The Beatles’ Abbey Road wasn’t just a showcase for Paul McCartney

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Abbey Road found the Beatles ostensibly coming together — even though, once side one is done, there is very little overt John Lennon sprinkled throughout the rest.

Try as he might, Abbey Road (released on Sept. 26, 1969) is no Paul McCartney record. Sure, this is among McCartney’s brightest, most artistically satisfying, moments. But it’s Lennon’s punctuations (and, to a quickly emerging degree, George Harrison’s), undoubtably, that make it so.

It’s easy to unfairly narrow the critical scope, since McCartney’s most cohesive medley can be found as part of the second half of Abbey Road. Yet, the enduring magic here only grows more impressive after hearing similarly constructed John Lennon-less also-ran attempts from solo projects like Ram and Red Rose Speedway. There is a missing balance achieved here. Moreover, Abbey Road was the album where George Harrison’s latent potential finally was realized — to the tune of an A-side No. 1 hit in “Something” and the lilting, uplifting “Here Comes the Sun.”

Moments away from imploding, they arrived for these sessions as distinct individuals, rather than stylized mop tops. Yet, for a moment in time and for this one last time, the Beatles’ separate personalities seemed to work again in service of the whole. Their strengths served to strengthen one another. After the disastrous Get Back sessions, we could scarcely have expected one of the Beatles’ most gorgeous shared harmonies on “Because,” or Ringo Starr taking a self-deprecating solo, or these relentlessly traded guitar solos — with Lennon simply buffeting the rest — on Paul McCartney’s closing peace-loving Vietnam-era message called “The End.”

And in the end, those moments added emotional weight to Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles ever recorded together. At the same time, while it’s loosely conceptual, this one outstrips Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band because Abbey Road was not locked into a Big Idea. And the thing rocks a good bit more — in particular on side one, where John Lennon dominates (“Come Together,” “I Want You.”)

Then, there are the album’s embedded, fizzy little surprises, concluding with the snippet titled “Her Majesty.” Going back to side one, however, I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Beatles’ Abbey Road back in the original vinyl days. When “She’s So Heavy” ground down to that abrupt halt, I thought my turntable had skipped. I jumped up and put the needle back down. SHEEEEESH-quiet. Again. SHEEEEESH-quiet. Again. SHEEEEESH-quiet.

A smile curled up my face.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Abbey Road is showcase for Paul McCartney…all because of the Album…he is barefooted. The VW on the license plate said IF 28…everyone in the USA heard over and over that Paul McCartney is DEAD and replaced by William Campbell who currently is pretending to be Paul McCartney honored by Queen Elizabeth II had him knighted as Sir James Paul McCartney in 1997…no one told her he William Campbell. No one told her had died in car accident in 1966..there is no death certificate of Paul McCartney when he was 24 after he had written the song Yesterday.

    • Michael Richards

      LOL Yeah, my hit now. Don’t bogart that doob 🙂

  • Abbey Road Album, George Harrison is the gravedigger, Paul McCartney is dead and barefooted, Ringo Starr is the Baptist Minister and John Lennon is the Angel of Light taking Paul McCartney to Heaven this all spat by DJ from New Jersey…burst the sales from Beatles Fans Believing that Paul McCartney is DEAD…John Lennon stated on the News ABC, CBS, NBC that Paul McCartney is alive and not dead.

  • During the Abbey Road Album, Paul McCartney had just gotten Married to Linda Eastman, he discovered Bad Finger and
    Mary Hopkins…he was writing both Bad Finger and Mary Hopkins music for them to sing…Bad Finger was for movie Magic Christian with Ringo Starr and for Mary Hopkins Hello and Goodbye…

  • SuperTroll

    I don’t see how anyone can claim John dominated side one. Come Together was pretty big in its day, but now sounds rather stilted. And I Want You was never a great song. John wanted it to be a great song, but it was a flat boring simple song that went nowhere for far too long. On the other hand, John had several solid songs on Side 2 including Sun King, Because, and Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam which I like a lot.

    • Mark Kuklis

      Come Together and I Want You are great, edgy, exciting songs to me, still. Never was crazy about Sun King and Because. Always thought they were kind of boring, but to each his own. My favorite Beatles album though.

      • SuperTroll

        I know what you’re talking about. Back when the album first came out I didn’t like Sun King and Because. I’m still not a big fan of Because but I like Sun King a lot, at least the part that says “Here comes the Sun King”. I never thought about it until 40 years later, but I think John wrote that in reaction to “Here Comes The Sun” by George. Think about it. That is a great song, and I think John was a little jealous. So he took the line and did it one better: “Here comes the Sun King” because, after all, he was always kind of the king of the Beatles. He started the group and at one time was the lead singer before Paul joined. In an interview he once said, “If the Beatles are a democracy then we are all equal. But if there is a leader in the Beatles it’s me.” He was right about that.

        • Curt B

          “IF there is a leader…”

          Within months after John allowed Paul to join his group, the two of them made all the decisions together. John was a nominal leader due to being in the group 1st and being the older of the 3. Paul respected his elder, but he had an equal voice with John by the time they got serious about being a real band. Also paul brought in the 3rd core member, his friend George!

          AND Paul taught John to play the guitar properly, as John’s mother taught him to play banjo style!

  • BellBino

    Come Together is as much a “Paul song” as a “John song.” Paul is the one who made changes in the studio that made the song what it is — his bass line IS the song, and he suggested they slow it down and give it that “swampy” sound.

    Ram is a brilliant album, every bit as brilliant as Abbey Road.

    • Mark O’Realius

      I agree about Ram. Anyone who can’t appreciate that album, is someone I don’t want to know.

      • Mark Kuklis

        Ram is a brilliant album. Probably Paul’s best solo album.

        • Mark O’Realius

          Agree. Although Jet…is one of my solo Macca favourite cuts. Lots of good material on Band on the Run too. But Ram…that is an unbelievable 60 minutes of music.

      • SuperTroll

        Ram is my second favorite McCartney/Wings album. My favorite is the often forgotten Back To The Egg.

    • RDF

      Gotta disagree about Ram being as good as AR but I do think Ram is four and a half stars out of five. Amazing how much it got trashed at the time of release. Vicious reviews.

      Mostly agree about Come Together although “his bass line IS the song” might be a little strong. 😉 I find it appalling how Wikipedia (or one or two idiot contributors to Wikipedia) has opted for “Written by John but credited to Lennon-McCartney” and “Written by Paul but credited to Lennon-McCartney.” The obvious fact is, the two guys almost always ran their stuff past each other and were open to tweaks. Another good example is John saying to Paul about “Hey Jude,” “No no no, don’t change that line about ‘Movement you need is on your shoulder,’ it makes perfect sense to me.” That’s only a 15 percent contribution (to refer to these percentages that seem so popular) but it represents the elevation of the song from very damn good to great.

  • Jamison

    Who is this guy and why is he writing about music? He clearly has no clue. I just can’t believe someone paid him to write this crap.

  • Dave Milner

    Abbey Road could’ve been their best album had Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer been replaced with something else.

    • Mark O’Realius

      Ya. Those are unfortunate cuts.

    • SuperTroll

      Those are weak songs, but I still enjoy them. Almost every album has a bad cut or two. If that’s not their best album, which one is? Personally I like the White Album best. Some people like Revolver better. I can find weak songs on any of them.

  • Curt Bourque

    Paul was the Beatles de facto leader in the last 1/2 of the beatles albums starting with Sgt Pepper. Especially after Epstein died. The others would have done nothing if not for Paul calling them in to make magical mystery tour, the white album, let it be, and abbey road. John was hooked on Ono and heroin around this time until he went ‘cold turkey’ later. For Abby road, Paul convince George Martin to come back and produce the album, put the medley together, and was there for most of it. John missed some of it and later said he had little regard for most of it including the medley. George H certainly upped his rep with his 2 songs for this final album. But if not for Paul, Sgt Pepper might have been the last beatle album.

  • Globe Picture

    At this Lennon point was withholding “Imagine,” at least. We know he went over that instrumentally during the “Get Back” sessions. George had solo stuff in progress too, he goes over a bit of “All Things Must Pass” on the same “Fly on the Wall” CD that comes I think with “Let It Be- Naked” reissue. Can’t blame him though, Something is the single here. It’s said that Lennon wrote songs on the spot for singles like “Instant Karma,” but as if those were his best songs. Lennon’s albums are overrated, especially since he died… So much really unsubtle racket glossed over by Spector. Harrison and McCartney could write full fledged songs alone, but Lennon just provided raw force and occasional lyrical superiority. You can put together a good greatest hits for Lennon, but he doesn’t have an “All Things Must Pass” or “Band On The Run” even, where you can sit and listen through without rolling your eyes. He wasn’t as deep as he thought and only journalists can spin Yoko into an early innovator or an “Artist in her own right.”