The sleeve photograph for the Beatles’ Abbey Road album is one of the most widely known photographs in the world.
Some facts and trivia:
- Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album released by the Beatles and their last recorded, though Let It Be was the last album release before the band split up in 1970. Abbey Road was recorded and released in 1969.
- Although the album is regarded as one of the Beatles’ most tightly constructed albums, the group was barely operating as a functioning unit at the time. Members had fallen out and some were not speaking to others. Producer George Martin had prevailed upon them to do a further album after work on the proposed Get Back album, later released as Let It Be, had not gone well. Speaking on the Beatles’ Anthology, the survivors of the Beatles said that they felt this was going to be their last album, hence they set aside their differences and determined to “go out on a high note”.
- The cover shows the group walking over a zebra crossing, single file, Lennon in the lead. Only McCartney is barefoot and he is holding a cigarette.
- The design is taken from a sketch prepared by McCartney, to which the photographer, Iain MacMillan, had added a detailed illustration:
- The zebra crossing is outside the EMI Studios in Abbey Road. In 2010 the zebra crossing and the studios were granted heritage status for “cultural and historical importance”.
The zebra crossing with EMI studios in the background in 1969
- Iain MacMillan, the photographer and a friend of John and Yoko, was given ten minutes to take the photo whilst he stood on a step-ladder and a policeman held up the traffic.
- The white VW, also called a Beetle, belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across the road from the EMI studios. The number plate of the vehicle was repeatedly stolen after the album was released. The vehicle is now on display at a museum in Germany.
- In 1969 an urban legend was started by American college students that Paul McCartney had died in 1966 and had been replaced by a look alike. The belief was that the Beatles’ music and photographs gave clues to the “Paul is Dead” phenomenon, so that people started looking closely for such clues and indicators. One such indicator that people found was the cover photo of Abbey Road, which was argued to be symbolic of a funeral procession:
John, dressed in pure white, symbolises the preacher and heavenly body;
Ringo, dressed in full black, symbolises the mourner;
George, in scruffy denim jeans and shirt, symbolises the gravedigger;
Paul, barefoot and out of step with the others, symbolises the corpse.
Further, McCartney is holding a cigarette, often dubbed “coffin nails”, and he is holding it in his right hand when he was known to be left handed. The registration number of the VW – LMW28IF – was interpreted to mean that McCartney would have been 28 “if” he had lived, plus the letters LMW meant “Linda McCartney weeps”, a reference to Paul’s wife.
- Some other photos taken at the shoot, both by McMillan and Linda McCartney, show that Paul was wearing sandals at the time, discarded for the photograph selected for the sleeve:
- McCartney was the person responsible for selecting the final cover photograph. One of the reasons that he selected this image was that it showed all four walking away from the Abbey Road studio, where they had spent so much of the last seven years.
- This was the first time that a cover contained neither the group’s name, nor the album title, just the photograph.