When The Beatles began recording Abbey Road over 50 years ago, They weren’t the same Beatles that they’d been before. The stresses of the contentious and seemingly never-ending Get Back project, the appearances of new love interests, the managerial struggles with Apple and Allen Klein, and Dick James’ divestment of their Northern Songs copyrights caused a wedge behind the scenes that threatened The Beatles’ future. And yet, in a few short months, John, Paul, George, and Ringo managed to recapture that magic feeling once again on their swan song LP.
In his new book, Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and The End of The Beatles, subject expert Kenneth Womack (author of the George Martin biographies Sound Pictures and Maximum Volume, and Everything Fab Four) tells the complete story of how the Beatles arrived at and overcame those myriad difficult changes to create what became a timeless masterpiece, before ultimately calling it quits.
Using his new interviews with key players and a wide range of sources (including hard-to find contemporaneous articles and even unreleased audio and video), Womack gives readers an unprecedented look into how Abbey Road came together through all the sessions, squabbles, and side-projects. At the heart of the book is the examination of the dramatic shifts that The Fabs underwent during the year leading up to Abbey Road ‘s release – not only the shifting band dynamics and many business woes, but also the new instruments that shaped their sound, and new technologies that aided and added to their studio excellence, giving their final masterpiece an utterly unique sound.
Just as The Beatles had grown from the early Beatlemania days, so too had their favorite recording environment. In fact, Solid State explores the new technology that gave the new recording console in Abbey Road its signature sound. As Womack explained, The Beatles had for years begged for better technology in EMI Studios and were suspicious that the studio was purposely holding artists back by not upgrading from its rather limiting 4-track recorders. The Fabs even went as far as to set up shop in other independent studios that has more souped-up systems for tracking and mixing.
But while The Beatles were holed up in Trident Studios, taking advantage of its 8-track console, the tech whizzes at EMI were building a prototype board called the EMI TG12345 that used solid state transistors instead of tubes. It also had advanced features such as EQ and compression for every channel on the board (not just a master control as in EMI). Most importantly, the board boasted 24 microphone inputs and 8 outputs, while EMI’s old REDD .51 console only had 8 inputs and 4 outputs. With more flexibility came greater opportunities for stereo placement and overdubbing, while the use of transistors offered a cleaner, less-distorted sound than before.
Womack also writes about the rise of the Moog synthesizer and its interest to The Beatles (who had always embraced cutting edge and avant garde techniques), their continued embrace for non-Western forms, the creation of their ambitious side-long “rock opera” suite, and the influence of their old production team – George Martin and Geoff Emerick – who arrived back with the Beatles after a difficult year.
Womack conveys his expertise in a thorough yet approachable way. The book is exhaustive, not exhausting and there’s a certain ease and effortlessness to how the scholar strings together the many facets of The Beatles’ personal, legal, and creative world during a time when they were always busy with something.
The result is a examination of the Beatles’ unlikely masterwork, a far-reaching page-turner that’s both thorough and thoroughly enjoyable. In the end, Solid State belongs on the shelves of any Beatles fan.
Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and The End of The Beatles is available now through Cornell University Press. You can purchase your copy through these links: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada!