Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles

Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles by Kenneth Womack was published in 2019, on the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ final recorded album. Womack interviewed people who were at EMI Recording Studios where Abbey Road was recorded and gave a song-by-song recording history of the album. Alan Parsons, who at the age of twenty was the album’s assistant engineer, wrote the foreword and contributed to the story. What I did not know is that Parsons was in attendance for the Beatles’ Apple Records rooftop concert on January 30, 1969 and was pictured in the Get Back book that accompanied the Let It Be box set. Since I own this set I had to thumb through it to find him. Good thing Parsons described himself to the reader:

“…I can be seen sporting a striped jacket, an orange shirt, and a trendy thin black tie.”

because it would have been impossible to find him otherwise. The orange shirt was immediately visible, even in the smaller of the two Parsons photos.

The story begins with the introduction of the eight-track TG console at EMI Studios in late 1968. This piece of equipment gave the Beatles more versatility to layer and enhance their music than ever before. Abbey Road was also enriched by the new invention of the Moog synthesizer, and for Beatles fans like me who are not technologically savvy I was pleased that Womack made these first chapters such captivating reading. The Moog chapter also provided a history of George Harrison’s experimental Zapple album Electronic Sound. Beatles fans are lucky to find more than a single paragraph devoted to this album. Womack to his credit took this album seriously. It was Harrison who introduced the Moog to Abbey Road and Paul McCartney added it to songs such as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. It was the Quiet Beatle (I was always annoyed when Womack referred to Harrison by this nickname, and spelled with a capital Q) whom the author praised most of all for his blossoming of songwriting genius with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”.

We were taken into the recording studio and sat in on the multi-hour sessions, which often involved the recording of the same song sometimes dozens of times. Womack gave piece-by-piece accounts of how the songs were put together and all too often new directions for a song would be recorded and then trashed weeks later. Abbey Road‘s side two medley provided the most enthralling reading as we watched the various snippets of songs finally find their set order. Contrary to popular belief, the individual songs were not all spliced together one at a time. For three pairs of them, they were recorded as a single song: “Sun King” and “Mean Mr. Mustard”, “Polythene Pam” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight”.

Womack filled his book with reputable sources and the endnotes and bibliography were filled with works by Beatles intimates and documentarians. I had to continually remind myself that the revelations Womack was presenting were taken from and properly credited to the works of Mark Lewisohn, Geoff Emerick and George Martin. The author could tell the story of the recording process so intimately that it did not read like a series of quoted passages with superscripts. It was a pleasure to read Solid State and sit in with the Beatles as they recorded Abbey Road.

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