‘Abbey Road’ Album Cover: Behind The Beatles’ Most Famous Photograph
On a street in north-west London, almost directly outside a celebrated recording studio, one of the most famous ever album covers was shot.
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. The zebra crossing, almost exactly in front of the studio where The Beatles had created the vast majority of their body of work, was about to become one of the most recognized sites in London.
Listen to Abbey Road right now.
Before the shoot began, MacMillan, a friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s, had taken Paul McCartney’s initial sketch idea of the potential cover image and added detail of exactly how the famous quartet might look on the crossing. The street sign of Abbey Road that adorned the back cover of the album was taken by MacMillan on a junction with Alexandra Road that no longer exists.
Linda McCartney was also on hand to take some extra shots, before traffic was stopped by a solitary policeman and MacMillan got on his stepladder to take six images of the group crossing the road. Perhaps the four most famous men in the world walked crossed the road three times. McCartney took the lead in choosing the fifth of the transparencies to be used, partly because it was the only one that showed the group walking in exact time together. In 2012, one of the five outtakes sold at auction for £16,000.
What else did The Beatles do that day?
That afternoon, The Beatles and George Martin were inside Abbey Road, rather than outside, to resume work in a session for the upcoming album, recording “Ending,” which would become “The End.” The studio time was booked for 2.30pm, so as Mark Lewisohn reported in his Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, to kill time after the photo session, Paul took John back to his Cavendish Avenue house, George Harrison went with Mal Evans to London Zoo, and Ringo Starr went shopping. The Abbey Road album would be released seven weeks after the photo shoot, as The Beatles’ recording story came towards an end.
When did Abbey Road come out?
On September 26, 1969 Abbey Road, the group’s eleventh studio recording, was released. Upon its original appearance, it didn’t receive universal critical acclaim. William Mann of The Times said it “will be called gimmicky by people who want a record to sound exactly like a live performance.” Rolling Stone called it “complicated instead of complex.” Nik Cohn of the New York Times found the medley on side two to be their “most impressive music” since Rubber Soul, yet, “individually,” the album’s songs were “nothing special.”
Reviewers always suffer the constraint of having to pronounce on things in a relative instant and today this is often regarded as The Beatles’ finest album, a sustained body of varied brilliance. This was rock music as opposed to pop music, in the definition of the day, and in part its complexity was down to the fact that it was recorded on an 8-track machine, where previously The Beatles had used a 4-track machine at Abbey Road.
The album was also the first and only Beatles record to be entirely recorded through a solid state transistor mixing desk, the TG Mk I, as opposed to earlier thermionic valve based desks. The TG console also allowed for better eight-track multitrack recording, helping The Beatles to be able to overdub more easily. Engineer Geoff Emerick recalls the TG desk used to record the album had individual limiters and compressors on each audio channel and noted the overall sound was “softer” than the earlier valve desks.
Does the Abbey Road zebra crossing still exist?
Go to Abbey Road on any day, summer or winter, spring or autumn and there are always people trying to have their photograph taken while walking on the famous zebra crossing. Often, there’s quite a crowd. The Abbey Road Studios website even features a live webcam of the present-day scene.
Buy or stream the 50th anniversary editions of Abbey Road.
Listen to the best of The Beatles on Apple Music and Spotify.
August 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm
Hey Jude came out in 68 I thought?
August 10, 2015 at 6:06 pm
Yes, Hey Jude was the first single released in 1968 on the Apple label. It was a huge success, and I still have my 45 rpm record.
August 11, 2015 at 1:34 am
I got my Hey Jude 45 rpm in a Christmas ’68 gift exchange while in the 6th grade. Yup! Still have it in its original sleeve!!!
August 17, 2016 at 4:02 pm
Hey Jude everyone is on Let it be ya fool
August 8, 2014 at 8:48 pm
I fucking love them ;o
this be my favorite album c’:
August 10, 2015 at 6:12 pm
CUANDO HABLES BIEN MALEDUCADA
August 11, 2015 at 1:33 am
Cayate mamucas no jodas.
J, Denis Fay
August 8, 2014 at 9:06 pm
I feel privileged to be able to write that I new the Beatles before they were famous. That was when Pete Best was the drummer, Ringo played in the Rory Storm band. They played at various small venues around Liverpool . The entrance to these clubs was just a few shillings, and there in front of us was playing (what was to become ) one of the most famous groups on the world,,, I am often asked did I get their autographs,, or took their photograph,, the answer is NO,, because they were not famous then, they where just four ordinary young guys making music,
August 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm
Hey Jude ’68 for sure on a 45. Where does it say different? J.Fay seeing or knowing them during their Skiffle period is high history .
August 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm
J.Fay you are lucky alright to see or talk to to them during their Skiffle days!
August 9, 2014 at 3:28 am
The original hipster.haha
August 9, 2014 at 9:14 pm
i love them
August 14, 2015 at 1:48 am
Thank you so much for your wonderful remembrance!
All the best!
August 19, 2015 at 12:21 am
Nice that you shared this story with us. Are you in same age like them? Do you probably have a photo of those days?
August 8, 2014 at 9:19 pm
Thanks for the article. But I don’t think the band would’ve been working on “Hey Jude”, which had been released as a hit single 14 months earlier.
August 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm
I only wish we could turn the clock back 2 those great years the beatles
Gave 2 us. There music will live for ever.
A groupie from the past.
Thank you for the music and everything else.
Norman David Tidiman
August 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm
Not sure how ‘Hey Jude’ could have been recorded later on that night,when it was released in 1968!
August 8, 2014 at 10:27 pm
beatles b.c. and a.c…
August 8, 2014 at 10:30 pm
love the Beattles
August 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm
I walked this spot with my daughter, granddaughter and grandson just this past June. I was visiting from the U.S. Also visited Liverpool and The Cavern. BTW… Paul is out of sync. He is also barefoot. It was hyped that he was supposedly dead! John is the preacher, Ringo, the undertaker, & George, the gravedigger. The Beatles were the best & will never be matched!
August 9, 2014 at 2:39 am
We went to Abbey Road and I was surprised to see it was just a street – like every other street. I had built it up to be so much more.
August 9, 2014 at 4:45 am
License plate on the VW said “28IF”…The age Paul would be on his next birthday
August 10, 2015 at 8:30 pm
Yes, is just a street that because of the their fame, the album and the photo, the spot became a landmark!
August 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm
Paul is in sync hes left handed so hes stepping with his left foot. The others would’ve stepped 1st with their right foot.
August 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm
I remember the first time I heard I want to hold your hand…I said how lame these guys are…how lame I was!! lol within a year the band i was in were doing there songs and dressing similar with the haircuts and “beatle Boots” As someone one said in a post they will never be matched for their unique musical talent and the incredible number of songs/hits the made and recorded in such a short time!! 🙂
August 8, 2014 at 11:27 pm
This image seems to encapsulate the atmosphere of these times, sunny summer days and the future looked like an endless road of creative possibilities – there was a real vibe in the air that changes were about to come. Well they sure were! The times seemed to pass by so swiftly and there is a wistful sadness to this picture of a time long ago that can never be recaptured, gone forever – but at least we still have the music, that will never die.
August 7, 2020 at 1:59 pm
It’s ironic that later that night (well, actually the following morning, London-time) the Tate-LaBianca murders would begin. Eerie.
August 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm
Toto je chodník po kterém se chci také projít a doufám,že se toho dočkám a Broučci jsou pro mě nej kapela nad všechny kapely na světě
August 9, 2014 at 12:12 am
My favorite band till now
August 9, 2014 at 12:36 am
I CONSIDERED MYSELF ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES TO SEE THEM IN CONCERT AT THE “STICK” IN SAN FRANCISCO IN 1965. IT WAS BY FAR THE MOST MEMORABLE DAY IN MY TEENAGE LIFE. SOMETHING I WILL HOLD NEAR AND DEAR TO MY HEART FOREVER
August 9, 2014 at 1:04 am
July 9, 1997…fun day, got a couple shots around here of me crossing GH style…same day…
August 9, 2014 at 1:13 am
I met George and John in a local pub when i was working in London in 1971 ……never forgotten
Sergio M Ortiz
August 9, 2014 at 2:06 am
The greatest band, there’s never going to be another one like The Beatles and yes! Abbey Road is my favor album.
August 11, 2018 at 4:26 pm
‘Upon its original release, it did not receive universal critical acclaim.’
This LP was blasted from college dorms across the US non-stop…
The ‘critics’, then as now, don’t know their ass from an A chord!
August 9, 2014 at 4:13 am
“Hey Jude” never appeared on an album until the blue greatest hits. And ’68 it was!
August 14, 2014 at 11:48 pm
Not true, at least for the U.S. and most other countries, as “Hey Jude” the song led off Side 2 of Hey Jude the album (a/k/a The Beatles Again), released on Feb. 26, 1970, more than three years before the blue 1967-70 album. If you were in the UK, you weren’t so lucky unless you bought an imported copy.
August 9, 2014 at 4:30 am
I was privileged to buy one of the limited edition alternate prints signed by the photographer. Only 25 signed ones of each exist. Currently for re-sale at SFAE in San Fran.
August 9, 2014 at 6:43 am
Side 2 of Abbey Road was Ringo’s finest performance. Love it.
August 7, 2020 at 2:04 pm
That’s probably why Abbey Road is Ringo’s personal favorite Beatles album. True.
August 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm
This album ended the long and winding road. So sad.
Ivan John Stevenson
August 9, 2014 at 5:28 pm
An interesting fact: The Volkswagen parked on the left of the photo belongs to Paul.
August 11, 2015 at 3:12 pm
The car’s owner was a resident of Abbey Road, and it was pure coincidence the car was parked there. This according to the photographer who I interviewed a couple of years ago. I once heard the original Beetle is now in the official Volkswagen museum in Germany.
August 9, 2014 at 11:58 pm
Apart from PMC being ‘out of step’ he’s also holding his cigarette in the wrong hand. Wrote to the NME about it in my teens and got published. Happy Days!
August 10, 2014 at 2:17 am
Yes!!! Come Together, Something!!!
August 10, 2015 at 6:15 pm
Hey Jude was on the album Let It Be.
August 10, 2015 at 9:50 pm
hey Jude was a single and didn’t appear on any studio album , only compilations
August 10, 2015 at 6:15 pm
Hey Jude was on the album Let It Be.
August 11, 2015 at 6:17 am
Hi Phil. Hey Jude was definitely not on the album Let it Be. It was a single released in 1968 on the Apple label. I remember my eldest brother buying it (I was eight years old) and seeing the Apple ‘picture’ at its centre. It would appear my memory is very intact. Read this, it may be of interest to you, it was of interest to me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hey_Jude
August 10, 2015 at 7:41 pm
Does anyone remember when this album came out and there was all of the “hoopala” about Paul McCartney was dead and everyone was saying that the album cover told the story-it even referenced back to Magical Mystery Tour when it said on the end of the Lyrics on “I Am THE WALRUS”–Paul is dead. I remember, that went on for awhile.
August 11, 2015 at 1:16 am
I have a film that is called Paul Mccartney really is dead. Its about Paul was killed back in 1966, and that mi5 replaced him with a double. Rubber Paul. And how the 3 beatles was and still is trying to tell us that the real paul is dead. They did this on there covers and lyrics .
August 10, 2015 at 9:47 pm
I was a lifelong friend of Iain Macmillan so I know a few of the intimate details , not sure if Iain could be classified as a friend of John but he did several projects for them between 1968-71 , still received Christmas cards from yoko until his death in 2006, he often felt the photo was an albatross around his neck and at times was tired of being closely associated with this photo only, interested to hear comments
August 11, 2015 at 12:12 am
The two Harrison songs make this album exceptional on their own. I thought side two was better as you have to listen to it whole. The intense Lennon songs versus the silly pop songs on side one make it a little harder to listen to and all in all rate it #5 behind their Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper heyday.
steven bash - usa, new jersey
August 11, 2015 at 1:37 am
i notice that only PAUL right leg is forward and holding a smoke
August 11, 2015 at 4:18 am
The Beatles are still the gold standard. They were and still are untouchable in the world of music and beyond. I’ve loved them from the first time on Ed Sullivan to this day. God Bless The Beatles!
August 11, 2015 at 9:58 am
The Beatles never get classified as ‘Progressive’ Music which is because many stupid idiots looking back from now didn’t realise that so many branches of modern music were in fact trail blazed by the Beatles. The best Progressive Psychedelic Rock band ever.
August 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm
I was the manager of a record store in the 60’s and went to Abbey Road studios whilst they were recording. Their famous carpet they stood on to deaden the sound is still there. The swinging 60’s – when women wore mini’s and men drove them……..
August 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm
GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME! I LOVE EVERY SONG THEY EVER DID AND FOLLOW THEIR SOLO CAREERS AS WELL! LOVE THE BEATLES 4 EVER!