Paul McCartney: vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar, bass, piano
John Lennon: backing vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Unknown: 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, double bass, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone
The final song on The Beatles’ last-recorded album – aside from the 23-second ‘Her Majesty’ – was a fitting eulogy for the greatest group the world had ever known, and an apt farewell from the band to their legion of fans.
It was unlikely that any other Beatle than Paul McCartney would have ended up writing The Beatles’ epitaph. John Lennon generally disliked the Abbey Road medley – although he contributed a handful of songs – and at one point wanted his and McCartney’s songs to be on separate sides of the album.
That’s Paul again, the unfinished song, right? We’re on Abbey Road. Just a piece at the end. He had a line in it [sings] ‘And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give [sic],’ which is a very cosmic, philosophical line. Which again proves that if he wants to, he can think.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
George Harrison, meanwhile, had grown tired of McCartney’s dominance within of the group, and was beginning to devote his energies to other projects. Apart from the generally amenable Ringo Starr, McCartney was the only one fully dedicated to The Beatles until the end, and he recognised that they deserved a proper send-off.
‘The End’ features, uniquely on a Beatles track, a drum solo by Starr. It took some persuading before the group’s stalwart drummer agreed to the solo.
Ringo would never do drum solos. He hated drummers who did lengthy drum solos. We all did. And when he joined The Beatles we said, “Ah, what about drum solos then?”, thinking he might say, “Yeah, I’ll have a five-hour one in the middle of your set,” and he said, “I hate ’em!” We said, “Great! We love you!” And so he would never do them. But because of this medley I said, “Well, a token solo?” and he really dug his heels in and didn’t want to do it. But after a little bit of gentle persuasion I said, “Yeah, just do that, it wouldn’t be Buddy Rich gone mad,” because I think that’s what he didn’t want to do.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
During recording, the drum solo was originally accompanied by guitar and tambourine, although these were excluded in the final version. They can, however, be heard in a new mix of ‘The End’, released in 1996 on Anthology 3.
The thing that always amused me was how much persuasion it took to get Ringo to play that solo. Usually, you have to try to talk drummers out of doing solos! [laughs] He didn’t want to do it, but everybody said, ‘No, no, it’ll be fantastic!’ So he gave in – and turned in a bloody marvelous performance!
It took a while to get right, and I think Paul helped with some ideas, but it’s fantastic. I always want to hear more – that’s how good it is. It’s so musical, it’s not just a drummer going off.
‘The End’ also features the sound of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon sparring on lead guitars, taking it in turns to perform two-bar sequences over the “Love you, love you” backing vocals.
The idea for guitar solos was very spontaneous and everybody said, ‘Yes! Definitely’ – well, except for George, who was a little apprehensive at first. But he saw how excited John and Paul were so he went along with it. Truthfully, I think they rather liked the idea of playing together, not really trying to outdo one another per se, but engaging in some real musical bonding.
Yoko was about to go into the studio with John – this was commonplace by now – and he actually told her, ‘No, not now. Let me just do this. It’ll just take a minute.’ That surprised me a bit. Maybe he felt like he was returning to his roots with the boys – who knows?
The song closed with some of The Beatles’ most celebrated and memorable words.
And in the end the love you take
Is equal to the love you make
The final words of the song were written by McCartney with Shakespeare in mind.
I wanted it to end with a little meaningful couplet, so I followed the Bard and wrote a couplet.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
In the studio
Originally known simply as ‘Ending’, The Beatles began recording ‘The End’ on 23 July 1969.
The song was recorded in two parts. On the first day the song was only 1’30” long, and included the drum solos, and the alternating chords over which the sparring guitars would later be overdubbed. The recording ended at the point where the piano later entered; the final words and orchestral finale were recorded later.
Ringo Starr’s drums were recorded on tracks one and two of the eight-track tape, which later allowed them to be mixed in stereo; John Lennon’s rhythm guitar was on track three; George Harrison’s guitar was on four; and Paul McCartney’s bass guitar was on five.
There were seven documented takes recorded. However, after take seven, the tape contains outtakes numbered 23-33. These were likely to have been rehearsals, the early ones of which were recorded over with the proper takes.
Take three from this first session can be heard on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
The Beatles returned to ‘Ending’ on 5 August. McCartney recorded the opening vocals of the song, which he double-tracked.
The “Love you, love you” vocals were added by McCartney on 7 August. He recorded the parts multiple times, included once with the tape machine running slower than normal, which increased the pitch when played back normally.
A reduction mix was also made to combine Lennon’s and Harrison’s initial guitar parts on track seven. An edit was also made to extend the space for the guitar solos from 22 to 28 bars.
The new mix freed up track four for the guitar solos by Harrison, Lennon and McCartney, which were recorded in Studio Three from 6pm to midnight.
The order was Paul first, then George, then John, and they went back and forth. They ran down their ideas a few times and before you knew it, they were ready to go. Their amps were lined up together and we recorded their parts on one track.
You could really see the joy in their faces as they played; it was like they were teenagers again. One take was all we needed. The musical telepathy between them was mind-boggling.
The following day, 8 August, more drums and bass guitar were recorded.
The orchestral overdub for ‘The End’ was the most elaborate I have ever heard: a 30-piece playing for not too many seconds – and mixed about 40 dBs down. It cost a lot of money: all the musicians have to be paid, fed and watered; I screw every pound note out of it whenever I play the record!
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Recording was completed on 18 August, with the addition of the slightly sharp piano notes, played by McCartney, which herald the celebrated final words.