Why the Beatles Reordered the ‘Abbey Road’ Medley
The Beatles' Abbey Road album is perhaps best known for the eight-song medley that defines Side Two.
Known during the sessions as "The Long One," the sequence begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money," then continues with "Sun King," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End."
Abbey Road then closes with a short hidden tune titled "Her Majesty."
But they weren't always in this familiar order. The Beatles originally placed "Her Majesty" just after "Mean Mr. Mustard." Paul McCartney ultimately decided he wanted to reorder the songs, and asked tape operator John Kurlander to take out "Her Majesty" all together. Kurlander, in a moment of now-historic serendipity, decided not to throw it away. Instead, he tacked the song on the end of the reel – after attaching a long piece of leader tape to separate it from the rest of the album.
That's how Abbey Road was released. McCartney heard this sequencing, including the long silence before "Her Majesty" comes suddenly crashing back in, and approved.
"That was very much how things happened," McCartney told Barry Miles in Many Years From Now. "Really, you know, the whole of our career was like that, so it's a fitting end."
The medley concept began to emerge on May 6, 1969, when McCartney took his first pass at "You Never Give Me Your Money." He didn't give the song a proper finish, instead stopping short – suggesting he had plans to connect the track to something else.
Later, they added the lines, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven – all good children go to heaven," and some tape-looped sounds to link the song with "Sun King." Other previously unfinished ideas were brought back to the sessions, and they too began to combine into a greater whole.
McCartney subsequently guessed that it was his idea, "but I'm a bit wary of claiming these things. I'm happy for it to be everyone's idea. Anyway, in the end, we hit upon the idea of medley-ing them all and giving the second side a sort of operatic structure – which was great because it used 10 or 12 unfinished songs in a good way."
Listen to 'The Long One' Medley
As Abbey Road continued to take shape, everyone approached the medley as a single musical entity. "Sun King" and "Mean Mr. Mustard" were recorded together, as were "Polythene Pam" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," and "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight."
"I wasn't there at the conversation which led to the piecing together of it, but it was very much considered as one piece," Alan Parsons, then an assistant engineer, told the London Beatles Fan Club magazine in 1991. "It was worked once and always listened to as one piece. We were always running off rough mixes of it as a whole piece as it had developed to the end of that day, and everyone would take it home to listen to it."
Elements of "You Never Give Me Your Money" – including the melody during a verse of "Carry That Weight" and its concluding guitar notes in the bridge that leads to "The End" – return later in the medley. John Lennon mentions the main character of "Polythene Pam" in the preceding "Mean Mr. Mustard." Still, Lennon subsequently dismissed the larger concept as "junk," telling Rolling Stone that "none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together."
In a sense, he's correct, of course. There is no real narrative connection – and, if there had been, they wouldn't have been able to reorder it with such ease. Still, the medley represents the Beatles at their mature peak, defined both by pathos and playfulness as they made one more pass at greatness despite being riven by internal, mostly business-related struggles.
"John and Paul had various bits, and so we recorded them and put them together," Ringo Starr said in Anthology. "It actually points out that this is where it's at, that last portion: None of the songs were finished. A lot of work went into it, but they weren't writing together. John and Paul weren't even writing much on their own, really."
For George Harrison, the medley became a chance to return to their roots, playing together in the same room – rather than overdubbing their parts separately. "During the album, things got a bit more positive and, although it had some overdubs, we got to play the whole medley," Harrison said in Anthology. "We put them in order, played the backing track and recorded it all in one take, going from one arrangement to the next. We did actually perform more like musicians again."
Producer George Martin had envisioned just that, when approached about producing the Beatles again. In fact, he demanded it.
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"I tried with Paul to get back into the old Pepper way of creating something really worthwhile, and we put together the long side," Martin later mused. "John objected very much to what we did on the second side of Abbey Road, which was almost entirely Paul and I working together, with contribution from the others. John always was a Teddy boy. He was a rock 'n' roller, and wanted a number of individual tracks. So, we compromised. But even on the second side, John helped. He would come and put his little bit in, and have an idea for sewing a bit of music into the tapestry. Everybody worked frightfully well, and that's why I'm very fond of it."
"Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" dated back to demo recordings done at Harrison's house in May 1968, following the Beatles' trip to study Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. "Her Majesty," a song McCartney wrote in Scotland, was subsequently inserted between them, and then deleted during a trial edit of the medley made on July 30, 1969.
"Her Majesty" still begins with the final chord from "Mean Mr. Mustard," and ends abruptly – because the song's last moments kick off "Polythene Pam." The original album package didn't even list "Her Majesty" -- another testament to its unusual birth.
"We did all the remixes and cross-fades to overlap the songs," Kurlander said in The Beatles Recording Sessions. "Paul was there, and we heard it together for the first time. He said, 'I don't like "Her Majesty," throw it away,' so I cut it out – but I accidentally left in the last note. He said, 'It's only a rough mix, it doesn't matter.' In other words, Don't bother about making a clean edit because it's only a rough mix. I said to Paul, 'What shall I do with it?' 'Throw it away,' he replied. I'd been told never to throw anything away, so after he left, I picked it up off the floor, put about 20 seconds of red leader tape before it and stuck it onto the end of the edit tape."
Luckily, Malcolm Davies felt the same way. The Apple mastering engineer was charged with cutting a playback lacquer of the whole sequence so the Beatles could review it, and he also chose to leave "Her Majesty" tacked on the end – even though Kurlander had noted that the song was unwanted. That's how McCartney – and then the world – came to hear the Abbey Road medley in its current configuration.
The original track listing wasn't restored until 50 years later, when an expanded anniversary reissue of Abbey Road overseen by Martin's son Giles included the medley with "Her Majesty" placed between "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" once more.
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