“The End” of the Beatles
Grace Twomey ’23 / Emertainment Monthly Co-President
“The End” serves as a finale not only to the Abbey Road B-side medley, but also a symbolic finale to the band’s work, summarizing all they’d done together through solos from each member astride coyly simplistic lyrics. Through individually iconic guitar solos, a rare Ringo drum spotlight, and appropriately love-themed lyrics, the track emphasizes the collaborative peaks of the band’s discography and salutes their past success that came largely from writing and performing love songs.
A large portion of the song consists of traded guitar solos from McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon, in that order. McCartney begins at 0:54, with Harrison jumping in two bars later at 0:58, and Lennon following at 1:02. The cycle repeats twice more with McCartney at 1:05 and 1:18, Harrison at 1:09 and 1:20, and Lennon at 1:13 and 1:24. These solos fulfill several purposes, evoking an energy of riffed jamming, depicting the character and writing style of each member, and highlighting the importance the band placed on each other contributing to the works as a whole. While many later Beatles tracks, such as “The Long and Winding Road” get accused of suffering overproduction, the guitar solos in “The End” call to mind scenes of the band in a more relaxed playing mode, improvising responses to each previous solo. In The Beatles Anthology, Harrison says of the Abbey Road medley, “we […] recorded it all in one take, going from one arrangement to the next. We did actually perform more like musicians again” (pg. 338). This recorded performance has a playful air to it that begs for the live performance it never got. Rolling Stone called “The End” “a last blast of natural brotherhood from a band only months from splitting.” Author Jonathan Gould said of “The End” in his book Can’t Buy Me Love, “McCartney had chosen–at the last possible moment–to bring the Beatles and their listeners back to the place where it all began […] the simple setting of John, Paul, and George, sawing away on their three guitars” (pg. 589).
Despite the spontaneity of the guitar solos, their clear association with each respective member makes them almost appear contrived as caricatures of themselves. Gould argues that the solos perfectly represent each member’s musical style, calling McCartney’s “characteristically fluid and melodically balanced,” Harrison’s “soaring” and “reach[ing] for the stars,” and Lennon’s “bluesy” and “growling” (pg. 590). However, he also notes the points where their collaboration becomes clear, “George responds,” “John then picks up on the pattern of George,” “Paul answers John” and so on (pg. 590). Gould further states that the order itself contributes to these caricatures with “Paul the initiator, George the embellisher, John holding out for the last word” (pg. 590). A Rolling Stone article characterizes the addition of the guitar solos as “a band brainstorm” that each member had a part in discussing. The Beatles placed a lot of importance on moments of synergy and interaction such as this, as frequently evident in their track lists containing songs sung by each of the four members.
Further emphasizing these communal aspects, “The End” contains Starr’s only Beatles drum solo, beginning at 0:19 and lasting no more than fifteen seconds before rhythm guitar and bass lines come in on top of Starr’s playing. He says of it in The Beatles Anthology, “solos have never interested me. That drum solo is still the only one I’ve done” (pg. 338). Starr’s solo proves steady and tempered as ever before dissolving into the background with added cymbals behind the other instruments. Intentionally unobtrusive, Starr proves yet again to build his drum lines around the purpose of supporting the song as a whole rather than taking the opportunity to extensively show off his individual strengths as a drummer. This decision accomplishes the exact goal Starr ignored, showcasing his highest strength as the humble drummer who focuses on improving the complete craft of the track by supporting the other aspects of it with his drumming rather than trying to shine above them. With Starr’s solo occurring before the guitar solos, it serves almost as an unofficial drum roll for the other solos still to come. As the only Beatles song to contain solos from all four members, “The End” encapsulates all of the efforts by the band to rely solely on their own work, rather than getting assistance from outside songwriters, as well as their commitment to accepting and encouraging work from each member.
Lyrically, “The End” opens with a call to action from McCartney, who shouts “Oh yeah, alright,” reminiscent of many of their more rock’n’roll focused tracks, in contrast to the song’s more gentle, orchestral ending. Despite these stark differences in tone, the song stays true to its medley roots and transitions seamlessly between them. Following the drum solo and prior to the guitar solos comes a chant of “love you” repeated over twenty times. The closing lines, “And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love you make” also centers on love. The prominence of this theme within the song could underline multiple possible reflections on the band’s time together. Over the course of their music career, The Beatles used the word “love” in their songs over six-hundred times. The repetition in “The End” perhaps pays tribute to the success they found from writing so many songs about love. Alternatively, the love within “The End” could address the listener more directly, thanking them for their support of The Beatles’ music. The last lines specifically support this dual meaning if one views “the love you take” as the support garnered from listeners throughout the band’s career and “the love you make” as the passion they put back into their music. Regardless, with the added context of the track’s recording taking place just prior to the band’s break-up, the love-theme takes on a new, conclusive meaning. A farewell letter to the music, or each other, or the listener, or even all of the above.
With distinct solos and lyrics that inspire reflection, “The End” sees each member contribute something to the larger whole of the work, echoing the Beatles discography, and additionally closes this chapter of the band’s story with lyrics that allude to much of their often love-centered work creating a message of grateful finality for each listener.