The Beatles and You: Finding Inspiration in Abbey Road’s “The End”

Ugh, my big plans for the blog this year have run into some real-life snags. More posts soon, I promise!

On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying this trip through the Beatles catalog and exploring the genius and creativity behind it. So here we go with another spin of our Jacke Wilson Randomizer… the wheel spins… the marble drops into place… and…

Oh no. Really?

The End (Lennon-McCartney, Abbey Road)

(The clip is of three final songs* of Abbey Road, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. This is the recommended way to listen to The End (it builds, it builds, it builds!). The End starts at 3:07 if you want to skip ahead.)

*Yes, I’m aware of the mistake-snippet Her Majesty that got tacked onto the end of Abbey Road. And no, I’m not counting it. In this post, we shall end with the proper end. The End.

THE SELECTION

Never has it been more difficult to stick to the song chosen by the gods! If I was doing this in any sort of order that made sense, The End would come last. Because, of course, it was The End for the Beatles: the final song on the final album they recorded, the majestic triumph Abbey Road. The story goes that after the bitterness of Let It Be, they agreed to close out the Beatles with a real album, a spectacular one, one with George Martin at the helm and the four of them applying their powers in a final unified way. An album by a band, not just four individual musicians working sort-of-together a la the White Album.

So Abbey Road was the end. And The End was the end of the end.

How do you cap off such a preternatural run of brilliance? For a brief period these guys owned the world. Music and inspiration flowed through them like the spirit of God flowing through four angels.

Yes, I can get carried away. But come on! Here’s a list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs, presented by Rolling Stone. Number 100 is Hello, Goodbye. Number 100! A catchy, compelling song that beat out I Am the Walrus to be the A side!  (For more Walrusing, check out our last choice of the gods.) And perhaps most to the point, a song that was a number-one hit.

What other band has a song that went to number one as their 100th-greatest song? Really, you have a band in mind? Well, tell me: did they write all the songs themselves? In seven years ?

For that kind of whirlwind achievement I think you need to look across centuries. Who else is comparable? Keats? Shakespeare? Picasso? Mozart? Bach? Alexander the Great?

CLIMBING THE FINAL PEAK

So what do you do when you’ve done everything possible? For the Beatles, you top yourself, once again, with something new. That’s The End.

Oh, sure, you say. The End isn’t even the best song on the album! There’s Oh! Darling, for example, and Here Comes the Sun, and of course the Medley from Heaven, and the criminally underrated You Never Give Me Your Money (listen to this podcast episode for a brilliant and amusing defense of the song). Come Together was on this album! And Something!

Where does The End fit among all this genius?

Those other songs are like the brilliant plates brought out near the end of the seven-year feast we’ve all had together. The End is the little cup of espresso at the end. The perfect finisher. A last burst of taste for the palate, a last bit of energy for the road.

The other songs on Abbey Road set the table. The End clears it.

The End tells you exactly why the Beatles were brilliant. It tells you that the phenomenon of the Beatles are finished. And it tells you what it means that the finish has arrived.

People. It’s The End.

THE MESSAGE

These were rough days. Filming the Let It Be movie had been a disaster. Things were falling apart; the center did not hold. Bickering had set in. The four of them knew the band was breaking up—had already broken up, essentially—and that things would never be the same. It was a time for looking back on what had just happened. The people inside the maelstrom, the only ones who could really know what it was like to be in the middle of all that chaos, all that creative fervor, were about to tell us what it had all meant.

What is the essence of the Beatles? How about this (actual lyrics):

Oh yeah, all right
Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight?

Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you
Love you, love you

Twenty-four love yous! They loved us! They loved us all! It’s love, baby, it’s what we need, and it’s All We Need!

Years later, Ringo would talk about how proud he was that the ultimate message of the Beatles had always been (and will always be) Love. Their trajectory could have gone a lot of different ways. It arced toward Love. It culminated in The End.

Here’s the final word. The philosophical lesson they’ve learned. Our words to live by. Our example to follow:

And in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make.

That’s the message from the Beatles:

That’s it, people! That’s what we were! That’s what we stood for! Now get out there and share the love! You’ll be a better person for it!

IN THE END IS A BEGINNING

Here’s one of my favorite Abbey Road stories. On Because, the Beatles sing in a beautiful, all hands on deck harmony. Actually, the song is sung by John, Paul, and George. They then triple the voices, so the three of them are singing in nine-part harmony. It took the three of them all day to do it. Do yourself a favor: put in headphones and listen to this for two minutes:

Love is all, love is new. Love is all, love is you. Beautiful. And very John.

But wait: what about Ringo? No drums on this. And he wasn’t part of the harmonizing. So where was he?

This is the part of the story I love: Ringo sat in a chair as the other three sang. He was there just… well, because.

Several people commented that when all four Beatles were in the same room, the atmosphere changed. One Beatle was powerful enough, two or three was almost intimidating. But when all four were together, something magic happened. A kind of electricity. A powerful, otherworldly force surrounded them all. People who experienced it often—like George Martin—would warn new employees that it was about to happen. You’re about to enter a room with all four of the Beatles, and when that happens, something powerful occurs. Be ready. Brace yourself. Hang on.

And so Ringo sat there with the others as they harmonized for the last time. They didn’t need his voice, but they needed his presence. He was part of the special chemistry they had. Without him, the others might not have blended. Without him, the electrochemical reactions might not have occurred.

He knew he was part of the magic.

That’s all in the song Because, which kicks off Abbey Road‘s second side, the side that runs through the Medley, and culminates in The End.

And in The End, as in Because, the band is tight, the musicianship is perfect, the magic is happening. But there’s a difference. In Because, you can’t pry the Beatles apart with a crowbar. But in The End, you hear all four of them as individuals.

What do they do? They trade solos. And yet it’s a perfect act of togetherness.

What do Romeo and Juliet do when they first meet one another?  They speak these lines:

ROMEO [To JULIET]

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

Do you notice what that is? They are speaking lines separately, of course (soloing!). But taken together, their lines form a perfect Shakespearean sonnet, fourteen lines with three ABAB quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end.

So here the Beatles are, trading solos and yet uniting one last time, in a two and a half minute rock-and-roll version of a sonnet.

Did Shakespeare think his audience would catch that? I think he felt it was right, and he trusted that the audience would feel what he felt. So too the Beatles.

Here we are, they seem to be saying. All four members of this divine supergroup. And all four have our own personalities, and can do our own thing, and yet we can make this happen together. That’s what we feel right now, and that’s what we feel that you’ll feel when you hear it, even if none of us are thinking this through.

Paul claimed that you could hear the personalities of each Beatle in their solo, and it’s easy to do once you know what to listen for.

Listen again to those solos (they start at 0:53 of this clip).

First comes Paul, fluttering in the window, first to arrive, like a bird who chirps nine different melodies before breakfast, just because the sun is rising, he’s happy, and song is what he was put on this planet to do. George is next, the quiet one soaring to the heavens, lifting himself spiritually, doing more with less, exercising restraint, shedding the ego in a search for higher meaning. And then John: caustic, driving, grungy, dirty, selecting a dark palette of notes and pushing them forward in a sneering melody, making his guitar go, making it move, insisting. Each of the three gets three chances. Nine voices started the album side. Nine guitar solos end it. (Oh, how they loved that number.)

That’s what we got from each of them as Beatles: the combination of those talents that together made everything sing. And now, looking forward, we would be able to hear them in their solo careers, where they would give us the purer version of each of the three talents. That’s what the song is. It’s a reminder of the past and a look to the future, all at once.

And Ringo? Ringo has a drum solo. He hated drum solos—he liked being in the group, supporting the others, blending in. But the others encouraged him to add a solo, his first and only solo with the Beatles, and he came through perfectly: eight bars of his metronomic timekeeping, in his left-handed-unique-style drumming.

The others made him do it because they knew what was happening.

Yes, Ringo. A solo. You too will need to be on your own soon.

A POP QUIZ

Q: Who was the only Beatle to release two full-length solo albums in 1970 (the year the Beatles broke up)?

A: Ringo Starr.

A QUOTE

I’ve talked before about John’s honesty, and about how his generous admiration for Paul. Yoko once compared Paul to a Salieri envious of John’s Mozart, but John didn’t see it that way. He knew genius when he saw it, and his honesty compelled his recognition that Paul’s gifts were at least equal to his own and in some ways probably exceeded him (just as his own genius at times surpassed Paul).

Even in the area typically thought of as John’s strength—that he was the deeper thinker, or the better lyricist—John’s honesty compelled him to recognize that Paul could be just as good. Here he is talking about The End:

“That’s Paul again … He had a line in it, ‘And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give,’ which is a very cosmic, philosophical line. Which again proves that if he wants to, he can think.””

The Beatles would never have happened without John’s honesty and willingness to recognize Paul’s greatness.

Listen for that as those guitar solos trade off against each other: the admiration the three have for each other. The admiration, the excitement, and the love.

It was the spirit that had formed them since the beginning. Had John been envious and protective of his own superiority and smaller-souled than he was, he’d have kept the others out altogether. The Beatles would not have happened.

ANOTHER QUOTE (A COMPILATION)

John Lennon on the day he met Paul McCartney:

“It was through Ivan that I first met Paul. So one day when we were playing in Woolton, he brought him along. We can both remember it quite well. The Quarry Men were playing on a raised platform and there was a good crowd because it was a warm , sunny day. We talked after the show and I saw he had talent. He was playing guitar backstage, doing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran. I was very impressed by Paul playing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. He could obviously play the guitar. I half thought to myself, ‘He’s as good as me.’ I’d been kingpin up until then. Now I thought, ‘If I take him on, what will happen?’ It went through my head that I’d have to keep him in line if I let him join. But he was good, so he was worth having. He also looked like Elvis. I dug him. Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in? To make the group stronger, or to let me be stronger? Instead of going for the individual thing we went for the strongest format-equals.”

Equals. The strongest format of all.

ONE MORE USE FOR THE END

Surprise!

(Listen at the 2:00 mark.)

ONE QUICK TAKE FROM IAN MACDONALD

On the song’s final few seconds:

In conclusion, McCartney touches for the last time on the poignant A minor of You Never Give Me Your Money for the famous line ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make,’ landing unexpectedly – if, in terms of the Medley’s overall key-structure, logically – on a sadly smiling C major.

A sadly smiling C major! That’s so true!

I’ve cued it up here:

Here’s Christian Schubart, an eighteenth-century music theorist on the personality of C major:

C major: Completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children’s talk.

Using C major—C major—for the final chord of the album side, but bending all that simple, naïve innocence into a sadly smiling triumphant farewell…good lord, could anything be more perfect?

It reminds me of the day I watched my oldest head off to kindergarten. And he climbed the bus, with his little backpack and its note telling people his name and who his teacher was in case he arrived at school and forgot, and he climbed right on board by himself and didn’t even turn around to wave. He was ready. His independence was beginning,. And our five-year stretch of parenting, where he was dependent on us for everything and where our most important job was to keep him healthy and happy, and which we alone were responsible for, was ending.

That’s what we did, I realize now. His mother and I waved at his smiling silhouette in the window, the silhouette that was looking forward and not back, the two of us choked up by the ending of the five-year cocoon we had provided for him, and which had felt so important and vital and essential to his development. But we were also smiling with pride at the butterfly with the little blue backpack who was more than ready to fly.

Proud, teary smiles. A sad and smiling C major. That chord has in it everything I felt that morning. Years of my life culminated into that one moment on the sidewalk, and all of it captured and expressed in one perfect chord.

Man. Is there any doubt that these guys were channeling the music gods?

AND ONE FINAL QUOTE

Ringo Starr:

Yes, I was in the Beatles. Yes, we made some great records together. Yes, I love those boys. But that’s the end of the story.

Sometimes it has to be over. All things must pass. It is the nature of stories, and bands, and people. It is the essence of time. It is what it means to be human.

It is The End. And that is all right.

UNLOCK YOUR INNER BEATLE!

Something in your life is not working. Don’t be afraid of change. Instead, use all your creative gifts to put the finishing touches on the thing you know must end. End it with a flourish, end it with something new and perfect you’ve never created before. And then, look to your new future with anxiety (but not fear), with sadness (but not sorrow), and above all with courage and excitement and the joy of new experiences. And love.

Happy Monday, everyone! Be creative! Love one another!

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16 thoughts on “The Beatles and You: Finding Inspiration in Abbey Road’s “The End”

  1. I hardly know where to start with your ‘silly love song’, sorry, eulogy to the former moptops. They too were part of my teenage years, the template for the 60s when world-changing possibilities were in the air and it was good to be alive. You’ve captured perfectly that feeling in this post.

    So all I’ll say is I too noted that long C major chord, and contrasted it with that long E major chord that ends Sgt Pepper, the first pop LP I bought (the second ever LP, after Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time). E major was also the lower component of my favourite chord from The Rite of Spring (the third LP I bought) the top half being E flat 7… Please stop me before I make this brief comment post-length…

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    1. I wouldn’t stop you! Feel free to keep going – it’s nice to hear from someone who understands the music and was there at the beginning. But I understand, people have lives and their own blogs to support. But anyway, thanks for the comment. Now I have something to look for if the Gods ever choose “A Day in the Life,” although if they do, trying to write the post will probably break me.

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      1. No, don’t get me wrong, Jacke, it’s just that I can be over-verbose (‘overbose’?) and write a comment longer than the original post! Though I may not have matched the entertaining proportions of this one…

        But do excuse me while I catch up on your other recent posts — having recently moved and with builders in I’ve missed so much — and I may still have monumental comments to add!

        But excuse me while I

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  2. Wanted to thank you. IN writing these pieces on the Beatles you reminded me of music I love so much and for unknown reasons had not listened to for awhile. Been having such good times, and listening with an ear to your articles…for those of us who ‘grew up’ listening to the Beatles…good fortune certainly was ours.

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  3. Thank you for highlighting what may be the 5 best minutes of my favorite Beatles album ever. It was brilliant. So is your post. (But, I still like the unexpected quirkiness of “Her Majesty”)

    This served as dinner music so many times while my kids were growing up…they have a great appreciation for the “good stuff”. Thanks again. ☺ Van

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      1. It is why I could not fathom that someone recently referred to Paul McCartney as someone to be “given his first big break” in a Kanye West video. Shame on any baby boomer whose children have never heard of the Beatles.

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  4. When my daughter was a toddler, her first song she started singing was “She Loves You”. Well I would sing She loves you and she would sing, “yeah, yeah yeah.” at 1 year old. My son still loves the Beatles. It’s nice to hear it on his i-pod along with Black Veil Brides and Butthole Surfers. Oh wait, that’s mine.

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