For the next several columns, I will closely examine the legendary Abbey Road medley, their 16-minute magnum opus comprised of numerous song fragments. Where did these short works come from? How did they fit together so flawlessly? Deep Beatles digs deeper to take apart their famous and (technically) final work.
The song that leads off the medley is the last song recorded for Abbey Road: “Because,” a track notable not only for its lush harmonies but for Yoko Ono’s increasing influence on John Lennon’s craft.
Ono may be best known as an avant-garde artist, but she also was a classically trained pianist. One day in 1969, Ono and Lennon were lounging in their home when Ono began playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, otherwise known as the Moonlight Sonata. On a whim, Lennon asked her if she could play the chords backwards. Instantly he wrote the lyrics around the ensuing music; in 1980 Lennon seemed proud of the words: “The lyrics speak for themselves; they’re clear. No bullshit. No imagery, no obscure references,” he said.
Around the release of Abbey Road, Lennon stated that he anticipated writing many more songs with Ono. In a 1969 interview, Paul McCartney cited the lines “Because the world is round it turns me on” and “Because the wind is high it blows my mind” as some of Lennon’s best lyrics.
Recording began on August 1, 1969, with Lennon, McCartney and George Martin laying down 23 takes of the track. Lennon played electric guitar, Martin played the harpsichord, and McCartney plucked his usual bass; Ringo Starr added a hi-hat rhythm strictly for guiding purposes and was not on the final recording. After take 16 was judged best, Lennon, McCartney, and George Harrison painstakingly recorded their layered harmonies. Two more vocal tracks were added on August 4; the next day, Harrison performed a Moog part, which he recorded twice. The final product created a nine-part harmony effect due to the triple overdub.
“The harmony was pretty difficult to sing. We had to really learn it. But I think that’s one of the tunes that will impress most people. It’s really good,” Harrison said in 1969, adding that “Because” was his favorite Abbey Road tune.
Apart from the lovely harmonies and Ono’s part in composing “Because,” the track remains significant for another reason: it was the last time all four Beatles recorded a song together.
Against the beautifully restrained chords, Harrison, Lennon and McCartney croon philosophical and mysterious phrases. In addition to the aforementioned lyrics, Lennon also penned the lines “Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry,” the image being a popular one in his later tunes (most notably calling women “the other half of the sky” in the ballad “Woman”).
McCartney told biographer Barry Miles that he suspected Ono suggested the images of nature. “I wouldn’t mind betting Yoko was in on the writing of that, it’s rather her kind of writing: wind, sky and earth are recurring, it’s straight out of Grapefruit and John was heavily influenced by her at the time,” he said. However, another frequent trope appears, this one Beatles-centric: the power of love. They had previously sung “All You Need Is Love,” and on Abbey Road would sing the immortal lines “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Here Lennon declares “Love is old, love is new; love is all, love is you,” assigning the word a spiritual meaning. Love encompasses everything, love is in all of us — these are heady themes for a rock song. Yet, “Because” succeeds at being deep yet accessible simultaneously.
While no demo seemingly exists, Lennon did briefly sing “Because” during his and Ono’s 1969 Montreal bed-in. In 1996, the Anthology 3 collection revived the song by eliminating the instrumentation, fully revealing those complex harmonies. The Cirque du Soleil show Love enhanced this version with some birds twittering in the background; audiences still cite the chilling effect “Because” occurs during the Las Vegas production.
No matter what version, “Because” represents the Beatles at their best lyrically and vocally, and perfectly introduces the intricate Abbey Road medley.