The next in my “The Beatles In Their Own Words” series which I started yesterday with 1970′s Let It Be. I’m working my way backwards based on the release date of their albums so this post is on 1969′s Abbey Road.
I’m going album by album and song by song (skipping songs that I can’t find any quotes about) searching for quotes by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, George Martin (producer), and Geoff Emerick (engineer) about each Beatles song.
Lennon: It’s a funky record. It’s one of my favorite Beatle tracks or one of my favourite Lennon tracks, I’d say. It’s funky, it’s bluesy and I’m singing pretty well. I like the sound of the record. You can dance to it. I’d buy it.
Lennon: The thing was created in the studio. The lyrics are gobbledygook and Come Together was an expression that Leary had come up with when he was running for president. They’d asked me to write them a campaign song. I tried and tried and tried and couldn’t come up with it. But I came up with this Come Together, which would have been no good for them. They couldn’t have had a campaign song like that, right? But Leary attacked me years later, saying I ripped him off. Well, I had written another little thing called singing “Come together and join the party…” It never got further than that. And they never came back to ask for the song. I didn’t rip him off. I had the song there waiting for him.
Lennon: It’s me, writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. Though it’s nothing like the Chuck Berry song, they took me to court because I admitted this once years ago. I left in one line, which is not just Berry’s: “Here come old flat top.” I could have changed it to “Here comes old iron face.” The song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on this earth.
Emerick: It was Paul who suggested it be done at a slower tempo, with a “swampy” kind of feel.
Emerick: Paul came up with the electric piano lick and the bass line that pretty well define “Come Together.”
Harrison: I had written “Something” on the piano during the recording of The White Album. There was a period during that album when we were all in different studios doing different things trying to get it finished, and I used to take some time out. So I went into an empty studio and wrote “Something.”
Harrison: I could never think of words for it. And also because there was a James Taylor song called “Something In The Way She Moves” which is the first line of that. And so then I thought of trying to change the words, but they were the words that came when I first wrote it, so in the end I just left it as that, and just called it “Something.”
Harrison: When I wrote it, I imagined somebody like Ray Charles doing it. That’s the feel I imagined, but because I’m not Ray Charles, you know, I’m sort of much more limited in what I can do, then it came out like this. It’s nice. It’s probably the nicest melody tune that I’ve written.
Lennon: I think that’s about the best track on the album, actually.
McCartney: For me I think it’s the best he’s written.
Emerick: A lot of time and effort went into “Something,” which was very unusual for a Harrison song, but everyone seemed aware of just how good a song it was, even though nobody went out of his way to say so.
Emerick: I couldn’t help but notice that Harrison was actually giving Paul direction on how to play the bass, telling him repeatedly that he wanted the part greatly simplified. It was a first in all my years of working with the Beatles: George had never dared tell Paul what to do; he’d simply never asserted himself that way.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
McCartney: “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don’t know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell’s hammer. It was needed for scanning. We still use that expression even now when something unexpected happens.
McCartney: They got annoyed because “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” took three days to record. Big deal.
Harrison: Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my god, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head…
Lennon: It’s a typical McCartney single, or whatever. He did quite a lot of work on it. I wasn’t on Maxwell. I was ill after the accident while they did most of that track and I believe he really ground George and Ringo into the ground recording it. We spent more money on that song than any of them on the whole album, I think.
Starr: The worst session ever was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad.
Emerick: There was a proper blacksmith’s anvil brought to the studio for Ringo to hit. They had it rented from a theatrical agency.
McCartney: I mainly remember wanting to get the vocal right, wanting to get it good, and I ended up trying each morning as I came into the recording session. I tried it with a hand mike, and I tried it with a standing mike, I tried it every which way, and finally got the vocal I was reasonably happy with. It’s a bit of a belter, and if it comes off a little bit lukewarm, then you’ve missed the whole point. It was unusual for me, I would normally try all the goes at a vocal in one day.
Lennon: “Oh! Darling” was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought I could have done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it.
Starr: I wrote “Octopus’s Garden” in Sardinia. Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day… I stayed out on deck with the captain and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous, because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar – and we had Octopus’s Garden!
Harrison: “Octopus’s Garden” is Ringo’s song. It’s only the second song Ringo wrote, and it’s lovely. Ringo gets bored playing the drums, and at home he plays a bit of piano, but he only knows about three chords. He knows about the same on guitar. I think it’s a really great song, because on the surface, it just like a daft kids’ song, but the lyrics are great. For me, you know, I find very deep meaning in the lyrics, which Ringo probably doesn’t see, but all the thing like ‘resting our head on the sea bed’ and ‘We’ll be warm beneath the storm’ which is really great, you know. Because it’s like this level is a storm, and if you get sort of deep in your consciousness, it’s very peaceful. So Ringo’s writing his cosmic songs without noticing.
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
Lennon: A reviewer wrote of “She’s So Heavy”: ‘He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring.’ “She’s So Heavy” was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream. And in “She’s So Heavy” I just sang ‘I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,’ like that.
“Here Comes The Sun”
Harrison: “Here Comes The Sun” was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘Sign that’. Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever; by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go and see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote “Here Comes The Sun.”
Harrison: I first heard about the Moog synthesizer in America. I had to have mine made specially, because Mr Moog had only just invented it. It was enormous, with hundreds of jackplugs and two keyboards. But it was one thing having one, and another trying to make it work. There wasn’t an instruction manual, and even if there had been it would probably have been a couple of thousand pages long. I don’t think even Mr Moog knew how to get music out of it; it was more of a technical thing. When you listen to the sounds on songs like “Here Comes The Sun,” it does do some good things, but they’re all very kind of infant sounds.
Lennon: I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano. Suddenly, I said, ‘Can you play those chords backward?’ She did, and I wrote Because around them. The song sounds like “Moonlight Sonata,” too. The lyrics are clear, no bullshit, no imagery, no obscure references.
Harrison: John wrote this tune. The backing is a bit like Beethoven. And three-part harmony right throughout. Paul usually writes the sweeter tunes, and John writes the, sort of, more the rave-up things, or the freakier things. But John’s getting to where he doesn’t want to. He just wants to write twelve-bars. But you can’t deny it, I think this is possibly my favourite one on the album. The lyrics are so simple. 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.
McCartney: 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.
“You Never Give Me Your Money”
McCartney: This was me directly lambasting Allen Klein’s attitude to us: no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out. It’s basically a song about no faith in the person, that found its way into the medley on Abbey Road. John saw the humour in it.
Harrison: ‘Funny paper’ – that’s what we get. We get bits of paper saying how much is earned and what this is and that is, but we never actually get it in pounds, shilling and pence. We’ve all got a big house and a car and an office, but to actually get the money we’ve earned seems impossible.
Lennon: When we came to sing it, to make them different we started joking, saying ‘cuando para mucho’. We just made it up. Paul knew a few Spanish words from school, so we just strung any Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something. And of course we got ‘chicka ferdi’ – that’s a Liverpool expression; it doesn’t mean anything, just like ‘ha ha ha’. One we missed: we could have had ‘para noia’, but we forgot all about it. We used to call ourselves Los Para Noias.
Harrison: At the time, Albatross was out, with all the reverb on guitar. So we said, ‘Let’s be Fleetwood Mac doing Albatross, just to get going.’ It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac… but that was the point of origin.
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
Lennon: I’d read somewhere in the paper about this mean guy who hid his five-pound notes, not up his nose but somewhere else. No, it had nothing to do with cocaine.
Lennon: In “Mean Mr Mustard” I said ‘his sister Pam’ – originally it was ‘his sister Shirley’ in the lyric. I changed it to Pam to make it sound like it had something to do with it. They are only finished bits of crap that I wrote in India.
(by “it” Lennon means the next song, “Polythene Pam.”)
Lennon: “Polythene Pam” was me remembering a little event with a woman in Jersey, and a man who was England’s answer to Allen Ginsberg. She didn’t wear jackboots and kilts, I elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. I was just looking for something to write about.
“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”
McCartney: So I got ‘So I quit the police department’, which are part of the lyrics to that. This was the great thing about the randomness of it all. If I hadn’t been in this guy’s cab, or if it had been someone else driving, the song would have been different. Also I had a guitar there so I could solidify it into something straight away.
Lennon: That was written by Paul when we were in New York forming Apple, and he first met Linda. Maybe she’s the one who came in the window. She must have. I don’t know. Somebody came in the window.
McCartney: I was playing the piano in Liverpool in my dad’s house, and my stepsister Ruth’s piano book was up on the stand. I was flicking through it and I came to “Golden Slumbers.” I can’t read music and I couldn’t remember the old tune, so I just started playing my own tune to it. I liked the words so I kept them, and it fitted with another bit of song I had.
McCartney: I remember trying to get a very strong vocal on it, because it was such a gentle theme, so I worked on the strength of the vocal on it, and ended up quite pleased with it.
“Carry That Weight”
McCartney: I’m generally quite upbeat but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can’t be upbeat any more and that was one of the times. We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like for ever! That’s what I meant.
McCartney: Ringo would never do drum solos. He hated drummers who did lengthy drum solos. We all did. And when he joined The Beatles we said, “Ah, what about drum solos then?”, thinking he might say, “Yeah, I’ll have a five-hour one in the middle of your set,” and he said, “I hate ‘em!” We said, “Great! We love you!” And so he would never do them. 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, “Yeah, just do that, it wouldn’t be Buddy Rich gone mad,” because I think that’s what he didn’t want to do.
McCartney: It was quite funny because it’s basically monarchist, with a mildly disrespectful tone, but it’s very tongue in cheek. It’s almost like a love song to the Queen.
Emerick: Originally, it was placed between the songs “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” but Paul didn’t like it there.