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‘Abbey Road’ Album Cover: Behind The Beatles’ Most Famous Photograph

On 8 August 1969, a zebra crossing, The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ album cover photo was taken, resulting in one of the most famous artworks in history.

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On 8 August 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 photograph 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 recognised 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 26 September 1969 that Abbey Road, the group’s eleventh studio recording, was released. Upon its original release, it did not 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 are “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. Sometimes there is quite a crowd. The Abbey Road Studios website even features a live webcam of the present-day scene.

The 50th anniversary editions of Abbey Road will be released on 27 September. Scroll down for the full tracklistings, and pre-order them here.

Listen-Buy

Abbey Road Anniversary Edition Tracklists:

SUPER DELUXE [3CD+1Blu-ray set; digital audio collection]

CD ONE: 2019 Stereo Mix
1. Come Together
2. Something
3. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
4. Oh! Darling
5. Octopus’s Garden
6. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
7. Here Comes The Sun
8. Because
9. You Never Give Me Your Money
10. Sun King
11. Mean Mr Mustard
12. Polythene Pam
13. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
14. Golden Slumbers
15. Carry That Weight
16. The End
17. Her Majesty

CD TWO: Sessions
1. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Trident Recording Session & Reduction Mix)
2. Goodbye (Home Demo)
3. Something (Studio Demo)
4. The Ballad Of John And Yoko (Take 7)
5. Old Brown Shoe (Take 2)
6. Oh! Darling (Take 4)
7. Octopus’s Garden (Take 9)
8. You Never Give Me Your Money (Take 36)
9. Her Majesty (Takes 1–3)
10. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (Takes 1–3 / Medley)
11. Here Comes The Sun (Take 9)
12. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Take 12)

CD THREE: Sessions
1. Come Together (Take 5)
2. The End (Take 3)
3. Come And Get It (Studio Demo)
4. Sun King (Take 20)
5. Mean Mr Mustard (Take 20)
6. Polythene Pam (Take 27)
7. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (Take 27)
8. Because (Take 1 – Instrumental)
9. The Long One (Trial Edit & Mix – 30 July 1969)
(Medley: You Never Give Me Your Money, Sun King, Mean Mr Mustard, Her Majesty, Polythene Pam, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End)
10. Something (Take 39 – Instrumental – Strings Only)
11. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (Take 17 – Instrumental – Strings & Brass Only)

BLU-RAY: Abbey Road
Audio Features:
– Dolby Atmos
– 96kHz/24 bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
– 96kHz/24 bit High Res Stereo (2019 Stereo Mix)

DELUXE 3LP VINYL BOX SET (limited edition)

LP ONE: Side 1 (2019 Stereo Mix)
1. Come Together
2. Something
3. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
4. Oh! Darling
5. Octopus’s Garden
6. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

LP ONE: Side 2 (2019 Stereo Mix)
1. Here Comes The Sun
2. Because
3. You Never Give Me Your Money
4. Sun King
5. Mean Mr Mustard
6. Polythene Pam
7. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
8. Golden Slumbers
9. Carry That Weight
10. The End
11. Her Majesty

LP TWO: Side 1 (Sessions)
1. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Trident Recording Session and Reduction Mix)
2. Goodbye (Home Demo)
3. Something (Studio Demo)
4. The Ballad Of John And Yoko (Take 7)
5. Old Brown Shoe (Take 2)

LP TWO: Side 2 (Sessions)
1. Oh! Darling (Take 4)
2. Octopus’s Garden (Take 9)
3. You Never Give Me Your Money (Take 36)
4. Her Majesty (Takes 1–3)
5. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (Takes 1–3) / Medley)
6. Here Comes The Sun (Take 9)
7. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Take 12)

LP THREE: Side 1 (Sessions)
1. Come Together (Take 5)
2. The End (Take 3)
3. Come and Get It (Studio Demo)
4. Sun King (Take 20)
5. Mean Mr Mustard (Take 20)
6. Polythene Pam (Take 27)
7. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (Take 27)
8. Because (Take 1 Instrumental)

LP THREE: Side 2 (Sessions)
1. The Long One (Trial Edit & Mix – 30 July 1969)
2. Something (Take 39 – Instrumental – Strings Only)
3. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (Take 17 – Instrumental – Strings & Brass Only)

DELUXE 2CD

CD ONE: 2019 Stereo Mix

CD TWO: Sessions
1. Come Together (Take 5)
2. Something (Studio Demo)
3. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Take 12)
4. Oh! Darling (Take 4)
5. Octopus’s Garden (Take 9)
6. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Trident Recording Session & Reduction Mix)
7. Here Comes The Sun (Take 9)
8. Because (Take 1 Instrumental)
9. You Never Give Me Your Money (Take 36)
10. Sun King (Take 20)
11. Mean Mr Mustard (Take 20)
12. Polythene Pam (Take 27)
13. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window (Take 27)
14. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (Takes 1–3 / Medley)
15. The End (Take 3)
16. Her Majesty (Takes 1–3)

STANDARD [1CD; digital; 1LP vinyl; limited edition 1LP picture disc vinyl]
2019 Stereo Mix

55 Comments

55 Comments

  1. Tim

    August 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Hey Jude came out in 68 I thought?

    • Bobby Lancaster

      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.

      • Linda Colpitts

        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!!!

    • Bob calvert

      August 17, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Hey Jude everyone is on Let it be ya fool

  2. karla

    August 8, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    I fucking love them ;o
    this be my favorite album c’:

    • AMPARO DIAZ

      August 10, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      CUANDO HABLES BIEN MALEDUCADA

      • Jerry

        August 11, 2015 at 1:33 am

        Cayate mamucas no jodas.

  3. 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,

    • Richard Kath

      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 .

    • Richard Kath

      August 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      J.Fay you are lucky alright to see or talk to to them during their Skiffle days!

    • Thomas

      August 9, 2014 at 3:28 am

      The original hipster.haha

      • ellamay

        August 9, 2014 at 9:14 pm

        i love them

    • Mikhail

      August 14, 2015 at 1:48 am

      Thank you so much for your wonderful remembrance!
      Take care.
      All the best!

    • Grorge

      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?

  4. Mick DeLeon

    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.

  5. patrick white

    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.

  6. 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!

  7. dario serrano

    August 8, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    beatles b.c. and a.c…

  8. barbara oniffrey

    August 8, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    love the Beattles

  9. Charles

    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!

    • Robin

      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.

    • Larry

      August 9, 2014 at 4:45 am

      License plate on the VW said “28IF”…The age Paul would be on his next birthday

      • Gamaliel

        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!

    • suzanne

      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.

  10. Joe

    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!! 🙂

  11. Michael Gorman

    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.

  12. zuzlivocko

    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

  13. George estano

    August 9, 2014 at 12:12 am

    My favorite band till now

  14. EVA GARZA

    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

  15. Bryan Thompson

    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

  16. 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.

    • Major Tom

      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!

      Major Tom

  17. Michael Craft

    August 9, 2014 at 4:13 am

    “Hey Jude” never appeared on an album until the blue greatest hits. And ’68 it was!

    • Steve Hammond

      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.

  18. Dave

    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.

  19. Carla Talbott

    August 9, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Side 2 of Abbey Road was Ringo’s finest performance. Love it.

  20. Janet

    August 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    This album ended the long and winding road. So sad.

  21. 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.

    • terry quye

      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.

  22. Yusef Mamoojee

    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!

  23. Kojie Kabuto

    August 10, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Yes!!! Come Together, Something!!!

  24. Phil

    August 10, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Hey Jude was on the album Let It Be.

    • Michael

      August 10, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      hey Jude was a single and didn’t appear on any studio album , only compilations

  25. Phil

    August 10, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Hey Jude was on the album Let It Be.

    • Rich

      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

  26. Myra Intondi

    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.

    • Rune

      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 .

  27. Michael

    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

  28. william carnell

    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.

  29. 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

  30. Ron C

    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!

  31. Martin Cockerham

    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.

  32. Margaret

    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……..

  33. DOUG LEBLANC

    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!

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