The image of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr striding across the famous road is forever ingrained on pop music’s iconography. We’re peeking behind the covers of The Beatles’ final recorded album Abbey Road and finding the inspiration behind the most famous road crossing in the world. Now with its own dedicated webcam and countless crossers, there is something special about Abbey Road.
The record was released on 26th September 1969 and, despite being released before Let It Be, the album is the final moments of the Fab Four in the studio together. For that reason alone the LP means a great deal to their fans but it also possesses some of the group finest songs.
In a career of iconic images, the vision of the Fab Four walking across Abbey Road in their suits may well be their most iconic. Shot on this day in 1969, the vision for the seemingly benign image was that of genius. It was a fitting way to pay homage to the then-known EMI Studios which they had spent the majority of their careers—the famous Abbey Road Studios.
The image was largely dictated by laziness on the band’s part. The group, who were near-breaking point during the recording sessions, had originally intended for the album to be called Everest in honour of the cigarettes studio engineer Geoff Emerick smoked during sessions. But when the idea to shoot the cover in the foothills of the Himalayas was mentioned, the concept was quickly put down.
The group, instead, decided to turn their attentions to somewhere a little closer to home. They went with the easiest plan possible, called the album Abbey Road and shot the cover right outside. It was the first time the band ever refused to put their name on an album cover or indeed even the title of the LP.
The record sleeve’s designer John Kosh later claimed that the bosses at EMI were angry about the decision and worried about record sales. The designer argued: “The biggest band in the world, you don’t have to say who they are – everyone knows who they are.”
The photoshoot sees the band walking away from the studios, perhaps a reference to their upcoming split, and is perfectly captured, with all four band members in the middle of their stride. Shockingly, it only took Ian Macmillan six shots to get the right one. Traffic was pretty busy on the road and the need for haste wasn’t only propelled by the group’s growing disdain.
Paul McCartney is dead…
There is, of course, one “theory” we need to address with regards to the Abbey Road cover.
The rumours of Paul McCartney’s death have circled the band like a bad smell for some time and many of the “clues” that have sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive can be found on this album cover.
First port of call, Paul McCartney’s shoes. “I had just turned up at a photo session,” recalled Paul McCartney in 1988. “It was a hot day in London, a really nice hot day… and I think I wore sandals. I only had to walk around the corner to the crossing because I lived pretty nearby. And for the photo session I thought, I’ll take my sandals off.’ You know, so what?”
“So I went around to the photo session and showed me bare feet. Of course, when that comes out and people start looking at it they say, ‘Why has he got no shoes on? He´s never done that before.’ Okay, you´ve never seen me do it before, but in actual fact it´s just me with my shoes off. Turns out to be some old Mafia sign of death or something.”
Other apparent easter eggs pertaining to Macca’s death included McCartney being out of step with the rest of his bandmates as well as a white Volkswagen Beetle bearing the number plate “28IF”—McCartney would have been 28 if he survived, the police van on the cover is used for fatal collisions and the four Beatles representing a funeral procession.
George is the gravedigger in the image, Paul the corpse, Ringo is the congregation and John Lennon is, of course, the priest. Paul McCartney later parodied the cover on this own album artwork for 1993 live album Paul Is Live.
Abbey Road is the final word on The Beatles and the fact that the album’s artwork is just as recognisable, just as able to turn a zebra crossing into a tourist attraction, and just as much a part of music’s history as the songs on it proves just how loudly The Beatles spoke.