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CARRY THAT WEIGHT”

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)

There are quite a few Beatles songs that took shape differently in the recording studio than how they were originally conceived by the composer.  For instance, John's "Come Together" was originally intended as a Chuck Berry-style rocker until it was transformed into a more subdued swampy-sounding hit song.  "I'll Be Back" was attempted in the studio in a Waltz beat, as evidenced on the compilation album "Anthology 1."  And Paul's tender acoustic ballad "And I Love Her" was first tried as a full band arrangement with electric guitars and drums.

However, probably the biggest transformation to a Beatles song from what the composer originally intended would be “Carry That Weight.”  As detailed below, Paul McCartney has gone on record to describe what he originally had in mind for the song.  He instead decided to abandon this entirely in order to piecemeal a segment of his initial idea into the “Abbey Road” medley to good effect.



Paul McCartney at his St. John's Wood home in London

Songwriting History

Sometime in late 1968, probably in December at his St. John's Wood home in London, Paul conceived of a rather lighthearted, fast-moving country-and-western song entitled "Carry That Weight."  This song was patterned somewhat after the Buck Owens hit "Act Naturally," which The Beatles covered on their 1965 "Help!" album ("Yesterday...And Today" in the U.S.), per Ringo's request.

Paul envisioned writing verses that told a particular story of a person who, despite having a good life, fell upon trivial problems that he then blew out of proportion.  Each verse would then segue into the chorus which would repeat the phrase “Boy, you're going to carry that weight, carry that weight a long time,” the main character singing the song in the first person.

When Paul first introduced the song to the rest of the group on January 6th, 1969, during the rehearsing and recording of what eventually became the "Let It Be" film and soundtrack album, he stated his original intentions for the song.  "I have a bit that I might finish," he stated while sitting at an organ.  "It might interest him.  I was thinking it was a song for Ringo."  Since every Beatles album included a song for their drummer to sing, Paul was thinnking ahead and thought this country-and-western-style song would appeal to him.

After demonstrating the song to them, with John following along on electric guitar and sometimes joining in on vocals, Paul demonstrates what a verse might sound like even though he hadn't written any verses yet.  He sings, "Well, I've been taking it personally / and I see now it wasn't done / but I can't get over the way you treat me wrong / so I've been da, da, da, da..." before mumbling contrived nonsense to give them an idea of what he had in mind.


However, this apparently was a passing idea that he never saw to fruition, the end result being that Ringo did not have a song to sing lead vocals on when the "Let It Be" album was eventually released.  Instead, with Paul's inspiration and then composing of his song “Golden Slumbers,” he decided by the next day, January 7th, 1969, to slow down the tempo of the chorus of “Carry That Weight” and combine it with this new composition as a medley of sorts.  A recording of the rehearsals on this day shows him demonstrating the medley of these two songs on piano.  The idea for what became the long “Abbey Road” medley hadn't been thought of yet, but it was later remembered and included therein when that time came.

Evidence of the original intentions for "Carry That Weight" was recorded on January 9th, 1969.  On this day, Paul was sitting at the piano and playing the newly paired medley of “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” to Ringo, this medley undoubtedly being offered up for the “Let It Be” project.  In the process, Paul was explaining to Ringo his inspiration for each segment and how they were written.  As captured on tape, Paul explains to Ringo how “Carry That Weight” was originally conceived:

“It's like a story.  A bit like 'Act Naturally,' where a tag line keeps coming up, you know, 'so and so and so and so,' but all he said was 'act naturally.'  (Paul then demonstrates a proposed indecipherable verse for “Carry That Weight” as it goes into the chorus, which Ringo sings along with.)  It's like your troubles, but it was like a comedy when I first heard (conceived) it.  (Paul demonstrates the “Carry That Weight” chorus again in his original sped-up tempo, followed by an indecipherable bridge and another chorus with Ringo singing along.)  There was a verse about a drunkard who got drunk, got in trouble with the wife, got drunk, so and so and so and so, and 'woke up the next morning with a weight upon my head and found it WAS my head.'  (They both laugh as Paul then goes into yet another spirited version of the “Carry That Weight” chorus.)  It's sort of the normal kind of troubles that everyone has...It's one of those songs where you've got everything and you've got everything going great but, you know, 'This morning, one of my eggs broke.'  It's just so trivial.”  Ringo suggests “broke a mirror.”  Then Paul suggests, “My right shoe is a bit tight” as a further example.

In retrospect, however, Paul gives a much different explanation of the song's inspiration which reflects the struggles of the final months of The Beatles history.  In his book “Many Years From Now,” Paul explains:  “I'm generally quite upbeat but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can't be upbeat any more and that was one of the times.  We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this Klein sh*t was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier.  'Carry that weight a long time'...like forever!  That's what I meant.”

As outlined above, the writing of “Carry That Weight” preceded any involvement with manager Allen Klein, whom Paul fought hard to not have any dealings with despite the other Beatles wanting to work with him.  In fact, Allen Klein didn't meet with John about working with the group until January 28th, 1969, which was well after the originally conceived “Carry That Weight” was written.  When the song was officially being recorded for the “Abbey Road” album in July and August of that year, negotiations with Allen Klein were very well under way at that point.  Therefore, Paul undoubtedly thought the tone of “Carry That Weight” suited the tense situation perfectly and remembered the song as being written about this time period.  As John stated in his 1980 Playboy interview when asked about the writing of “Carry That Weight”:  “That's Paul.  I think he was under strain in that period.”

Paul elaborates yet further in “Many Years From Now”:  “There was what my Aunty Jin would have called a bad atmosphere – 'Oh, I can feel the atmosphere in this house, love.'  It wasn't difficult, she wouldn't have liked it there.  It was 'heavy.'  'Heavy' was a very operative word at the time – 'Heavy, man' – but now it actually felt heavy.  That's what 'Carry That Weight' was about:  not the light, rather easy-going heaviness, albeit witty and sometimes cruel, but with an edge you could exist within and which always had a place for you to be.  In this heaviness there was no place to be.  It was serious, paranoid heaviness and it was just very uncomfortable."

One thing we must keep in mind regarding the writing of the released "Carry That Weight" is that segments of Paul's composition "You Never Give Me Your Money" are weaved in between the choruses of the song.  Also to remember is that additional lyrics to the melody of "You Never Give Me Your Money" are contained in the track "Carry That Weight," which were written as of July 2nd, 1969, the day that Paul first sang them in the recording studio.  Therefore, the writing of what we have all come to know as "Carry That Weight" spans approximately from December, 1968 to July 2nd, 1969.



Paul at Twickenham Film Studios, circa January, 1969

Recording History

As outlined above, the first time "Carry That Weight" was put to tape was on January 6th, 1969 (at precisely 11 am, according to the slate announcement heard on the tape), at Twickenham Film Studios as The Beatles were rehearsing material for what became the "Let It Be" project.  Paul's concept for the song at this point was for it to become a country-and-western-style song for Ringo to sing, George being briefly instructed as to what the chords were.  Four attempts at playing the song were made, with Paul on organ and vocals, John on electric guitar and periodic backing vocals, and George making attemps at joining in on piano.

On the next day, January 7th, 1969, Paul rehearsed the song again, but this time in a medley form with “Golden Slumbers” as we all have come to know it.  This was performed by Paul alone on piano.  This apparently was the day that Paul decided to pair the two songs together, only using the chorus of “Carry That Weight” and scrapping the country-and-western song idea.


Then on January 9th, 1969, as detailed above, Paul sat at the piano with Ringo and rehearsed the “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” medley for him, explaining the origins of both compositions.  Since this medley was dropped entirely for the remainder of the month-long rehearsals and sessions that became the “Let It Be” film and album, this composition was apparently viewed as less of a priority and was shelved for the time being.

It wasn't until the decision was made to make one final Beatles album that Paul dusted off the “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” medley and brought it to EMI Studio Two to record.  It was the second session after that decision was made, on July 2nd, 1969, that Paul, George and Ringo laid down the rhythm track for the song, John being hospitalized at the time because of a road accident he was in during a vacation in Scotland.

Paul entered the studio by himself earlier in the day and recorded his short song “Her Majesty” for consideration for the “Abbey Road” medley.  Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” recounts the events of the rest of the day, starting at approximately 5 pm.  “Later that same day, after Ringo and George Harrison arrived, the three Beatles recorded the backing track for 'Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight.'  The two songs were joined together even at that early stage because Paul had already come up with the idea of linking up several short snippets into a medley of sorts.  No one was sure how John would react, but we got on with the work anyway.  There seemed to be an assumption that he would go along with it, and that this time around, in contrast to the 'White Album,' he wouldn't be calling all the shots.”

Fifteen takes of the rhythm track were recorded on this day, the instrumentation being Paul on piano and guide vocal, George on Fender Bass VI, and Ringo on drums.  Interestingly, even though “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” were stipulated as two individual songs on the finished album, the documentation at this point indicated that the title of this entire rhythm track was “Golden Slumbers.”  The Beatles were satisfied with the rhythm track at this point, the session ending at 9:30 pm.

The following day, July 3rd, 1969, was devoted entirely to additional work to the “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” medley.  As the session began at 3 pm in EMI Studio Two, the first order of business was editing together 'take 13' and 'take 15' to create a satisfactory rhythm track for overdubbing purposes.  Once this was edited together, the result still being called 'take 13,' the group took to adding various elements (John still being hospitalized).  After Paul added two proper lead vocal tracks to replace the guide vocals from the rhythm track, he, George and Ringo chanted unison vocals for the “Carry That Weight” choruses.  Paul also overdubbed a rhythm guitar part for this section of the medley while George performed a guitar solo as well as a winding guitar part similar to what is heard at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money” for the conclusion of this recording.  With this complete, it was seen that all eight tracks of the tape were full.  Therefore, a reduction mix was needed to open up more tracks for further overdubbing.  Two attempts at the reduction mix were made, documented as takes 16 and 17, 'take 17' being deemed best.  The session was complete by 8:30 pm.

There was one unidentified overdub that was recorded onto the newly reduced recording of the song on the following day, July 4th, 1969, although the identity of this overdub is not documented anywhere.  This session ran from 2:45 to 5:30 pm in EMI Studio Two, attention being paid to the Wimbledon Ladies' tennis match between Britain's Ann Jones and America's Billie-Jean King during the proceedings of this day.

Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” was then shelved for about a month so that work on many other “Abbey Road” tracks could be worked on, John being released from the hospital during this time.  Work did resume on the composite track, which was now finally documented as “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight,” on July 30th, 1969 in EMI Studio Three.  The Beatles entered the studio at 3:30 pm for overdubs on various “Abbey Road” tracks, more group vocals being added to the “Carry That Weight” choruses at this time.

With this accomplished, they moved into the control room of EMI Studio Two at 10:30 pm to put together a mock-up of what the long side-two medley would sound like, to see if all the song fragments could be edited together seamlessly.  The first order of business, however, was to treat all of these recordings to a stereo mix, the “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” segment being mixed by George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and John Kurlander.  All of these preliminary stereo mixes were then edited together and, with some discussion about tweaking some of the other tracks, the medley was seen to be workable.  The proper mixing and editing would be done at a later time.  This session then ended at 2:30 am the following morning.

On the next day, July 31st, 1969, The Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at 2:30 pm for yet another overdub session.  After working on “You Never Give Me Your Money,” attention turned back to the “Carry That Weight” section of the medley.  More vocals were overdubbed, as well as Ringo adding a bit more drums.  The playing of timpani drums were also recorded on this day and, while both Ringo and Paul attempted to achieve the right timpani sound, the documentation doesn't reveal whose performance actually made it onto the finished recording.  Photographic evidence shows Ringo's attempt on this day, so this seems most likely.  This session ended at 1:15 am the next morning.

The orchestral overdub occurred on August 15th, 1969 in EMI Studio One, the session beginning at 2:30 pm.  There was a snag regarding this session, however, as Geoff Emerick explains:  “EMI had still not installed an eight-track tape recorder or large-scale console into the Studio One control room, so we were forced to set up a complicated system of audio tie-lines and closed-circuit television that allowed the musicians to be seated in the larger Studio One while we recorded them in the control room of Studio Two.”

This session focused on segments of the long medley that were primarily Paul's compositions, namely “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” and “The End.”  Emerick continues:  “Following the pattern that had been established for much of the album, the only Beatle at (this) session was Paul...(Engineer) Phil McDonald, however, was there with me – working in two studios at once really complicated things, and we needed the extra pair of hands.  George Martin did the conducting while (Paul) essentially produced his own session.  Thankfully, there were no major technical mishaps and everything worked smoothly.”  Engineer Alan Brown remembers, as interviewed for the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions”:  “It was a mammoth session.  We had a large number of lines linking the studios and we were all walking around the building with walkie-talkies trying to communicate with each other...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!”

This orchestral session, the actual musicians not being documented, ended the recording of “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight.”  It only took a total of three hours to record the orchestra for both this track and “The End,” George Martin's orchestral score being followed to the tee by professional studio musicians.  This afternoon session ended at 5:30 pm, all personnel leaving until 7 pm when the orchestral overdubs for George Harrison's “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” was recorded for the evening session.

August 18th, 1969, was the date that the official stereo mix of “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight” took place.  The session began at 2:30 pm in the control room of EMI Studio Two, two attempts at a stereo mix being made by George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and Alan Parsons.  The second remix was deemed suitable, after which they turned their attention to the song “The End.”  This session ended at 10:30 pm.

On the next day, August 19th, 1969, the same engineering team assembled in the control room of EMI Studio Two at 2 pm.  Among the work done on this day was performing the cross-fade/edit between “Carry That Weight” and “The End.”  After more stereo mixing and overdubbing was accomplished on other “Abbey Road” songs, this session was complete at 4 pm.

On December 9th, 1989, in Montreal, Canada, Paul and his touring band recorded a live version of “Carry That Weight” in medley with “Golden Slumbers” and “The End” as heard on the “Abbey Road” album.  This recording was released on both his albums “Tripping The Live Fantastic” and “Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!”


Song Structure and Style

The "Carry That Weight" section of the "Abbey Road" medley consists of two elements repeated twice, namely 'chorus/ verse (instrumental)/ verse/ chorus' (or abba) with a brief conclusion tack on at the end.  The verse is actually a reprise of the verses heard in the very first section of the medley, "You Never Give Me Your Money," which acts as a suitable tie-in for the closing minutes of the entire medley.

After a brief introductory drum fill from Ringo, which is actually a continuation of the final measure of the previous track “Golden Slumbers,” an eight-measure chorus is heard first.  The instrumentation consists of Paul on piano and rhythm guitar, George on bass, Ringo on drums and timpani beats, and a vibrant vocal chorus of Paul, George and Ringo singing in unison the lyric line “Boy, you're gonna carry that weight / carry that weight a long time” repeated twice.  In fact, Ringo's voice is the one most prominently heard, which carries forward Paul's original idea of this song being a Ringo vocal as intended.  Also heard prominently is the orchestra playing a simple George Martin score that acts as a backdrop to the vocals as the focal point.  Ringo puts in three drum fills during this chorus, in measures two, four, and then eight as a transition to the verse that follows.


Next comes the first of two consecutive verses, the first being entirely instrumental and only seven measures long.  The first four measures are highlighted by the orchestra which plays the “You Never Give Me Your Money” melody line in the score with Paul on piano and rhythm guitar, George on bass and Ringo on drums.  Starting with a crashing cymbal on the downbeat, Ringo accentuates prominent beats of the melody line that is being played, adding a drum fill in measures two, three and four for good measure.  The remaining three measures of the verse have Ringo playing a straight 4/4 drum beat using the hi-hat while the orchestra lays down a lush backing to highlight a masterful lead guitar line from George.  Paul's piano and rhythm guitar, as well as George's bass, are still there to fill out the arrangement.

The second verse is now heard which is eight measures long and is a vocal verse.  While Ringo plays virtually identically to his playing in the previous instrumental verse for the first seven measures, accents and all, Paul sings lead vocals using lyrics similar to, but not identical to, the second verse of “You Never Give Me Your Money.”  For instance, “number” is now “pillow,” and “situations” is now “invitations.”  Once again the orchestra provides a simple backdrop for the vocals while Paul continues on piano and rhythm guitar and George on bass.  Both Paul and George are also heard singing harmony vocals as well.  The eighth measure then acts as a segue into the repeat of the chorus that follows, the trumpets of the orchestra heralding in the change with accenting drum beats from Ringo and piano chords from Paul also playing their part.

The final part of this section of the medley is then heard, this being the second chorus.  Instrumentally and vocally, it is identical to the first chorus, although it can be said to be seven measures long this time instead of eight.  After the seventh measure completes, which is midway through the phrase “long time,” the arrangement transcends into yet another reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” this being the final segment of the previous selection with the winding guitar riff and lyric “all good children go to heaven.”  These vocals aren't sung here, but the winding guitar riff is repeated twice during this four-measure conclusion.  Although John played the winding guitar riff on the previously mentioned track, he appears to not have been involved in “Carry That Weight” at all.  George apparently takes on John's role suitably this time around.

Ringo plays similarly to what he did in the previous track while Paul and George finish out the arrangement here appropriately and the orchestra plods on as well.  While the recorded track ends on the final note of the winding guitar riff, which is the anticipated three-beat of the fourth measure, the engineers performed their edit just before this beat, replacing it with the first note of the song “The End,” which appropriately ends the long “Abbey Road” medley.


American Releases

On October 1st, 1969, the final recorded Beatles album was released in America, simple titled "Abbey Road."  "Carry That Weight" is the ninth track on side two of the album and the seventh named track of the long medley that takes up the majority of this second side of the album.  The "Abbey Road" album took only three weeks to jump into the top spot on the Billboard album chart, raking in a total of eleven weeks in the #1 position.  The album first appeared on compact disc on October 10th, 1987, and then as a re-mastered release on September 9th, 2009.

Sometime in 1978, Capitol re-released the “Abbey Road” album as a picture disc.  Side one had the iconic front cover while side two contained a close-up of the wall photo of the back cover minus the song title listings.  This release quickly went out of print and has become a collector's item.


November 5th, 1990, was the release date for Paul's successful double-CD “Tripping The Live Fantastic,” which featured a live rendition of the final three segments of the “Abbey Road” medley, namely, “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.”  For those who didn't want to buy the full double-CD package, a single live disc entitled “Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!” was released a week later, on November 12th, 1990.  This also contained the same live version of “Carry That Weight.”  Although the original album peaked much higher on the Billboard album charts (#26), the “Highlights!” single disc eventually went platinum despite its weak chart showing at #141.

On November 1st, 2002, Paul's live album “Back In The U.S.” was released in America featuring Paul's solo piano performance of “Carry That Weight.” This, in fact, was a newly styled medley of “You Never Give Me Your Money” which transcends into “Carry That Weight” and then back into the first song for its conclusion. The album went Double-Platinum and peaked at #2 on the Billboard album chart.


Live Performances

The Beatles never performed the song live but, as mentinoed above, Paul and his new touring band thought to include "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End" on his "World Tour" well after the breakup of The Beatles.  This tour stretched from July 26th, 1989 (London, England) to July 29th, 1990 (Chicago, Illinois).  This three-song medley made for a suitable ending song on this tour, his first since his Wings U.K. Tour of 1979.

Paul then included the above-described “You Never Give Me Your Money / Carry That Weight” piano medley on his “Driving World” tour of 2002, which spanned from April 1st (Oakland, California) to November 18th (Osaka, Japan).  His 2003 “Back In The World” tour also featured this medley, this tour starting on March 25th (Paris, France) and ending on June 1st (Liverpool, England).


Paul took a break from including the song in his set list for many years, only to resurrect it for his “On The Run” tour of 2011 and 2012.  As a final encore, he and his band resumed performing the full “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End” medley, this tour stretching from July 11th, 2011 (New York City, New York) to November 29th, 2012 (Edmonton, Canada).  He did the same for his extensive “Out There” tour, which started on May 4th, 2013 (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) and finally concluded on October 22nd, 2015 (Buffalo, New York).  This medley also concluded his shows for his “One On One” tour, stretching from April 13th, 2016 (Fresno, California) to December 16th, 2017 (Auckland, New Zealand).


Conclusion

So as the impressive final Beatles album draws to a close (their previously recorded "Let It Be" soundtrack album not being released until seven months later), the "Carry That Weight" segment of the lengthy "Abbey Road" medley dramatically stands out.  Since the listener is left to his own interpretation of what "weight" needs to be carried, speculation ensues.

Tim Riley, in his book “Tell Me Why,” explains it as “the larger implications of fame and notoriety – obligation and commitment – the weight in the singer's heart.”  He then goes on to state that “the ironies become palpable; the love song Paul sings to The Beatles spells out the price that fame has exacted from their friendship.”  Ian MacDonald, in his book “Revolution In The Head,” explains:  “No matter what they do separately after this, (Paul) correctly guesses, it'll never match what they did together; the world will always hark back to their glory days as a foursome and they'll carry the weight of their achievement as The Beatles for the rest of their individual careers.”

Both of these interpretations are very fanciful to say the least, retrospectively assuming that its composer was summing up his band's career in song.  And to think:  “Carry That Weight” was just Paul simply wanting to write a fictional country-and-western song for Ringo to sing!

Song Summary

Carry That Weight”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: December 1968 to July 2, 1969
  • Song Recorded: July 2, 3, 4, 30, 31, August 15, 1969
  • First US Release Date: October 1, 1969
  • First US Album Release: Apple #SO-383 “Abbey Road
  • British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7088 “Abbey Road
  • US Single Release: n/a
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • Length: 1:37
  • Key: C major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Phil McDonald, Geoff Emerick, Chris Blair, John Kurlander, Alan Parsons

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Lead and Harmony Vocals, Piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand), Rhythm Guitar (1962 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino)
  • George Harrison - Bass (1961 Fender Bass VI), Lead Guitar (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster), harmony and backing vocals
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple), timpani, backing vocals
  • unknown - violin
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  • unknown - viola
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  • unknown - cello
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  • unknown - string bass
  • unknown - horn
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  • unknown - trumpet
  • unknown - trumpet
  • unknown - trumpet
  • unknown - trombone
  • unknown - bass trombone

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski


Original back cover photo by Iain MacMillan
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