The ‘Abbey Road’ Song John Lennon Told Paul McCartney to Sit Out

When Beatles fans argue that Abbey Road (1969) is the Fab Four’s best record, you can easily see where the argument is coming from. After all, the album kicks off with “Come Together” and “Something” — two examples of the late Beatles in their finest hour.

But there’s much more than that. John Lennon had two other strong compositions with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Because.” Then, to close out the record, the celebrated Abbey Road medley carried the band all the way through to “The End.”

Following the debacle that was the Let It Be sessions of early ’69, The Beatles did their best to get Abbey Road down without any major blow-ups. And, even if everyone hated recording “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” they basically stuck to that plan.

However, that’s not to say the sessions came off without issue. When John got started on work for his hit “Come Together,” he made a point of excluding Paul McCartney, which led to a scene in the studio late in July.

John told Paul he didn’t need him on piano or vocals on ‘Come Together.’

Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles attend a party in London, 1968. | PA Images via Getty Images

When The Beatles got to work on “Come Together” in July ’69, John and Yoko Ono were still recovering from a serious car accident they’d been in earlier in the summer. But John was proud of his new song, which he’d begun earlier in the year as (oddly enough) a Timothy Leary campaign anthem.

Geoff Emerick, the longtime Beatles engineer who’d returned after quitting on The White Album, noticed John being less than polite to Paul right away during the “Come Together” sessions. In Here, There and Everywhere, Emerick described John going out his way to exclude Paul on the song.

It started with the electric piano part, which Paul had come up with for the track. Emerick watched John learn the part “looking over Paul’s shoulder” at his work on the keyboard. Then John worked on bumping Paul from the vocals, too.

“John not only sang the lead, but also did all the backing vocals,” Emerick wrote. “He didn’t ask Paul or George to join in, and neither of them volunteered. I could see it was getting to Paul. Finally, in some frustration he blurted out, ‘What do you want me to do on this track, John?'”

“Don’t worry, I’ll do the overdubs on this,” John replied (per Emerick). It appeared that an argument (or worse) was approaching.

Paul made a rare early departure from the studio that day.

Co-host Ed McMahon, Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles, and guest host Joe Garagiola talk on ‘The Tonight Show,’ May 15, 1968. | NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Despite the harsh treatment from John, Paul seemed determined to avoid causing a scene in the studio. According to Emerick, he simply left for the day. “Paul had to have felt humiliated, but rather than having a fight or an argument about it, he chose to just get up and leave.”

And he did end up delivering the classic electric piano part on “Come Together,” according to Ken Womack in his new book, Solid State. “[John] wanted a piano lick to be very swampy and smoky, and I played it that way and he liked it a lot,” Paul said. “I was quite pleased with that.”

As for the backing vocals, Paul ended up singing on the track as well (though he didn’t sing together with John in the studio that day). In short, it wasn’t all perfect, The Beatles set their squabbling aside and through on “Come Together.”

Fans certainly responded. “Come Together” (backed with “Something”) cracked No. 1 on the Billboard charts in America that November. As for Abbey Road, the band’s final studio album held onto the top spot for 11 weeks and hung around the charts for 326 weeks altogether.

Also see: The Last Lennon-McCartney Song John and Paul Really Enjoyed Recording Together