It was 44 years ago today (September 26th, 1969) that the Beatles' final album, Abbey Road, was released. Although the Let It Be album was released the next year featuring earlier unreleased tracks, Abbey Road was the last album the group recorded together. The album's working title had been Everest -- after a brand of cigarettes their engineer Geoff Emerick smoked -- before the group simply chose the name of the street where their recording studio was located.
Abbey Road spent 11 weeks at Number One and featured the double A-sided single "Come Together" and "Something," the highest-charting Beatles song written by George Harrison. Paul McCartney commented on the song in The Beatles Anthology saying, "'Something' was out of left field. . . It appealed to me because it has a very beautiful melody. I thought it was George's greatest track."
The recent remaster of Abbey Road debuted in 2009 at Number One on Billboard's Pop Catalog chart. In January 2012 it was announced that for the third year in a row, Abbey Road remained the best selling vinyl album. According to the Nielsen/SoundScan list, Abbey Road sold an impressive 41,000 copies in 2011 beating out new vinyl releases from Wilco, Black Keys, Adele, and Fleet Foxes. Last year, Ringo Starr told Rock Cellar magazine that Abbey Road was his favorite of the band's albums, explaining, "For me, that would be the second side of Abbey Road. That one is my favorite because I just love all those bits and pieces that weren't full songs that John (Lennon) and Paul (McCartney) had been working on and pulled all together -- 'Mean Mr. Mustard,' 'Polythene Pam,' and 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.'"
By the time of the Abbey Road sessions, which began in earnest in mid-1969, the group had been in the slow process of breaking up since their return from India the previous year, and struggled through 1968's "The White Album" as well as the month-long movie shoot that resulted in 1970's Let It Be album and film.
By the spring of 1969 John Lennon was drifting further away, after marrying Yoko Ono and embarking on the first of several anti-war "bed in" events.
Paul McCartney was eager that the group not end on the sour note that had become the Let It Be project, and rallied the group to produce an album on par with classics like Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The seeds for the Abbey Road album lay in the January 1969 Let It Be album and film project -- which was still unreleased when the Abbey Road sessions commenced. George Harrison recalled during The Beatles Anthology that it was actually the group's decision to better their work on Let It Be for their official followup to 1968's "The White Album": "Well, I think the deal was through Let It Be, it was like, I left, and we got back on the basis of we've gotta just finish it up and make it tidy, so I got back on that basis. Then everybody decided we ought to do one better album."
Harrison admitted he wasn't sure whether the Abbey Road sessions were making the end of the Beatles: "We didn't know, or I didn't know, at the time that it was the last Beatle record that we would make, but it kind of felt a bit like we were reaching the end of the line."
McCartney remembers that the band was definitely out to prove something with Abbey Road: "I think it was, in a way, the feeling that it might be our last, so let's show 'em what we can do, let's show each other what we can do, let's have a good time doing it. We had lots and lots of bits and things. John had a bit of a song called 'Polythene Pam' and we hit upon the idea of medley-ing them all, which gave the second side of Abbey Road a kind of sort of operatic kind of structure -- which was kind of nice 'cause it got rid of these songs in good way."
From the opening funky groove of Lennon's "Come Together" to Harrison's classic ode to spring "Here Comes The Sun" to McCartney's mini-opera that dominated side two, the Beatles managed to put their personal and business differences aside to produce an album that rivaled, if not topped, their greatest work.
On August 20th, 1969 all four Beatles attended the album's final mix and running-order session. It was the last time all four Beatles were together in a recording studio.
Photo Courtesy of Bruce McBroom/Apple Corps LTD.