Abbey Road is the 11th studio album released by the English rock band the Beatles. It is their last recorded album, although Let It Be was the last album released before the band’s dissolution in 1970. Work on Abbey Road began in April 1969, and the album was released on 26 September 1969 in the United Kingdom, and 1 October 1969 in the United States.
The album was released amid tensions within the band. Although it was a commercial success, it received mixed reviews from music critics who found its music inauthentic and criticized the production’s artificial effects. Since its initial reception, the album has been viewed by many critics as the Beatles’ greatest work and is ranked by several publications as one of the greatest albums of all time. Abbey Road remains their best-selling album
After the near-disastrous sessions for the proposed Get Back album, Paul McCartney suggested to music producer George Martin that the group get together and make an album “the way we used to”, free of the conflict that began following the death of Brian Epstein and carrying over to the sessions for the “White Album”. Martin agreed, stipulating that he must be allowed to do the album his way. This would be the last time the band would record with Martin In their interviews for The Beatles Anthology, the surviving band members stated that, although none of them ever made the distinction of calling it the “last album”, they all felt at the time this would very likely be the final Beatles product and therefore agreed to set aside their differences and “go out on a high note”.
With the Let It Be album partly finished, the sessions for Abbey Road began in April, as the single “The Ballad of John and Yoko” / “Old Brown Shoe” was completed. In fact, recording sessions of John Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” had already started in February 1969 in Trident Studios, with Billy Preston on the organ—only three weeks after the Get Back sessions. Photos from these sessions are included in the book Get Back, which came along with the Let It Be album but not in the Let It Be film. McCartney is clean-shaven and Lennon has started to let his beard grow.
Most of the album was recorded between 2 July and 1 August 1969. After the album was finished and released, the Get Back / Let It Be project was re-examined. More work was done on the album, including the recording of additional music (see Let It Be). Thus, though the bulk of Let It Be was recorded prior to Abbey Road, the latter was released first, and Abbey Road was the last album properly started by the Beatles before they disbanded. Lennon was on hiatus from the group and working with the Plastic Ono Band during the September 1969 lead-up to Abbey Road’s release, which was effectively the first official sign of the Beatles’ impending dissolution.
The album’s two halves were a compromise; Lennon wanted to release a traditional album with separate, unrelated songs, while McCartney and Martin wanted to continue their thematic approach from Sgt. Pepper’s with a medley. Lennon ultimately disliked Abbey Road as a whole and felt that it lacked authenticity, while calling McCartney’s contributions ” for the grannies to dig” and not “real songs.” Musicologist Walter Everett interprets that most of the medley’s lyrics deal with “selfishness and self-gratification—the financial complaints in ‘You Never Give Me Your Money,’ the miserliness of Mr. Mustard, the holding back of the pillow in ‘Carry That Weight,’ the desire that some second person will visit the singer’s dreams—perhaps the ‘one sweet dream’ of ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’?—in ‘The End.'” Everett adds that the medley’s “selfish moments” are in played in the context of the tonal center of A, while “generosity” is expressed in songs where C major is central. The medley concludes with a “great comprimise in the ‘negotiations'” in “The End”, which serves as a structurally balanced coda. In response to the repeated C-major choruses of “love you”, McCartney sings in realization that there is as much self-gratifying love (“the love you take”) as there is of the generous love (“the love you make”), in A major and C major, respectively.
Abbey Road was a massive commercial success. It sold four million copies in its first two months of release. In the UK, the album debuted straight at number 1. Abbey Road spent its first 11 weeks in the UK charts at number 1, before being displaced to number 2 for one week by the Rolling Stones debuting at the top with Let It Bleed. However, the following week—which was the week of Christmas—Abbey Road returned to the top for another 6 weeks, completing 17 weeks at the top. In all it spent 92 weeks inside the UK Top 75, and 16 years later on 31 October 1987, when it was released worldwide on CD, it reached number 30. In the UK Abbey Road was the best-selling album of 1969 and the fourth best-selling of the entire 1960s, and the eighth best-selling album of 1970.
Reaction in the US was similar. The album debuted at number 178, then moved to number 4 and in its third week to number 1, spending 11 non-consecutive weeks at the top. Abbey Road spent a total of 129 weeks in the Billboard 200, re-entering the chart at number 69 on 14 November 1987. It was the NARM best selling album of 1969 and was number 4 on Billboard magazine’s top LPs of 1970 year-end chart. Abbey Road was certified 12x platinum by the RIAA in 2001.
In June 1970, Allen Klein reported that US sales of Abbey Road were about 5 million. When the Beatles disbanded, the album had sold over 7 million copies worldwide. According to EMI, its worldwide sales reached 7.6 million copies in October 1972. This was also the first Beatles’ album to reach the 10-million mark in worldwide sales, in 1980. By 1992, Abbey Road had sold nine million copies. It remains the band’s best-selling album.
Abbey Road received mixed reviews from contemporary music critics,who criticized the production’s artificial sounds and viewed its music as inauthentic. William Mann of the London Times said that the album will “be called gimmicky by people by who want a record to sound exactly like a live performance.” Ed Ward of Rolling Stone called it “complicated instead of complex” and felt that the Moog synthesizer “disembodies and artificializes” the band’s sound, adding that they “create a sound that could not possibly exist outside the studio.” Although he found its 15-minute medley their “most impressive music” since Rubber Soul, Nik Cohn of The New York Times said that, “individually”, the album’s songs are “nothing special.” Albert Goldman of Life magazine wrote that Abbey Road “is not one of the Beatles’ great albums” and, despite some “lovely” phrases and “stirring” segues, side two’s suite “seems symbolic of the Beatles’ latest phase, which might be described as the round-the-clock production of disposable music effects.”
By contrast, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice said that the album “captivates me as might be expected” and found it “flawed but fine.” John Mendelsohn, writing for Rolling Stone, called it “breathtakingly recorded” and praised side two especially, equating it to “the whole of Sgt. Pepper” and stating, “That the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite … seems potent testimony that no, they’ve far from lost it, and no, they haven’t stopped trying.”
Many critics have since cited Abbey Road as the Beatles’ greatest album. In a retrospective review, Nicole Pensiero of PopMatters called it “an amazingly cohesive piece of music, innovative and timeless.” Mark Kemp of Paste viewed the album as “among The Beatles’ finest works, even if it foreshadows the cigarette-lighter-waving arena rock that technically skilled but critically maligned artists from Journey to Meatloaf would belabor throughout the ’70s and ’80s.” Neil McCormack of The Daily Telegraph dubbed it the Beatles’ “last love letter to the world” and praised its “big, modern sound”, calling it “lush, rich, smooth, epic, emotional and utterly gorgeous”. Allmusic’s Richie Unterberger felt that the album shared Sgt. Pepper’s “faux-conceptual forms”, but had “stronger compositions”, and wrote of its standing in the band’s catalog, “Whether Abbey Road is the Beatles’ best work is debatable, but it’s certainly the most immaculately produced and most tightly constructed.”
Abbey Road received high rankings in several ‘best albums in history’ polls by critics and publications. Time included it in their 2006 list of the All-Time 100 Albums. In 2009, readers of Rolling Stone named Abbey Road the greatest Beatles album. In 2012, the magazine ranked it number 14 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Abbey Road, The Beatles and Let It Be were the only Beatles albums to be recorded on professional eight-track reel to reel tape machines, rather than the four-track machines that were used for prior Beatles albums starting with the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1963 and the album A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. EMI’s management had not approved the use of their then-new 3M eight-track deck until shortly after the sessions for their 1968 single “Hey Jude”. Also, the Moog is prominently featured, not merely as a background effect, but sometimes playing a central role, as in “Because” where it is used for the middle 8. It is also prominent on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (played using a ribbon strip) and “Here Comes the Sun”. The instrument was introduced to the band by Harrison who, earlier in 1969, had used one to create his Electronic Sound album.
Abbey Road was also the first and only Beatles album to be entirely recorded through a solid state transistor mixing desk as opposed to thermionic valve.
One of the assistant engineers working on the album was a then-unknown Alan Parsons. He went on to engineer Pink Floyd’s landmark album The Dark Side of the Moon and produce many popular albums himself with the Alan Parsons Project. John Kurlander also assisted on many of the sessions, and went on to become a successful engineer and producer, most noteworthy for his success on the scores for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The image of the Beatles on the crossing has become one of the most famous and imitated in recording history. The crossing is a popular destination for Beatles fans and there is a live webcam featuring it. In December 2010, the crossing was given grade II listed status for its “cultural and historical importance”; the Abbey Road studios themselves had been given similar status earlier in the year. In 2013, Kolkata Police, launched a traffic safety awareness advertisement, using the cover and having a caption, “If they can, why can’t you?”.
The songs on Abbey Road have been covered many times and the album itself has been covered in its entirety.
One month after Abbey Road‘s release, George Benson recorded a cover version of the album called The Other Side of Abbey Road. Later in 1969 Booker T. & the M.G.’s recorded McLemore Avenue which covered the Abbey Road songs and had a similar cover photo.
Additionally, several artists have covered some or all of the side B medley, including Phil Collins , Soundgarden, Dream Theater, the String Cheese Incident, Transatlantic, the Punkles, Tenacious D, Umphrey’s Mcgee, 70 Volt Parade, Furthur and Jukebox the Ghost.
Furthur played the entire Abbey Road album during its Spring Tour 2011. It began with a “Come Together” opener at Boston on March 4, 2011 and ended with the Abbey Road medley in New York City on March 15, 2011. “Her Majesty” was worked into the show’s encore. Each song the band played from Abbey Road was played in the same order, although on different days, as on the original Beatles album.
All songs written and composed by Lennon–McCartney, except where noted.
|2.||“Something” (George Harrison)|
|3.||“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”|
|5.||“Octopus’s Garden” (Richard Starkey)|
|6.||“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”|
|1.||“Here Comes the Sun” (Harrison)|
|3.||“You Never Give Me Your Money”|
|5.||“Mean Mr. Mustard”|
|7.||“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”|
|9.||“Carry That Weight”|