It was a joy to see Malibu City Hall packed with 200 people for an event unrelated to the Woolsey Fire. The Malibu Speaker Series presentation,“Deconstructing Abbey Road,” last Wednesday evening didn’t have an open seat. The crowd was thirsty for details regarding the iconic Beatles album Abbey Road, the last recorded by the foursome, which is celebrating its 50-year anniversary release this month.
Guest speaker Scott Freiman called himself the world’s third-foremost Beatles expert. (Only Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr could possibly beat him in trivia.) And the evening did start with this trivia question/riddle: How is it that the Beatles never recorded one song at the famous Abbey Road studio? More on that later.
Freiman—who donated half his speaking fee to Armory of Harmony, a nonprofit that collects guns and melts them down into instruments—called Abbey Road an album of contradictions since there was much collaboration among the Liverpool lads even though John Lennon was absent for most of the sessions.
“It’s filled with great emotions for me,” the Beatleologist declared. “It’s got the sadness of the times and with the impending Beatles breakup. It’s got humor with ‘Octopus’ Garden’ and great optimism with ‘Here Comes the Sun.’” He called it “an exquisite album from top to bottom.”
The audience definitely agreed. Freiman carefully deconstructed each song.
While breaking down the George Harrison-penned “Something,” the audience was spellbound. Not a peep, whisper or rustle of noise was made when the gorgeously produced classic recording describing a new love was played over loudspeakers. The audience was simply mesmerized. The first line of the song was borrowed from an early song by James Taylor, who was then signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label. Freiman noted Taylor was unconcerned about the purloined lyrics, since his song itself ended with the Beatles refrain “I feel fine.” “Something” is one of the most covered songs in the Beatles canon.
While breaking down McCartney’s shouter “Oh! Darling,” Freiman detailed its doo-wop origins while taking cues from Fats Domino and a nonsubtle vocal tribute to Paul favorite Little Richard.
“Because” came about after Lennon heard his wife Yoko Ono playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano, turning it sideways with iconic three-part harmony (itself tripled with overdubs) to craft another enduring classic. For real Beatles nerds, Freiman spent much time playing rarely heard audio of in-studio chatter and isolated tracks. The crowd got an insider’s taste of what is must have been like to be in the studio with the legendary band, including a snippet of Harrison asking the other Beatles for help with lyrics to “Something.” The audience giggled when hearing Lennon’s voice suggest “attracts me like a cauliflower.”
The iconic cover for the album was also discussed. There was talk of calling the platter “Everest” after a cigarette brand and taking a photo of the group on the world’s highest peak. Ringo Starr nixed that and suggested simply taking a picture right outside the studio on Abbey Road. They had only 10 minutes in which street traffic was stopped to get the shot. Freiman noted the poignancy of the photo of Harrison, McCartney, Starr and Lennon walking across Abbey Road as the band finished recording for the final time as a group—walking away from the studio where the magic happened.
Luis Lopez, another Beatles expert in the audience who produces KLOS’s Breakfast with the Beatles, commented, “The music is so accessible. They deal with themes everybody goes through. It’s a packed house tonight for an album that came out 50 years ago. How many other bands will that happen to?”
The second half of Abbey Road concludes with the famous medley of songs and fragments woven together by McCartney and the group’s legendary producer George Martin.
Abbey Road, of course, concludes with the famous couplet, “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”—or, almost concludes, with “Her Majesty” bursting through after the medley’s end.
Oh, and that riddle. The Beatles made their recordings at EMI studios on Abbey Road. The name was later changed to Abbey Road Studios to honor its fabled history.
Editor's note: The print version misspells Scott Freiman's last name. It has been corrected for this online version.