a suggestion of Hammond organ from Billy Preston, Something was released as a double A-side (with Come Together) as Abbey Road’s sole single. 

It’s second only to Yesterday as the most covered song in The Beatles’ catalogue, and both Lennon and McCartney admitted it was the best track on the album. Frank Sinatra, who regularly performed it, rated it as “the greatest love song ever written”, if slightly souring the compliment by mis-crediting its composition to Lennon/McCartney. 

James Taylor’s eponymous debut album, issued by Apple the previous year, included the track Something In The Way She Moves, but Harrison’s misappropriation of its title for Something’s opening line didn’t concern a selfless Taylor, who said: “I was pleased to think that I’d had an impact on The Beatles.”

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

When it comes to bones of contention between Lennon and McCartney, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a veritable skeleton. McCartney began working on the song in early ’68, while the band were still in Rishikesh, India, with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Outwardly a jaunty music-hall number, its lyric (inspired by French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry – hence McCartney’s deployment of Jarry’s word ‘pataphysical’ in its opening line) told of medical student Maxwell Edison’s predilection for mass murder. 

While McCartney believed implicitly in the hit potential of his macabre composition, driving the band to distraction (with the exception of the absent Lennon, who hated this latest example of what he disparagingly referred to as “Paul’s granny music”) as he attempted to deliver a definitive version over gruelling sessions in July 1969, his fellow Beatles were less than enthusiastic. 

As successive takes ground on, Harrison told McCartney: “You’ve taken three days. It’s only a song.” According to Starr: “It was the worst track we ever had to record.” George Martin added an organ, McCartney a Moog solo and roadie Mal Evans the anvil blows. Despite the accolade of a Peter Glaze Crackerjack pastiche, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer never became the hit single McCartney hoped for.

Oh! Darling

Possibly inspired by Frank Zappa’s sentimentally retrogressive doo-wop experiments on Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, McCartney similarly returned to the previous decade for Oh! Darling. It was a canny combination of traditional rock’n’roll tropes, blues-rooted Louisiana swamp pop and close harmony vocals, ultimately overwhelmed in the final mix by a lead vocal in thrall to Little Richard. 

McCartney grafted to nail exactly the right performance, arriving early at Abbey Road, and warming up his voice over understated preparatory takes before finally letting rip in pursuit of the kind of raw perfection he’d routinely nail after three hours behind the microphone in Hamburg. 

John Lennon’s piano hammered a complementary Fats Domino accompaniment, but by this stage the tension was never far from the surface. The effortless box-fresh Paul McCartney of ’63 had matured, and when particularly impassioned in ’69 sounded ever-so-slightly laboured, a state of affairs that Lennon gleefully highlighted: “Oh! Darling was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought I could have done it better – it was more my style than his.” 

Ouch. Although he might have had a point.

Octopus's Garden

In August ’68, following an argument with Paul McCartney over Back In The U.S.S.R.’s drum part, Ringo Starr temporarily ‘left’ The Beatles and went to Sardinia for a family holiday. While bobbing about the Mediterranean on Peter Sellers’s yacht, he ordered fish and chips, but was presented with squid and chips. 

While tucking in to the cephalopod, the ship’s captain informed him that octopuses collect stones and shells while patrolling the sea bed and construct underwater gardens. Eager to escape the bickering of his bandmates, Starr found solace in songwriting and delivered Octopus’s Garden (his second solo composition for the band after Don’t Pass Me By, with roots similarly set in country and western). 

Octopus’s Garden was refined by Starr alongside George Harrison upon his return to Abbey Road during the Get Back sessions, and perfected (with Chris Thomas engineering in the absence of George Martin), with the entire band reunited and self-producing, in July ’69. 

An inoffensive nursery ditty that featured a characteristically lugubrious lead vocal from Starr and undersea sound effects from McCartney (bubbling through a straw into a glass of milk), Octopus’s Garden has been called, accurately if uncharitably, “a poor man’s Yellow Submarine”.

I Want You (She's So Heavy)

The first song initiated for Abbey Road but one of the last to be completed, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) was the longest track The Beatles recorded (except for musique concrète sound collage Revolution 9), longer even than Hey Jude. 

I Want You’s composition saw John Lennon not so much smitten with Yoko Ono as completely obsessed, and its 12-word lyric nags undeniably. ‘I want you, I want you so bad, it’s driving me mad’, an insistent circular repetition asserts, resignation turns to desperation as riffs echo support, before the awestruck admission: ‘She’s so heavy.’ 

Jaunty bossa nova lightens the mood post-chorus (highlighting Ringo’s casual excellence across an itchy stop-start rhythm bed), prior to an extraordinary three-minute coda of apposite heaviness. In recognition of Yoko’s avant-garde background, Lennon bolstered the song’s extended conclusion (ultimately cut dead into silence) with a synth wash of white noise. 

The track clearly engaged the dissolute band, providing their final hurrah as an airtight ensemble: Harrison bolstering the circular riff’s might, McCartney playing out of his skin and Starr operating a wind machine over the final mesmerising tumult. With Billy Preston (on organ) ensuring a veneer of in-band courtesy I Want You (She’s So Heavy) captured latter-period Beatles at their best.

Here Comes The Sun

During April 1969, London’s meteorological stations registered more sunlight hours than during any other month of the 60s, and during this month George Harrison decided to “sag off” yet another Apple business meeting with “dopey accountants”, and spent the day truanting in the garden of Eric Clapton’s house in Surrey. These were the circumstances under which Harrison conjured up Here Comes The Sun on a borrowed acoustic guitar.

The brightly beaming hopeful light to the ultimately oppressive shade of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Here Comes The Sun represented the relief and optimism Harrison felt when removed from the grind of The Beatles’ business machinations and ever more incessant infighting. 

By the time its outwardly straightforward (if slightly complicated by Indian influence) chords made it into the studio in early July, Lennon was absent following the same car crash that would ultimately confine Yoko to her previously mentioned Abbey Road Studios bed for the duration, so Harrison’s bright arpeggiated triads and gently wavering Moog had only McCartney’s bass and Starr’s drums in support.


With Lennon, McCartney and Harrison overlaying three sets of close-vocal harmonies in order to achieve a nine-voice choral effect, as Starr gently tapped his hi-hat metronomically, Because was the last track that all four Beatles worked on from start to finish. 

Upon hearing Yoko playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14 (more commonly known as Moonlight Sonata), a somewhat chemically enhanced Lennon had her play its chords backwards, and stumbled upon the melody that would become Because. The opiated idealistic imagery of its lyric was inspired – just as Imagine would be later – by Yoko’s 1964 conceptual art book Grapefruit

Beginning work on the first day of August, the band took 23 takes before nailing the ultimate backing track, with Lennon doubling up guitar lines with harpsichord, McCartney on bass, Harrison on up-front Moog and producer George Martin adding a suggestion of electric spinet to enhance a prevailing medieval feel. 

Once the vocals were added, with Studio 2’s lights dimmed in a soothing haze of Harrison-provided incense, Because sounded more hymn than hit, as effective an accompaniment to floating away on the heroin high Lennon was contemporaneously chasing as Buffalo Springfield’s Expecting To Fly. A month later came Cold Turkey.

You Never Give Me Your Money

With The Beatles’ journey approaching its conclusion – in messy public divorce driven by finance-based acrimony and Lennon and Harrison’s desire to escape the constraints of the band and to find themselves as artists via autonomous solo careers – McCartney bowed to the inevitable. He was reluctant to give up on The Beatles. Artistically speaking he was happy where he was and in no particular hurry to grow up, but if the end was nigh then he was determined the band should go out on a high. 

Abbey Road’s Side Two was to climax in an ambitious medley. Superficially, a multi-part song cycle appears to be a brave artistic endeavour: a magnum opus; practically speaking, it’s an extremely effective method by which to sweep together a bunch of unfinished snippets – some of which had been hanging around since White Album sessions – and rebrand them as your masterpiece. 

The medley’s opening section, McCartney’s You Never Give Me Your Money is similar in structure to Lennon’s Happiness Is A Warm Gun and comprised of five clear constituent parts. From its opening melancholic piano to its concluding I Want You-echoing guitar arpeggios, it’s the ‘long medley’ in microcosm, a linear suite with, at its heart, a resigned McCartney plaintively intoning ‘nowhere to go’.

Sun King

Opening with a sultry reverbed guitar, which Harrison admitted had been inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, Lennon’s Sun King (originally titled Here Comes The Sun King, but renamed to avoid any confusion with Here Comes The Sun) crossfades up out of Paul McCartney’s tacked-on wind-chime and tape-looped conclusion to You Never Give Me Your Money

Recorded as a single sequential piece with Mean Mr Mustard, Sun King – evocative of a soporific dream-state – set five-part multi-tracked Lennon vocals gently adrift atop a languorous sound bed of cymbal-splashed Ringo bongos, meanderingly melodic McCartney bass, gently stereo-panning Harrison guitar and atmospherically inconspicuous George Martin Lowrey organ. 

Here comes the Sun King,’ intones a quintet of Beach Boys-informed John Lennons, before embarking upon a predictably inexplicable cod-Iberian/Italian coda: ‘Cuando para mucho, mi amore de felice corazon…’ “We just made up... Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something,” Lennon revealed. ‘Mundo paparazzi mi amore…’ the patchwork pastiche continues, even throwing a hint of schoolyard scouse – ‘chicka ferdy parasol’ – into an exotic word soup of surrealistic John-speak.

Mean Mr Mustard

Although decidedly slight in its duration, sizing up at just six seconds over one minute, Lennon’s Mean Mr Mustard (to all intents and purposes the second half of Sun King, and similarly derided by its author as “a bit of crap I wrote in India”) is an ear worm of significant potency. 

Harking back to a character-based music-hall jokiness more readily associated with 1967’s Sgt. Pepper era, Mean Mr Mustard jarred the unsuspecting listener out of Sun King’s comparatively tranquil sonic siesta. The central character, drawn in typically grotesque Lennon lyrics, was ‘a dirty old man’ who ‘shaves in the dark’ and ‘keeps a ten-bob note up his nose’ based loosely on a miser Lennon discovered in a newspaper report, and fleshed-out with McCartney during their Rishikesh down-time. 

A snippet of an idea which without being co-opted for the Long Medley might have languished on Abbey Road’s cutting room floor until inevitably pressed into service as a 50th-anniversary box-set bonus, Mean Mr Mustard’s original lyric revealed ‘his sister Shirley worked in a shop’. When repurposed for the Long Medley, ‘sister Shirley’ metamorphosed into ‘sister Pam’ to better segue into yet another brief, if vivid, Lennon pen portrait.

Polythene Pam

The second brace of Long Medley elements recorded as a single entity, Lennon’s Polythene Pam and McCartney’s She Came In Through The Bathroom Window can claim a tentative grasp on conceptual continuity for the fact they share origins in the bizarre exploits of Beatle fans. 

Conjured up on yet another long Rishikesh night, Polythene Pam was sparked by memories of Pat Hodgett, an original Beatles aficionado from the Cavern days. “I used to eat polythene all the time,” recalled the woman who came to be known as Polythene Pat. “I’d tie it in knots and then eat it. Sometimes I even used to burn it and eat it when it got cold.” 

Perhaps in order to take significant liberties with his subject’s reputation, Lennon altered her name to Pam and (adopting his broadest scouse accent) remodelled her into a ‘killer diller’ plastic fetishist in ‘jackboots and kilt’ who ‘looks like a man’ over vigorously scrubbed 12-string acoustic guitar. Here was another character based in fact, according to Lennon. A mutual acquaintance introduced him to such a woman in Jersey: “He said she dressed in polythene, which she did. She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts. I just sort of elaborated.”

She Came In Through The Bathroom Window

With the basic band set-up throttling back from the self-consciously coarse stridency of Polythene Pam to the comparatively measured restraint of She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, McCartney took up the medley-within-a-medley’s double-tracked lead vocal to unfold his everyday tale of an obsession-based home invasion. 

A hard-core of latter-day Beatle fans, known as the Apple Scruffs, stood constant vigil outside Abbey Road, Apple Corps and the band members’ individual homes. Most daily interactions between fans and Fabs were fine – pleasantries were exchanged, autographs signed, boundaries respected. But on one particular occasion a ladder was acquired from McCartney’s garden, and a particularly resourceful Scruff called Diane Ashley quite literally came in through the bathroom window. Once inside she opened the front door and there ensued an orgy of souvenir scavenging. 

McCartney, reacting with surprisingly good grace, negotiated with the bare-faced burglars to ensure the return of precious family snaps, and later chronicled the incident in song. Characterised by its author’s ever-inventive walking bass and complementary lead guitar interactions with Harrison (not to mention Starr spicing up his percussion with enthusiastically applied whip-cracks), She Came In Through The Bathroom Window was one of the Long Medley’s more satisfying highlights.

Golden Slumbers

The day after Lennon’s aforementioned car crash in Scotland, and with him laid up in hospital nursing a gash to the jawline that required 17 stitches, McCartney convened with Harrison and Starr to set to work on another pair of conjoined segments for the Long Medley. 

As 1968 drew to a close, McCartney was visiting his father’s house in Cheshire. As he sat at the piano, he noticed sheet music for Elizabethan poet Thomas Dekker’s Golden Slumbers. “I can’t read music and couldn’t remember the old tune,” he recalled, “so I just started playing my own tune to it. I liked the words, so I kept them, and it fitted with another bit of a song that I had.” 

Over a lush orchestral introduction, Golden Slumbers opens with an introductory lyric of textbook piano-driven McCartney melancholia, Dekker’s contribution arrives – along with Ringo’s drums – at the song’s title line, given significant heft by a McCartney vocal that’s decidedly unbecoming of a lullaby but all the better for it.

Carry That Weight

After an even more emotional reading of Golden Slumbers’ opening verse, Carry That Weight announced itself with a spirited gang-vocal chorus from all four Beatles. We’re clearly approaching the Long Medley’s crescendo, and an orchestral setting of You Never Give Me Your Money explodes into life. George Harrison’s guitar ushers in a double-tracked McCartney vocal that’s beautifully pitched musically and emotionally, prior to a rousing reprise of the Carry That Weight chorus. 

Here’s McCartney’s emphatic final word on The Beatles. With You Never Give Me Your Money’s theme ringing in their ears, he had Lennon, Harrison and Starr – who’d all taken a contrary stance to McCartney in all matters financial throughout Abbey Road’s creative process (and now seemed indecently eager to put their Beatles days behind them) – lustily singing ‘You’re gonna carry that weight a long time’, portentous words McCartney had written in recognition of the fact that none of them would ever truly escape the long shadow cast by their years in The Beatles.

The End

This appositely titled concluding section of the Long Medley catches the upward inclination of Carry That Weight’s final Badge arpeggios to arrive in a veritable rush of rock‘n’roll positivity, with every last vestige of bad feeling left on the other side of the studio door. 

With an ‘Oh yeah!’ and an ‘All right!’ and an inclusive ‘Are you gonna be in my dream tonight?’ the listener is deposited at the heart of a party, and the end-of-term air of celebration is tangible. The hard work’s over, the hair is down, and all four Beatles take a solo. 

Then suddenly, The End finally reaches THE END, and emerging from the searing heat of Lennon’s fuzzed solo, McCartney prepares to deliver his final lyrical denouement: ‘And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make’, truly a couplet for the ages. The orchestra swells to a glorious sentimental crescendo, Harrison’s guitar gently weeps in sympathy, and there’s not a dry eye in the house. 

Her Majesty

Presented, after a 20-second pause, as an untidy after-thought, Her Majesty was originally conceived as a buffer between Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam, but ultimately edited. 

In essence it’s an affectionate observation that while The Queen’s ‘a pretty nice girl… she doesn’t have a lot to say’, knocked out by McCartney. Inserted into the Long Medley, it didn’t work, so was set aside to be discarded, but was tagged on to the end of the album for safety by cautious second engineer John Kurlander.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.