The famous Beatles’ Abbey Road LP cover, featuring George, Paul, Ringo and John walking over a zebra crossing in London is now a British iconic image, but the story behind it is that it took little planning. Reportedly it came as a last-minute idea for the album’s cover, and was taken as a series of only 6 images in a ten-minute shoot.
The Beatles had recently undergone turmoil before recording Abbey Road. The death of manager Brian Epstein proved trying for the four. Paul McCartney, purportedly initiated the recording by approaching George Martin with the suggestion that they record an album “like we used to.” (The suggestion refers to the Beatles’ return to simple songs within the album.)
With the LP recording finished, the band was at a loss for an album name or cover. Ringo Starr reportedly made the suggestion that they simply shoot for a cover outside of the recording studio, then known as EMI. The name of the album supposedly followed.
The group contacted a photographer friend of John and Yoko Ono’s, Iain MacMillan, to shoot for the job. On August 8, 1969, at 11:35 AM, MacMillan shot 6 photographs of the group while a policeman held up traffic.
As the day was hot, McCartney kicked off his shoes for some of the photographs. This move later contributed to the cult belief among fans that the group was communicating Paul was actually dead; he was rumored to have been replaced by a look-alike for the photo shoot.
Fans also surmised that the group was communicating Paul’s death by posing the “look-alike” with his left foot, forward, instead of right foot. He is the only Beatle doing so in the image. It has been pointed out that Paul is the only left-handed member of the group, and so would naturally pose with his opposite side facing out if they were directed to walk together.
After looking over the negatives of MacMillan’s shots, Paul chose the classic image, the fifth, as the album cover. The image has since become a pop culture icon, with numerous bands imitating it, and caricatures occurring frequently of it. Its popularity is probably due in part to the album’s success.
The album debuted straight to number one in 1969, and is considered one of the greatest albums ever made by the Beatles. The recording studio EMI changed its name to Abbey Road, possibly as a direct result of its popularity.
There has recently been a web-cam set up which records the photo site. Abbey Road was also recently listed as an historic landmark for Britain. In 2009, the site was the spot of a 40-year anniversary celebration honoring the photo. The Beatles’ famous Abbey Road photograph story reveals it had unsuspecting origins, but the image is remembered as a pop icon.