8 August 2022, 20:44 | Updated: 23 September 2022, 15:52
One of the most famous photographs of all time was shot in August 1969. Here's the story behind the Abbey Road album cover.
By Martin O'Gorman
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Abbey Road was the final album The Beatles recorded and it was issued on Friday 26 September 1969 with a genuinely iconic cover photo. It pictures the four men - George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon - striding along a zebra crossing situated on Abbey Road, outside EMI studios in London, where the band had spent the majority of their ground-breaking recording career.
The LP and its memorable cover put the location on the map - previously known as plain old EMI studios, the building became known as Abbey Road Studios in light of this landmark album. Millions of people have made the pilgrimage to the crossing to have their photo taken and to pay their respects to the genius of the Fab Four and dozens of artists have parodied the sleeve, from The Simpsons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
And it was all shot in a few hurried minutes on Friday 8 August 1969...
On that day John, George and Ringo were working on I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and The End inside the studio, while Macca worked on Oh! Darling, but before they set to business, they stepped outside of Number 3 Abbey Road to be photographed for the cover. Here are a few facts about that summer day in 1969 that you may not have heard before…
Where is the Abbey Road crossing exactly?
Before The Beatles came along, Abbey Road’s main claim to fame was being a stone’s throw from the location of Lord’s cricket ground. The crossing is situated at the southern-most point of Abbey Road, at the junction with Grove End Road, in the St John’s Wood area of North West London. The postcode for Abbey Road studios is NW8 9AY - if you go looking for the crossing near the Abbey Road station on the London Underground map, you’d be way off. That’s actually a Docklands Light Railway station in East London, miles away!
The album wasn’t going to be called Abbey Road at all
As the sessions for the album came to an end, the four Beatles discussed a title for the record. One idea was to call it “Everest” after the cigarettes that engineer Geoff Emerick smoked during the sessions. When a plan was floated to take a cover photo in the foothills of the Himalayas to illustrate the title, the band went off the idea and instead went with the easiest plan possible - have the picture taken outside the studio and call it Abbey Road!
For the only time in their career, The Beatles presented the world with an album cover that didn’t feature their name, or the title of the LP at all. Designer John Kosh claimed that EMI bosses were furious, but argued: “The biggest band in the world, you don’t have to say who they are - everyone knows who they are.”(Video) Behind The Famous Beatles Abbey Road Photo | NBC News Now
The four Beatles are pictured walking AWAY from the studio
The Beatles’ Let It Be album was released in May 1970, but the material had been recorded over a year earlier, meaning that Abbey Road was the last set of material to be produced by all four Beatles. In fact, the last session to see John, Paul, George and Ringo in the studio together was on 20 August 1969.
It’s significant, then, that the photo chosen for the cover shows the four walking across the road with Abbey Road studios behind them - it’s the white building on the left of the picture. Lennon leads the group - which is also significant as he was the first member to permanently quit The Beatles.
Only six photos were taken by photographer Iain Macmillan
Road traffic wasn’t the same 50 years ago, but Abbey Road was still a busy thoroughfare, which meant that photographer Iain Macmillan only had a short time to get his shot on his Hasselblad camera. A policeman halted the traffic as Macmillan climbed up a stepladder in the middle of the road. The Fab Four crossed the road back and forth three times as Macmillan fired off a shot each time. Paul McCartney looked at the contact sheet and it was decided that frame five was the best, with all four musicians marching boldly across the road.
The back cover photo is taken at the other end of Abbey Road
Anyone looking for the street sign that’s pictured on the back cover of Abbey Road will have a tough job. First of all, Beatles scholars Piet Schreuders, Mark Lewisohn and Adam Smith worked out that the location of the sign was at the OTHER end of the road, at the junction of Abbey Road and Alexandra Road, near to South Hampstead station. Secondly, the area was redeveloped in 1972 to make way for the Alexandra and Ainsworth housing estate, which opened in 1978.
Why is Paul McCartney barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road by The Beatles?
According to designer John Kosh, “The reason he kicked his shoes off was because they were too tight”. 8 August 1969 was a particularly sunny day and Macca lived around the corner in St John’s Wood, so he strolled around to the studios wearing sandals. For a classic McCartney prank, he crossed the road a couple of times without the footwear - it had nothing to do with being a “clue” that Paul McCartney had died (see below).(Video) The Surprising Story of Abbey Road's Side 2 Medley
What are the “Paul Is Dead” clues on the cover of Abbey Road?
In late 1969 a crazy conspiracy theory started doing the rounds that Paul McCartney had in actual fact been killed in a car accident in 1966, and had been replaced by a lookalike. Apart from Paul being out of step with his bandmates and walking barefoot, there were other “clues” on the sleeve that the Beatles had “planted” to get the message across to their fans.
The white Volkswagen Beetles that bears a number plate saying “28IF” - Paul would have been 28 IF he’d had survived (he’d actually just turned 27); the police van on the cover is usually seen at traffic fatalities; and the four Beatles represent a funeral procession: George is the gravedigger, Paul is the corpse, Ringo is the congregation and John is the priest.
McCartney parodied the whole affair in the title and album artwork for his 1993 concert album Paul Is Live.
Three of the Beatles are wearing designer suits
John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are all wearing suits by the Welsh designer Tommy Nutter. George, however, was always his own man and rocked up that day in double denim. Nutter went on to design Jack Nicholson’s suit when he played The Joker in the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman.
It wasn’t The Beatles’ final photo shoot
Despite Abbey Road being the last time The Beatles were in the studio together, the album cover shoot wasn’t the last piece of pictorial Beatle business. The four got together two weeks later, on Friday 22 August 1969 at John’s house at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot, Berkshire for one last photo shoot. Joining them on the day were Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney. One of the pictures was later used on the cover of the Hey Jude compilation LP.
In the image, The Beatles are walking on a crosswalk outside of Abbey Road Studios. The theory is that they represent a funeral procession: Ringo Starr is the congregation, George Harrison is the gravedigger, Paul is the corpse, and John Lennon is the priest.Whose idea was the abbey road album cover? ›
Who came up with the idea and who took the photo? The front cover was based on ideas drawn by Paul McCartney, and was taken on August 8, 1969, outside EMI Studios in Abbey Road. At 11.35am, photographer Iain Macmillan was tasked with taking the perfect photo in just 10 minutes.Why is Paul not wearing shoes on the Abbey Road cover? ›
7. Paul McCartney is barefoot in the photo because the shoes he was wearing were too tight and he took them off just before the photos were taken. 8.What is the meaning of the Abbey Road photo? ›
It's a funeral procession
That's what theorists likened to the photo of the band crossing the North London Street. They point out that John Lennon's white suit symbolized the color of mourning in some Eastern religions while Ringo Starr is donned the more traditional black.
The final photo was taken from up high on a stepladder. Additionally, the album cover for Abbey Road remains the only original cover to completely omit the actual album title or band name. “I insisted we didn't need to write the band's name on the cover,” Kosh explained in a previous interview with BBC.What is the rarest Beatles album cover? ›
A rare stereo First State Butcher cover. The original issues of Yesterday and Today, which never had the trunk slick pasted over them, are among the most valuable and sought out albums in all of record collecting. While 750,000 of them were printed, most were either destroyed or had trunk cover slicks pasted over them.What did John Lennon think of Abbey Road? ›
Lennon ultimately said that he disliked Abbey Road as a whole and felt that it lacked authenticity, calling McCartney's contributions "[music] for the grannies to dig" and not "real songs", and describing the medley as "junk ... just bits of songs thrown together".What is the most iconic Beatles album cover? ›
On August 8, 1969, on a street in north-west London and almost directly outside a celebrated recording studio, one of the most famous ever album covers was shot. Photographer Iain MacMillan took the image that would adorn the cover of the brilliant new record named after the street where he stood, Abbey Road.Why was Abbey Road named Abbey Road? ›
Abbey Road was created in 1829 from an existing farm track called Abbey Lane as part of the development of St John's Wood. Its name derived from the nearby presence of Kilburn Priory.What happened to the VW Beetle on the cover of Abbey Road? ›
Well according to Wikipedia, the car was sold at auction in 1986 for $23,000 and is currently on display at the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
STAMFORD, Conn. — The white two-piece suit John Lennon wore on the cover of the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album has been sold at auction in Connecticut for $46,000.Which Beatle crossed Abbey Road first? ›
2) Which Beatle crossed Abbey Road first? Answer: John was the first Beatle to cross Abbey Road in the famous album cover. The photograph was taken at approximately 11:35 AM on Friday, August 8, 1969. A British Bobby held up traffic for 10 minutes as six pictures were taken.Why is Abbey Road photo so iconic? ›
The image has since become a pop culture icon, with numerous bands imitating it, and caricatures occurring frequently of it. Its popularity is probably due in part to the album's success. The album debuted straight to number one in 1969, and is considered one of the greatest albums ever made by the Beatles.What is famous about Abbey Road? ›
This road is best known for the Abbey Road Studios and for featuring on the cover of The Beatles' album of the same name, which was released in September 1969.How much is Beatles Abbey Road vinyl worth? ›
Abbey Road (Parlophone P-PCS 7088) 1969 $850
The label has a circular impression 15mm from outer edge.
Top right corner of the back cover has "APPLE SO-383" on it. On the actual record, it has in parenthesis "SO-2-383" under that first number, and etched into the vinyl is "SO-2-383 P14 #2".Which Beatles album was number 1 the longest? ›
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (15 weeks at No. 1), A Hard Day's Night (14 weeks), Meet the Beatles! (11 weeks) and Abbey Road (11 weeks).Did The Beatles know Abbey Road was their last album? ›
“It's a revelation,” Lewisohn says. “The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high.Did The Beatles enjoy recording Abbey Road? ›
“It was a very happy record,” George Martin later said of the album. “I guess it was happy because everybody thought it was going to be the last.”How old were The Beatles during Abbey Road? ›
Ringo Starr and John Lennon were both 29, while Paul McCartney and George Harrison were just 27. Didn't they break up in 1969, just after Abbey Road came out? The Beatles officially broke up in April of 1970.
The first soundtrack in the list is the band's tenth album, Yellow Submarine. While the film was a commercial success, the accompanying music is often considered as The Beatles' weakest release.What is the Beatles #1 best selling song? ›
She Loves You is The Beatles' biggest selling single record. Released in 1963, the track, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, logged six non-consecutive weeks at Number 1 and is the best selling single of the 1960s in the UK. To date, its sales stand at 1.92 million.What songs did John Lennon write on Abbey Road? ›
The John Lennon-penned “Come Together” may have been a memorable opener for Abbey Road, but it was actually one of the last songs The Beatles would begin working on.What is a fun fact about Abbey Road? ›
It was the second album the Beatles recorded in 1969
Abbey Road was the final album they recorded together, finishing in August 1969, but it wouldn't be their final release. 1970 release Let it Be was actually recorded first but shelved after a few disagreements about its quality and how it should sound.
Abbey Road is a road in north west London that houses one of the world's most famous recording studios, as well the famous Beatles zebra crossing.Who owned the Beetle on Abbey Road? ›
The car was in reality owned by a nearby resident of Abbey Road at the time of the photo-shoot (August 8, 1969) and never by John Lennon. Pete Gent, proprietor of 'The Music Department' musical instrument shop in St.What year is the rarest VW Beetle? ›
The Zwitter Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured from October 1952 to March 1953, is the rarest VW Beetle model.Did Oprah gives away VW Beetle 2012? ›
Seventy year-old Jewel Baker just got the keys to a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. Baker, of Olympia Fields, Ill., won one of 271 redesigned Volkswagen Beetles that Oprah Winfrey gave away during the second of two “My Favorite Things” episodes, which aired last November. But she never attended the filming.Why does Abbey Road end on Her Majesty? ›
The loud chord that occurs at the beginning of the song is the ending, as recorded, of "Mean Mr. Mustard". "Her Majesty" ends abruptly because its own final note was left at the beginning of "Polythene Pam". McCartney applauded Kurlander's "surprise effect" and the track became the unintended closer to the LP.
Abbey Road, though including the lengthy medley, is not just an album cobbled together from “Paul songs” and “John songs.” The artful melding of multiple song fragments from both John and Paul, however, resulted in the medley.What is the B side of Abbey Road? ›
The Long One is found on the B-side of the Beatles album Abbey Road. "The Long One" (also known as The Abbey Road Medley) is on the second side of the Beatles' album Abbey Road. The Beatles revealed that they created the medley to "use up" several previously incomplete songs.What is the most famous photos of all time? ›
Nasa's “Man on the Moon” photo was named the most famous image of all time, followed by “Lunch atop a Skyscraper,” which showed eleven ironworkers sitting on a steel beam 260 meters above the ground in Manhattan, New York City in 1932.What is the number one song in Abbey Road? ›
“Come Together” – 'Abbey Road' (1969)
It provided The Beatles with one of their final number one singles topping the Billboard Hot 100 and staying on the chart for 16 weeks.
The album's cover images were photographed by Aubrey "Po" Powell, Thorgerson's partner at the design studio Hipgnosis, and inspired by the idea that people tend to conceal their true feelings, for fear of "getting burned", and thus two businessmen were pictured shaking hands, one man on fire.What is significant about the Beatles band name being left off the Rubber Soul cover? ›
The title derives from the colloquialism "plastic soul" and was the Beatles' way of acknowledging their lack of authenticity compared to the African-American soul artists they admired.Who are the two men on the cover of Wish You Were Here? ›
Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers were the stunt men hired for the cover, and the high winds that day caused Rondell to lose his eyebrows and moustache. Considering it was the '70s, it was probably a pretty great moustache, too.What do the album covers of everywhere at the end of time mean? ›
This piece of art acts as a metaphor that mirrors the person going through memory loss. The flower's vase is being essentially destroyed, unrecognizable, and distorted, yet the flowers are still alive and push through, much like the person undergoing memory loss.Whats the story behind Wish You Were Here? ›
The song is about Syd Barrett, the original frontman and chief songwriter of the Floyd, who left the group in 1968 after his mental and physical health and reliabity deteriorated thanks to heavy drug use.Why is Beatles misspell their name? ›
They took the idea of naming themselves after an insect like the Crickets, but changed the spelling for a pun on musical beats. It's a simple as that. There's no deep hidden meaning.
'Rubber Soul' is a punningly-titled album and it takes its name from a reference Paul McCartney heard from a man in the United States referring to Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones as "good, but plastic soul". McCartney says that this was "the germ of 'Rubber Soul'".What was the nickname for the Beatles popularity? ›
As their popularity grew into the intense fan frenzy dubbed "Beatlemania", the band acquired the nickname "the Fab Four", with Epstein, Martin and other members of the band's entourage sometimes given the informal title of "fifth Beatle".