For the last 50 years, it's been just about universally assumed that Abbey Road was The Beatles' intentional grand finale.
The last album the Fab Four recorded (though not the last album they released, a distinction that belongs to 1970's Let it Be), it - of course - featured "The End," the poignant track that featured guitar solos from John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, plus a drum solo from Ringo Starr.
A new tape recording though, first obtained by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn and shared with The Guardian, has the potential to completely re-write this near-mythical aspect of the legendary quartet's story.
“Ringo - you can’t be here, but this is so you can hear what we’re discussing,” John Lennon says at the beginning of the recording. Made on September 8, 1969 on a portable tape recorder at Apple headquarters in Savile Row, the recording documents a meeting between Lennon, McCartney and Harrison regarding the band's next album. Starr, in the hospital for tests regarding intestinal issues, was not present.
In the recording, Lennon suggests that the group release a single in time for Christmas of that year, and that each member of the group bring in songs as candidates for it. Most notably, he also suggests a formula for the band's next album: four songs each from himself, McCartney and Harrison and two for Ringo "if he wants them."
Lennon also discusses doing away with “the Lennon-and-McCartney myth,” and crediting each song to the individual member who wrote it.
McCartney, for his part, doesn't mince words, saying of Lennon's proposal: "I thought until this album [Abbey Road] that George’s songs weren’t that good.” Certainly an interesting take on the merit of songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Taxman"!
Harrison then retorts with “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.” Lennon, coming to Harrison's defense, cites the rest of the group's dislike of McCartney's Abbey Road track, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and suggests that he offer future songs like it to outside artists, such as Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkin.
“I recorded it,” McCartney reportedly says, “because I liked it.”
The recording was dug up as a part of the research behind Hornsey Road, a stage show developed by Lewisohn that tells the story of Abbey Road.
“It’s a revelation,” Lewisohn said of the recording. “The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high. But no – they’re discussing the next album. And you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up but, when you hear this, he isn’t. Doesn’t that rewrite pretty much everything we thought we knew?”