Get to Know The Beatles

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years, 1962-1970

| Winter 2018

  • The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions offers readers a gluttony of pictures that accompany each spread.
    Photo courtesy of Flickr / George M. Groutas
  • While Mark Lewisohn’s telling of The Beatles’ recording history is rich in captivating detail, the most remarkable aspect of the book for music fans might be his interview with a Beatle himself.
    Photo courtesy of Flickr / Kevin Dooley
  • The newly reissued The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970 by Mark Lewisohn takes readers on an exciting journey through The Beatles’ recording days — from their first recording session for “Love Me Do” to the final session for George’s “I Me Mine.”
    Photo courtesy of Hamlyn

John Lennon had taken the wrong pill. And so, instead of recording the backup vocals for “Getting Better” on uppers as he had intended, the pop star was 30 feet above ground, wandering the roof’s edge of Abbey Road Studios–on acid. When Beatle producer George Martin naively told Paul McCartney and George Harrison where John was and how strange he was acting, the two rushed up to the roof and led him safely back down to the studio. That same night at Abbey Road, a little-known British rock band called Pink Floyd was recording their first album in another studio. During a break in recording, the group sheepishly introduced themselves to The Beatles and they exchanged “half-hearted hellos.”

While the happenings that night at Abbey Road would be considered rock and roll history of epic proportions by most, it was just another day in the studio for the Fab Four. The newly reissued The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970 by Mark Lewisohn takes readers on an exciting journey through The Beatles’ recording days – from their first recording session for “Love Me Do” to the final session for George’s “I Me Mine.” Originally published in 1988, the book documents every recording and mixing session The Beatles had at Abbey Road in fascinating fashion.

Casual Beatles fans might balk at the idea of reading a book with such precise details of the group’s recordings, like the fact that it took them five takes to be satisfied with their “fan club only” 1964 Another Beatles Christmas Record, but one might be surprised to discover that The Beatles’ Christmas records even existed and that Apple rereleased all seven of them on vinyl in December 2017. With so many interesting bits of information, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions might be best thought of as a handy reference guide when listening to one of their songs or albums rather than a narrative meant to be read from front to back.

Take “Tomorrow Never Knows” from 1966’s Revolver, for instance. Ever wonder why John’s lead vocal sounds so striking and unusual? As producer George Martin recounted, “John said to me ‘I want to sound as though I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top. And yet I still want to hear the words I’m singing’.” To achieve this feat of sound engineering, Martin sent Lennon’s vocal signal through a Leslie speaker (the rotating speakers inside of Hammond organs that give them their swirling effect).



Or, how about the groundbreaking album Rubber Soul from 1965? As was the custom since their recording days began, The Beatles were to release two LPs per year on top of several singles not included on the albums. In early October of 1965, the band had only put out one album that year (Help!), and hadn’t even begun recording it’s follow-up to be released for the Christmas holiday shopping season. To make matters even more dire, John and Paul didn’t have a batch of songs ready to record like they customarily would’ve had. And so, the group set to work writing new songs and what they came up with was what many regard to be one of their most innovative albums. From “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” the acoustic ballad sweetened by George’s simple sitar (likely the first usage of the Indian instrument in Western pop music), to the relatively complex, French-inspired “Michelle,” The Beatles presented a work that was as imaginative as it was cohesive. By the time the album hit shelves in December, it was clear to the music world that the innocent-seeming mop tops of before were no more and that their songwriting and recording talent was boundless.

Perhaps just as intriguing as the stories of The Beatles’ recording sessions are the photographs that portray them. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions offers readers a gluttony of pictures that accompany each spread. Of note to music history buffs might be the images of their first recording session with Ringo on drums. When the group had first come to record “Love Me Do,” Martin was unimpressed by the drummer’s performance. And so, a week later on September 11, 1962, session drummer Andy White took the reigns of the kit and Ringo was delegated to play tambourine instead. Also of interest from those early, pre-fame days are the errors listed on The Beatles’ pay stubs. For example, who is J.W. Lewnow? Or who knew that George was the bass player? It’s the inclusion of old documents like these that add significant charm to the book. The photographs tell stories of their fame, too. As time went on and the band became international superstars, one can see how their approach to recording became more confident and controlling. In one photo from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions, Paul can be seen instructing a trio of classical French horn players. A far cry from the nervous 20-year-old of five years prior.  And, just as the excitement of Beatlemania can be felt through photos of the band recording A Hard Day’s Night, so too can their disenchantment in pictures from the Let It Be sessions.




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