Abbey Road, 1969

The story behind the most famous album cover ever photographed.

All four Beatles gathered at EMI Studios at 11:30 AM on the morning of Friday 8 August 1969 for one of the most iconic photo shoots of their career. Photographer Iain Macmillan, a freelancer and friend to John Lennon, took the famous image that adorned their last-recorded album, Abbey Road. Although in the past, the Beatles were responsible for a number of genuinely iconic album covers in their day, including a few that required a significant amount of preparation and art direction, the most iconic cover of them all involved the 4 Beatles, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon simply walking out into the street outside their studio.

Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration.
Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration.

“I remember we hired a policeman to hold up traffic while I was up on the ladder taking the pictures,” Macmillan later told the Guardian. “The whole idea, I must say, was Paul McCartney’s. A few days before the shoot, he drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which we executed almost exactly that day.”

As the group waited outside the studio for the shoot to begin, Linda McCartney took a number of extra photographs.
As the group waited outside the studio for the shoot to begin, Linda McCartney took a number of extra photographs.

August 8th was a hot day in north London, and for four of the six photographs McCartney walked barefoot whereas for the other two, he wore sandals!

Photo in hand, Apple Records art director John Kosh opted to keep the Abbey Road cover design simple — so simple, in fact, that he decided not to include the band’s name or the album’s title. “I thought, ‘Well, this is the biggest band in the world – why would you need to do that?,'” he later laughed.

Sure enough, Abbey Road flew out of stores even without the added labeling -–and actually, the cover’s all-consuming focus on Macmillan’s photo may have given fans more of a reason to focus on the incidental details of the shot, such as the fact that McCartney wasn’t wearing shoes, or the license plate on a car in the background reading “LMW 281F,” or the shadowed pedestrian eyeing the Beatles’ stroll from the distance.

The aforementioned pedestrian, an American tourist named Paul Cole, was tracked down by reporters many years later, and revealed that he’d been standing on the sidewalk simply because he didn’t feel like following his wife into the latest stop on their vacation itinerary. He later recalled telling her, ‘I’ve seen enough museums. I’ll just stay out here and see what’s going on outside,’ he “I like to just start talking with people. I walked out, and that cop was sitting there in that police car. I just started carrying on a conversation with him… I just happened to look up, and I saw those guys walking across the street like a line of ducks. A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn’t walk around in London barefoot.”

Funnily enough, it wasn’t until Paul Cole’s wife bought a copy of Abbey Road that he realized what he’d been watching. “I had to convince the kids that that was me for a while,” he laughed. “I told them, ‘Get the magnifying glass out.'”

It’s almost 47 years since the iconic photograph was shot, and ever since the zebra crossing on Abbey Road has become a pilgrimage for Beatles’ fans world over.

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