Abbey Road is widely seen as one of the Beatles’ greatest achievements, that spectacular 1969 curtain call where they put their animosity aside and got back to their old magic one last time. But for such an exalted hallmark of rock history, its making has always been a little mysterious, even under-documented.
By now, very few stones remain unturned in the Beatles’ story, but when it comes to Abbey Road, diehards still find a lot to agonize over: Did they hate each other? Was it supposed to be the last album? Is it their last album at all? And for whatever reason, Abbey Road often gets the thinnest chapter even in the heftiest Beatles tomes: in Bob Spitz’s 983-page biography The Beatles, its sessions get a whopping nine pages.
We may never crack all of Abbey Road’s mysteries, but we’re ever closer to the truth via the Super Deluxe Edition, out Friday (Sept. 27). The three-disc set features a full-album remix by Giles Martin and two discs of previously unreleased outtakes and demos.
This month, some of Abbey Road’s narrative potholes got filled when Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn unveiled a tape of a 1969 band meeting (sans Ringo) that put a couple of longstanding questions to bed. John Lennon is usually cited in Beatle lore as the one who wanted to leave the band first, but in Lewisohn’s tape, Lennon tears up the narrative by floating the idea of (gasp!) an Abbey Road follow-up and the logistics of one of its singles dropping that Christmas.
Maybe Abbey Road wasn’t designed to be their last. But coming only a few weeks after the tempestuous Let it Be, how did they arrive at the good vibes of “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun” or the open-hearted closing medley? Super Deluxe Edition’s bonus material reveals levity and light during the sessions, from Ringo Starr and George Harrison cracking up through “Octopus’s Garden” to John Lennon rip-roaring through “Come Together” and “Polythene Pam” like he’s having the time of his life.
For any Abbey Road fan curious as to what the Super Deluxe Edition can offer, here are 10 must-hear moments from its two discs of unreleased material.
Billy Preston going berserk on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
Disc two of Super Deluxe Edition begins with a revealing alternate version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, splicing an outtake from Trident Studios with three minutes of Billy Preston’s edited-out organ solo from the original version’s coda. Instead of being engulfed in white noise, “I Want You” ends with Preston going HAM on his Hammond, revealing that he originally took the song’s proto-Black Sabbath vibe into a freakazoid Can or Hawkwind direction. “My boys are ready to go,” Lennon crows at the top.
Paul’s sweet home demo of “Goodbye.”
At the end of the Beatles’ run, McCartney tended to write in an old-timey music hall style — or “little folk songs for the grannies to dig,” as Lennon put it. “Goodbye” is right in that lane: McCartney wrote this sailor’s farewell for Mary Hopkin, a teenage signee to Apple Records who released it as a No. 13 single on the Billboard Hot 100. “If you think of it from a sailor’s point of view, it’s very much a leaving-the-port song,” McCartney says in the liner notes. “Goodbye (Home Demo)” is a tad on the fluffy side, but in this stripped-down form, it could fit right on 1968’s White Album or 1970’s McCartney.
George’s refreshed studio demo of “Something.”
This studio demo of “Something” has actually been around since 1996’s Anthology 3 — just not in this form. Harrison’s original mono demo, as released in 1996, didn’t include his overdubbed piano parts, leaving only electric guitar and vocals. “Something (Stereo Demo)” appears in refreshed form for stereo, not mono, and Harrison’s restored piano part gives it emotional heft, not to mention historical accuracy.
John and Paul burying the hatchet for “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”
One clue to Abbey Road’s good mood is “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” in which Lennon got McCartney into the studio to help him blow off steam about his crazy couple of weeks: marrying Yoko Ono and staging the Bed-Ins for Peace, among other things. By all accounts, the pair enjoyed banging out this pissy rant without the other Beatles; it seemed to clear the air between them after the bummer of Let it Be. “The Ballad of John and Yoko (Take 7)” is full of good-natured ribbing: “You’ve got to go faster, Ringo!” Lennon tells McCartney, manning the kit while Starr was out filming The Magic Christian. “Okay, George!” he responds.
Ringo fumbling “Octopus’s Garden.”
Harrison loved “Octopus’s Garden,” a children’s song Starr wrote on Peter Sellers’ yacht in Sardinia. “This song gets very deep in your consciousness, because it’s so peaceful,” Harrison said in 1969. “I suppose Ringo is writing cosmic songs these days without even noticing it.” “Octopus’s Garden (Take 9)” is full of warmth between Harrison and Starr, even when Starr slides into the chorus prematurely and the band screeches to a halt. “I think I went into ‘I’d ask my friends’ a bit early,” Starr says, sounding a little dazed. “Or you all came late.”
Paul’s creepy spoken word intro on “You Never Give Me Your Money.”
“You Never Give Me Your Money (Take 36)” begins with McCartney vamping on the chords while croaking like a crypt keeper: “Alright, okay, you win. I’m in love with you.” He lapses into his normal voice. “You never give me your coffee,” he sings. “Okay, come on, serious, come on, boys. Leslie [speaker] off, please. It’s exactly half past two and it’s 36, and here we go.” Take 30 ended up being the one chosen for Abbey Road.
John’s self-deprecating take on “Come Together.”
Lennon seemed to view Abbey Road negatively later on, calling the second side “junk because it was just bits of songs thrown together.” But he was jazzed about “Come Together.” “It’s one of my favorite Beatle tracks,” he told Playboy in 1980. “It’s funky, it’s bluesy, and I’m singing it pretty well.” He sounds engaged on “Come Together (Take 5),” poking at his self-described “gobbledygook” lyrics: “He’s got teenage lyrics/ He’s got hot rod bowling!”
A raucous take on “Polythene Pam” complete with John gags.
“Polythene Pam” (Take 27) begins with McCartney criticizing Harrison’s playing. “Don’t do so much to start off with, because you’ll blow it all, you’ll give away all your best bits,” McCartney says. Starr tries a massive tom groove in the verse. “Sounds like Dave Clark,” Lennon says. His raw, spirited run-through of “Pam” (leading right into McCartney’s “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”) is a joy.
The trial edit/mix of the famous closing medley.
If you want to hear how Abbey Road’s closing medley could have sounded, check out “The Long One (Trial Edit & Mix — 30 July 1969).” It’s a rough compilation of each of its vignettes, with subtle differences — the final, crashing chord of “Mean Mr. Mustard” transitions into “Her Majesty,” as was originally intended, and the “one-two-three-four-five-six-seven” bit on “You Never Give Me Your Money” comes in early.
Heavenly strings-only versions of “Something,” “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight.”
Sometimes, orchestral tracks from well-known songs come off as padding in box sets. But George Martin’s isolated string arrangements on disc three, for “Something” and “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight,” ask to be heard on their own. It’s hard to imagine the bridge of “Something” without its “pinpoint pizzicato” (as the liner notes put it), and the swelling horns on “Carry That Weight” can make your heart skip: it sounds like the Beatles’ story is racing to the finish. Together, they show how Martin’s touch elevated Abbey Road — and the Beatles’ entire catalog.