ABbey ever after
M ark Lewisohn can’t remember which Beatles song he heard first. What he does know is that he was just five years old when he was first introduced to the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo and their albums became the soundtrack to the rest of his life.
“People ask what made them great and you talk about their personalities, but really it always came down to the music,” says the 61 year old Beatles historian who is one volume into an epic trilogy about the Fab Four’s life and times. “No human being had made the sound that they did before.
“Their songs had everything. The lyrics were witty and sharp, vocally they were impeccable and just when you thought you knew what the Beatles sound was, they would go and do something completely different.”
From the psychedelic to the classical, the Beatles weren’t afraid to experiment and produced 13 studio albums in just seven years. Abbey Road was the last to be recorded, but the penultimate to be released, hitting record stores in September 1969.
Just days before it was released Lennon told the rest of the band he was leaving the group and now 50 years on it remains an important landmark in the Beatles story.
“It’s easy to look back in hindsight and infer things from situations which weren’t actually true,” says Lewisohn. “By the time of Abbey Road, the band knew their break-up might not be far off, they talked about it quite pragmatically, quite often.
“However, they didn’t know that this would be their last album. They fully intended to carry on, but just one month after walking out of those studios that was it, the Beatles were no more.”
A decade after playing their first gig the pressures of being in the world’s biggest band, coupled with artistic and personal differences brought the curtain down on Beatlemania. However, as a final hurrah Abbey Road, which features classic tracks from Something to Come Together, wasn’t a bad one.
To mark the anniversary – and also to help fund that epic Beatles biography he’s writing – Lewisohn is about to head out on tour with a one man show revealing the stories behind both the songs and the recording.
“While the album went straight to number one and was another major commercial success, at the time the Beatles had quite a high disapproval rating amongst the wider public,” he says. “George had been arrested for possessing cannabis and while no one would bat an eyelid now, back then it had caused a major scandal.
“John had famously posed nude with Yoko and that also hadn’t gone down well with many people and there was a general sense that they had grown too big for their boots. Us British are pretty good at raising people up and then pulling them back down again and that’s what was happening to the Beatles.”
Perhaps, but John in particular was guilty of displaying some diva-like tendencies. Shortly before the Abbey Road recording, he and Yoko were involved in a car crash. It meant he was forced to pull out of the first sessions and when he did join the other three he had a bed put up in the corner so Yoko, who was still recovering from her injuries, could be there too.
“They couldn’t bear to be parted and while it obviously caused some tension it wasn’t the only issue bubbling underneath,” says Lewisohn. “The corporate music machine was just a fraction of the size it is now and while they refused to be told what to do by anyone they couldn’t avoid the business side of things.
“George in particular was becoming increasingly fed up that they seemed to spend more time in meetings than making or playing music. He was already good friends with Eric Clapton and he went up to his house one day to get away from it all.
“It was a glorious spring day and as he was sitting there he wrote Here Comes The Sun. There is a story behind every track on this album and each one tells you something different about the Beatles.”
Like a lot of what the Beatles did, everything about Abbey Road seemed effortless. Even the now iconic album cover, which turned a pedestrian crossing into a major landmark, was a spur of the moment decision.
“There had been talk of calling the album Everest and doing a shoot in Nepal, but that didn’t happen,” says Lewisohn. “Instead they went for Abbey Road, which was in many ways an odd choice. Back then no one knew where the Beatles recording studio was so it wasn’t a name which would resonate with fans.
“However, they went for it and decided to do a few shots outside. There were only six pictures taken that day on the crossing. Five of them weren’t great, but fortunately the sixth one was or history could have been a little different.”
Lewisohn’s Abbey Road tour is cryptically called The Beatles: Hornsey Road. He won’t say why, he’s saving that particular reveal for the fans who come to see the show.
“The Beatles never did anything obvious, so when I was thinking of a name for the show I knew I had to think of something a little leftfield and Hornsey Road is my tribute to them.
“There will never be another band like the Beatles. We went through the 70s, 80s and 90s waiting to see if there would be and now 50 years after Abbey Road it’s probably safe to say they were one-off originals.”