The final song to be recorded for the Abbey Road album was John Lennon’s ‘Because’. The song was inspired by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and featured The Beatles’ distinctive three-part vocal harmonies.
Yoko Ono was a classically trained pianist whose interests had moved towards the avant garde. One day in 1969, however, she played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 – the Moonlight Sonata.
Lying on their sofa listening, John Lennon asked her to play the chords backwards, and wrote ‘Because’ around the result. While not an exact reversal of Beethoven’s piece, it contains a number of musical similarities.
Yoko was playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano. She was classically trained. I said, ‘Can you play those chords backward?’ and wrote ‘Because’ around them. The lyrics speak for themselves; they’re clear. No bullshit. No imagery, no obscure references.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The vocal harmonies are one of the most distinctive aspects of the much-admired ‘Because’. Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison sang together, and overdubbed their voices twice more, giving the effect of nine voices.
John wrote this tune. The backing is a bit like Beethoven. And three-part harmony right throughout. Paul usually writes the sweeter tunes, and John writes the, sort of, more the rave-up things, or the freakier things. But John’s getting to where he doesn’t want to. He just wants to write twelve-bars. But you can’t deny it, I think this is possibly my favourite one on the album. The lyrics are so simple. The harmony was pretty difficult to sing. We had to really learn it. But I think that’s one of the tunes that will impress most people. It’s really good.
I wouldn’t mind betting Yoko was in on the writing of that, it’s rather her kind of writing: wind, sky and earth are recurring, it’s straight out of Grapefruit and John was heavily influenced by her at the time.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The instrumentation on ‘Because’ was simple, with arpeggio accompaniment on harpsichord, guitar and Moog. Paul McCartney later bought the electric harpsichord, played here by George Martin, when EMI were reducing their instrument collection. It remains in his recording studio.
In the studio
On Friday 1 August 1969, Lennon, McCartney and Martin taped 23 takes of the basic track. Only takes 1, 16, and 23 were complete, and take 16 was selected as the best.
The recordings had McCartney’s bass guitar on track one, Lennon’s guitar on two, and Martin’s electric harpsichord on three.
Ringo Starr kept time with handclaps on track four, for guide purposes only. Take one of ‘Because’, with the handclaps audible, can be heard on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
On ‘Because’, for example, very much a John song, it needed the combined singing of the three men. So obviously it became a joint effort…
That particular track started off with John having the idea, the sort of riff on the guitar, which he played to me, and the basic song which he sang to me. And what we did then, we created a backing with him still playing the guitar, that riff, and I duplicated exactly every note that he played on the guitar, on an electric harpsichord, and Paul played bass.
And there was nothing for Ringo to do, because we’d not got drums in. But in fact there was something for him to do. Because it was so slow, and meticulously, the question of ensemble between the guitar and the harpsichord, each note had to be exactly together. And I’m not the world’s greatest player in time, and I would make more mistakes than John did. So we had Ringo beating a hi-hat all the time, to us in headphones, so we had a regular beat. We didn’t have drum machines in those days. So Ringo was our drum machine, and that was the way we did the track.
And then, having got the track, the three boys sang together in harmony, the whole song. And then we overlaid another three voices, and another three voices, so we had nine-part harmony all the way through. And that was ‘Because’.
Interview with Richard Buskin, 3 March 1987
With the backing track in place, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison recorded the first of their harmony vocal tracks. Two more were added on 4 August 1969.
A final overdub was recorded on 5 August, when George Harrison taped a Moog part – the first time the synthesiser was used on the Abbey Road recordings. Harrison recorded it twice, filling up the last two available tracks on the tape.