THEY NEVER EXPECTED IT TO BE IMPORTANT
A CONVERSATION WITH KENNETH WOMACK – AUTHOR OF SOLID STATE: THE STORY OF ABBEY ROAD AND THE END OF THE BEATLES
Kenneth Womack has become somewhat of a Beatles scholar. Following the release of a two-part biography of Sir George Martin in 2017 and 2018, Womack has turned his attention to The Beatles’ final album, Abbey Road. Titled Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road And The End Of The Beatles, the book was released in early October to critical acclaim and very healthy sales.
When asked what it was about the last-recorded Beatles album that inspired Womack, he explains, “For much of my life, I always wondered why Abbey Road sounds different. So I was looking at and writing about the technology side of the album… the EMI studio and studio technology. This is a time when EMI owned the technology and all their own technology. Each ply of toilet paper had EMI stamped in it.”
As with any Beatles album, there is a great deal of mythology attached to it. Several misinformed histories over the years have spun stories that stick. It’s said that sometimes The Beatles themselves believe that version instead of what really happened. At times these myths start with reality, but a reality without context. This happened with Alan Parsons, whom Womack interviewed for the book, and who contributes the forward.
Womack explains, “Alan Parsons said that he was partially responsible for that remark that The Beatles worked separately instead of together for Abbey Road.But then 50 years later he realized that he came in when they were completing overdubs, so there was no truth in that statement. The Beatles worked as a tight unit throughout that album.”
“Harrison and McCartney also became a force in the studio, and they seemed to be having a wonderful time,” Womack continues.“The deep mythology that, at this time, Harrison hated McCartney is simply not true. He left The Beatles in 1969 because of issues with John, not Paul. Remember, Paul and George were friends before The Beatles, and he brought George into the band. Again, deep mythology that simply isn’t true.”
It’s not that Womack set out to dispute mythology, but his meticulous research and knowledge of the The Beatles, George Martin, and the studio itself has contributed to clearing up some common misconceptions. He offers another example of this, saying, “You know the other myth is that Lennon was not in favour of the side two medley. In the 1970 interview and in 1980, he is still grounded in the mythology. But in interviews at the time he is very excited about it.”
Womack, who clearly enjoys talking about The Beatles and the album, is continually amazed at the attitude of The Beatles and staff at EMI. His book gives examples of employees actually avoiding working with The Beatles during this time. But, for Womack, it all comes down to context.“You get the sense that it was a job for these people,” he says.“They never expected it to be important. They did not spend time writing down memories. It was just a job.”
History now tells us that nothing to do with The Beatles was ever “just a job,” and Womack is able to convince anyone of that who reads this. In addition to studying Beatles history and writing novels, Womack is also Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University, where he also serves as Professor of English. It’s no small wonder this new book goes to great lengths to not only look at the album, but also the impact of Abbey Road. It is a refreshing read, from which there is a great deal to learn.