The final section of the Abbey Road medley also symbolizes the Beatles winding down their careers. Ringo Starr’s furious drum solo; the epic guitar “battle” between Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison; the tight harmonies; and the legendary final verse lead up to “The End.” With this track, the Beatles went out at the top of their game, providing fans with a perfect summary of the 1960s spirit.
Evidence points to McCartney as the main composer, as Lennon famously disliked the Abbey Road medley — even though he contributed some tracks. In 1980, Lennon dismissed “The End” as: “Paul again, the unfinished song, right? Just a piece at the end. He had a line in it [sings] ‘And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give [sic],’ which is a very cosmic, philosophical line. Which again proves that if he wants to, he can think.” Obviously Lennon misquoted the final line, but he clearly recognized the simple elegance of that lyric. McCartney later told biographer Barry Miles that “I wanted to end with a little meaningful couplet, so I followed the Bard and wrote a couplet.”
McCartney also wanted to give all four of them a turn in the spotlight; Starr, however, hated solos and remained skeptical. “Ringo would never do drum solos. He hated drummers who did lengthy drum solos,” McCartney recalled in 1988. “But because of this medley I said, ‘Well, a token solo?’ and he really dug his heels in and didn’t want to do it. But after a little bit of gentle persuasion I said, ‘it wouldn’t be Buddy Rich gone mad,’ because I think that’s what he didn’t want to do. … anyway we came to this compromise, it was a kind of a solo. I don’t think he’s done one since.”
In a 2009 interview with MusicRadar, sound engineer Geoff Emerick added “the thing that always amused me was how much persuasion it took to get Ringo to play that solo. Usually, you have to try to talk drummers out of doing solos! (Laughs.) He didn’t want to do it, but everybody said, ‘No, no, it’ll be fantastic!’ So he gave in — and turned in a bloody marvelous performance!” As for the ending guitar jam, Emerick recalled it as a spontaneous decision, although Harrison supposedly needed extra encouragement to participate.
Recording began on “The End” — now bearing the working title “The Ending” — on July 23, 1969. They taped seven takes of the track, with Starr slightly altering his drum solo each time. The group selected the final take as the best backing track. According to the Beatles Bible, the song originally clocked in at 1:20; the Beatles soon lengthened it to 2:20 with extra overdubs, including the orchestral section. Once they completed the backing track, the group did not return to “The End” until August 5, when they laid down the vocal tracks.
Additional drums, bass, and guitar were recorded August 7 and 8, the former date being most significant. On this day, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison played their guitar solos live. As Emerick remembered it: “The order was Paul first, then George, then John, and they went back and forth. They ran down their ideas a few times and before you knew it, they were ready to go. Their amps were lined up together and we recorded their parts on one track.” The emotion one hears in the track was sincere. “You could really see the joy in their faces as they played; it was like they were teenagers again. One take was all we needed. The musical telepathy between them was mind-boggling,” Emerick told MusicRadar. According to the Beatles Bible, the trio was supposed to play for 22 bars, but an additional edit extended the section to 28. On the same day, the three also recorded the “love you” chant.
To complete most of the instrumental track, the orchestra entered Abbey Road to lay down their section on August 15. In Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, engineer Alan Brown marveled at the size and cost of this session. “The orchestral overdub for ‘The End’ was the most elaborate I have ever heard: a 30-piece playing for not too many seconds … and mixed about 40 dBs down. It cost a lot of money: all the musicians have to be paid, fed and watered; I screw every pound note out of it whenever I play the record!” The final addition to “The End” took place on August 18, when McCartney overdubbed the piano notes introducing the “and in the end” line.
Judging by the Anthology 3 version, the Beatles and George Martin experimented with editing and other effects. One can hear McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon “warming up” their guitars, with (presumably) Harrison playing an additional solo. Starr performs slightly different drum fills at the beginning. The orchestra also figures more prominently, with horns resounding over the final “love you” chants. A sustained chord, very similar to the never ending “A Day in the Life” piano chord, lingers after the song ends.
The Beatles placed “The End” at a perfect place in the medley, and not simply because it signals the apparent end of Abbey Road. After the angst expressed in “Carry That Weight” and the “You Never Give Me Your Money” reprise, “The End” injects pure adrenaline and joy into the proceedings. Even though the group has experienced strife and money woes, they argue, they remain four musicians who love to perform together. As Starr’s drums and blazing guitars crash into the medley, interrupting the downward spiral of “Weight,” McCartney yells in his best rock and roll voice the line “Oh yeah! All right! Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight?” This style recalls his vocals on “Helter Skelter” and even earlier cuts like his cover of “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey.” Through his singing, McCartney demonstrates that the Beatles never lost sight of their R&B roots.
Then comes one of the best moments: Starr’s powerful solo. It might not be as technical or sophisticated as Buddy Rich, but it anchors the track and adds excitement. To enhance this unbridled enthusiasm, McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon unleash their dueling solos Each has their own sound and style, reflective of their personalities. One can imagine the three of them in the studio, thinking that this would be the last time they would perform together, and deciding to go out with a sonic boom. They unquestioningly accomplish this goal, jamming as they probably did in their earliest days as Beatles. The three chant “love you” in the background, their harmonies subtle but tight. Interwoven in this audial blast is the orchestra, and all reach a climax again suggestive of “A Day in the Life.” The music briefly drops out to just McCartney and his piano, serving as the prologue to the Beatles’ philosophy: “And in the end, the love you take — is equal to the love you make.” Harrison and Lennon join in the last two lines, then the three sing an ascending note as the orchestra and band rises, eventually reaching the conclusion.
Throughout the medley, the Beatles dramatize their highs and lows, and illustrate how they had grown as musicians. “The End” effectively summarizes their career trajectory as well as the end of the 1960s. Their “All You Need Is Love” message resounds, and by inserting it as the final line to the medley and the entire Abbey Road, they argue that love is the message the group wants to send to fans. Most of their songs addressed love — some romantic, some platonic, some paternal, some otherwise familial — in some form. The ’60s counterculture movement also promoted the issue through protests, sexual liberation, and music, and the Beatles helped shape that era. For those reasons as well as representing the final days of the Beatles, “The End” serves as more than a mere final track to an album. McCartney further explained these intentions in 1994:
We were looking for the end to an album, and ‘In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make’ just came into my head. I just recognized that would be a good end to an album. And it’s a good little thing to say– now and for all time, I think. I can’t think of anything much better as a philosophy, because all you need is love. It still is what you need. There aint nothin’ better. So, you know, I’m very proud to be in the band that did that song, and that thought those thoughts, and encouraged other people to think them to help them get through little problems here and there. So … we done good!