Rubber Soul was groundbreaking, Revolver is possibly The Beatles at their best, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is perhaps their most important, and The White Album is their most diverse. But Abbey Road is most likely my favorite, and probably the one I listen to the most. There is just something about Abbey Road that makes me come back to it again and again. Perhaps, because it was the last album the group worked on together, it captures them as more mature compared to previous albums. There’s also a certain mythology around the album, as it contains some of the band’s best work, that leads you to wonder what they could have accomplished had they stayed together. And then there’s that medley. And that guitar solo near the end of the medley. And the famous lyrics at the very end of the medley. There is something truly magical about Abbey Road, whether you’re listening to the first side, second side, or both.
Speaking of the two sides, they are extremely different. The first side sounds more like The White Album, where it’s a wide collection of different songs and influences, written individually by all four of the band members. Lennon and McCartney each get two songs, while Harrison and Starr each got one. Side two opens with a fantastic Harrison number, then the band’s ultimate harmonic accomplishment, before finishing with a 16 minute medley of assorted tracks. If side one sounds more like The White Album, then side two sounds more like Sgt. Pepper. It’s this contrast that I think helps make this album special.
During the recording sessions, John was not a fan of the medley idea, thinking it was not authentic. He even wanted to split his and Paul’s songs apart even further by featuring all of his songs on one side, while putting Paul’s songs on the other. Thankfully, this did not happen, as I believe the current song structure is perfect. But it illustrates the tension that was still inside the band. Relationships were better than how they were on The White Album, and especially better than what they were during the Get Back sessions (which would later become Let It Be). But there was a divide in the band, most noticeably between Lennon and McCartney, that would ultimately conclude with John informing the band of his departure six days before the album was released.
Abbey Road is notable for a couple of other aspects, specifically the presence of Billy Preston on the organ on both “Something” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” You hear Billy much more distinctly on “Get Back” on Let It Be, but Abbey Road was the first time The Beatles had released music with him as an accompaniment. The Moog synthesizer also has a large presence, such as the wind effect at the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” This continues the trend of the band treating the album as their performance and experimenting with different sounds.
Let’s talk about that famous album cover for a minute, that we tried to recreate here at the brewery. In it, the band is walking from left to right, away from Abbey Road studios, symbolizing them walking away from the studio and turning their attention to other endeavors. In our photo, we’re also walking left to right, but toward the brewery, rather than away from it. Paul is barefoot and out of step with the rest of the band, which continued to fuel the “Paul is dead” rumors. To add to the rumors, he’s also the only one holding a cigarette. For our picture, I was selected to be the third walker, so I tried to imitate as best as I could. Instead of walking barefoot, I elected to wear brewing boots, as well as to be the only one wearing a hat. I’m not a smoker, so instead we rolled up a piece of receipt paper that I think looks pretty convincing. And while Harrison, the 4th walker, was the only one not in a suit, our fourth walker is the only one IN a suit…an elephant suit that it. I’m pretty happy with how it all came out. Here’s the full image:
Let’s get back into the music. The album starts with “Come Together”, which Lennon had originally started to write in support of then California gubunerial candidate Timothy Leary (yep, the same LSD Timothy Leary). But Lennon could never make it fit, and ended it going in a different direction than a campaign song. He ultimately added some nonsense lyrics, which were promptly overanalyzed, and that continues to this day.
Harrison is next with “Something”, which he was inspired to write after listening to James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves.” It’s one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, and was supposedly John’s favorite song on the album. McCartney has said that it’s his favorite George song. Over the years, Harrison stated different muses for the song, but it would be difficult to believe the song wasn’t written about his then wife, Pattie Boyd. I love Harrison’s guitar work on this song, from the recurring opening riff, to the solo. It is beyond required listening for anyone who wants to know more about George Harrison.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is next, and it was perhaps the most controversial song amongst the band on the album. John refused to participate on the track, and even the mild-mannered Harrison grew tired of it. The source of the ire, other than what Lennon called “more of Paul’s granny music”, was McCartney’s insistence that the song be perfect, a tendency that had started to grow during the recording of The White Album.
McCartney also sings the next one, “Oh Darling” and showcases some expanded vocal range that you normally don’t see from him. It reminds me of older rock and roll music, with the music seeming like something Chuck Berry would do. I think it’s a better song than “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, even though it is not nearly as complex.
Ringo gets his token song with “Octopus’s Garden”, which like some of his previous contributions, sounds a bit nursery rhyme-ish. But the song isn’t just for children, as it still has a great sing-a-long quality to it. The song was written when tensions in the band were high and Ringo was on boat during the time he had quit the band during The White Album. Wanting to be “under the sea” and away from the tension in the band is one way to interpret the song.
The final song on the first side is Lennon’s epic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. While many critics have panned the song for it’s simple lyrics, I think the simplicity drives the point home. Instead of using words to describe his feelings, John’s using the inflection in his voice to tell you what he’s really feeling. Many have pointed to this song as one of the pioneers of progressive rock, and the dark tones certainly contribute to that idea. I love singing along to the guitar, especially the “bow-bow-bow” at the end of each stanza before it starts up again. I absolutely adore the end of the song, where the distortion comes in, symbolizing a pressure building up. Very much like the end of “A Day in the Life” (another Lennon composition), the tension rises and rises and rises. You feel like it’s going to pop any moment but it keeps going. And in this song’s case, it ends very abruptly. When making the final cut, Lennon sat with a producer, who had a pair of scissors ready to cut into the spinning reel. At one point, Lennon said something along the lines of “Right there”, and the tape was cut, right at 7 minutes, 47 seconds, making it one of the longest Beatles songs in their catalogue.
Side two starts off with Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”, another of one the band’s songs that is just impossible to not whistle along with. It’s no surprise that it’s an excellent morning song, but the reaffirming “it’s alright” makes it great for any time in the day. The song is more about the arrival of spring, rather than the start of a new day, and also about the joys of playing hookey, as Harrison wrote the song at Eric Clapton’s house after he skipped out on attending meetings with accountants.
The next song, “Because”, is The Beatles are their harmonic best. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison lay down the vocals, then those tracks were tripled, leaving nine voices in all. If you’ve ever seen the Beatles “Love” show in Las Vegas, then you’ll know the acapella version of this song is stunning, and easily one of the highlights of the show. If you hear any Beethoven in the song, then you have a great ear, because the song was inspired by Lennon listening to Yoko play “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano, and John asked her to play it backwards. Then he wrote the lyrics, of which he later said, “The lyrics speak for themselves … No imagery, no obscure references.” It is a gorgeous piece of music, and the last song before the famous medley.
“You Never Give Me Your Money”, a McCartney song about a business relationship gone sour, starts the medley off. The majority of the songs in the medley were originally written for (and sometimes recorded during the recording sessions) The White Album and Let It Be. Overall, the majority of the songs in the medley are Paul’s, which makes sense as it was his idea to do it in the first place. John described the medley as “junk … just bits of songs thrown together”, but I find the entire 16 minute section as fun and creative. There’s so many sections that I love, but my favorite is “The End”, which not only has Ringo’s only drum solo (hard to imagine, right?), but has some of the best guitar work in the entire Beatles catalogue. By this point, you’re head is already nodding uncontrollably, and then the band busts out this awesome solo, in which McCartney, Harrison and Lennon (in that order, then repeating) take turns letting it rip. Supposedly, the entire solo was done in one take. Remarkable. All of a sudden, BAM, the guitars end, and a simple piano tapping is heard. And here come the words, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” It either gives me shivers or makes me grin like a cheshire cat every time. What an ending.
OK, so I guess “The End” isn’t truly the end, because Abbey Road has a secret track, called “Her Majesty.” I always thought it was a peculiar choice after what I thought was a perfect ending. Originally, the song was supposed to be between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” McCartney didn’t like the song as part of the medley, so it got cut out. If you listen closely, you can hear elements of “Mean Mr. Mustard” at the beginning of “Her Majesty”, and you can hear a bit of “Her Majesty” at the beginning of “Polythene Pam.” One of the engineers took the cut and put it at the end of the album, and the band liked it and decided to keep it. But for me, the album ends with “The End.”
For the beer, I wanted to highlight the contrast between how the album sounds like two different albums on it’s two sides. While Lennon wanted to release an album like The White Album, McCartney and producer George Martin wanted to make an album they way they used to do it, like during Sgt. Pepper. This meant Martin wanted the band to record the album together in the studio, rather than overdubbing all their parts separately, which had become the new norm. I also wanted to highlight how the first side is more traditional, while the second side is more unique. To symbolize that, I decided to make a twist on an old favorite of ours. I started with the base recipe for our Defiance Belgian Dubbel, which you can read the blog post for it here. But rather than add the dextrose to it, I added four different types of fruit (keeping the theme of 4 going for the series). In one sense, the base recipe represents doing things the way they used to do it, while the fruit represents wanting to do something new. The base recipe also represents the first side, as it’s something somewhat familiar, while the different fruits represent the medley with a bunch of different flavors merged together. There is also a tie in with the name, as Belgian Dubbels are also sometimes known as Abbey beers. The four fruits used were tart cherries, sweet cherries, blackberries and raspberries. And because the album ends on such a sweet note, the amount of sweet cherries is the largest amount added.
You’ll pick up notes of fig, plum and raisin, as well as the expected flavors from the fruits used. Overall, the fruity flavors combine beautifully. There is a light amount of pepper from the yeast, but the fruitiness dominates. The beer finishes dry, and leaves you craving another sip, just like The Beatles left us wishing they had stayed together. Like Defiance before it, this beer is served with higher carbonation in our Belgian glass.
This beer, which was released the morning of our second anniversary, is a fitting end to our Beatles series. Abbey Road is such an amazing album that ends so beautifully, that I wanted to make a beautiful beer to match. I believe we succeeded. We liked this beer so much, that we decided to feature it in the “Paired” section at GABF this year. It hasn’t been decided what food it will be paired with yet, but we’re excited to work with our partner restaurant to come up with something fantastic.
As I mentioned in my introduction post to the Beatles series, I was initially hesitant to brew a Beatles series, just because of my massive respect for the band and how much they mean to me. Looking back at the series, I am incredibly proud of what the brewing team and I have been able to accomplish. Not only did all the beers match up wonderfully with their respective albums, but I think they are also some of the best beers we have ever brewed. We put a lot of love into these beers, and I hope you got a lot of love out of them. Thanks for reading and drinking, and “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”