Best Album Art of All Time – The Beatles Abbey Road

Best Album Art of All Time – The Beatles Abbey Road
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The Beatles Album: Abbey Road

Designer: Kosh/Iain MacMillan

Quite simply, an utterly iconic image, with the Fab Four themselves at their coolest: John resplendent in a white suit, Paul barefoot. Perfectly in harmony, and utterly British. The crossing itself was given Grade II listed status in 2010 – there aren’t many traffic artefacts that can boast that.

The first UK Beatles album cover to feature neither the band name nor the album title, the oft-pastiched Abbey Road has become an iconic image representing an era as much as it does an album or a band.

Arguably, the most recognisable album cover in pop music history and certainly the most parodied, The Beatles’ Abbey Road album still draws fans to the road forty four years after the photo was taken. But how did this iconic image come about? We put on our sleuthing hats to find out. The result of this detective work, eleven little known nuggets of knowledge and five fantastic behind the scenes photos.

1. The album’s working title was Everest, named after the cigarettes that sound engineer Geoff Emerick smoked. The packets had a silhouette of Mount Everest on them and The Beatles liked the imagery.

2. Originally, they planed to take a private plane over to the foothills of Mount Everest to shoot the cover photograph. But as they became increasingly eager to finish the album Paul McCartney suggested they just go outside, take the photo there and name the album after the street.

3. The photo was taken at around 11:30am, on the morning of 8th August 1969 outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. Photographer Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the photo whilst he stood on a step-ladder and a policeman held up the traffic.

4.With the exception of Harrison, the group are all wore suits designed by Tommy Nutter.

5. McCartney wore sandals for the first two shots, but afterwards took them off and walked barefoot. This action became one of the ‘clues’ in the Paul Is Dead myth, which began in September 1969.

6. During shots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 the group were walking out of step. However, the fifth shot was perfect, and it was this, which was selected by Paul McCartney for the album.

7. It’s the only original UK Beatles album sleeve to show neither the artist name nor the album title on its front cover.

8. After the album was released, the number plate of the white Volkswagen Beetle, which belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across from the recording studio was repeatedly stolen from the car.

9. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for £2,530 and in 2001 was on display in a museum in Germany.

10. The man standing on the pavement to the right of the picture is Paul Cole an American tourist, who was totally unaware he had been photographed until he saw the album cover months later.

11. In December 2010, the crossing was given grade II listed status for its “cultural and historical importance”

12. Rare photographs of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road shot for the cover of the last album they recorded together have sold for a staggering £180,000.

The six stills were rejected as possible covers of the Beatles’ famed Abbey Road album released in September 1969, just months before they split up.

They were taken by Scots photographer Iain Macmillan, a close friend of John Lennon, who balanced precariously on a ladder in the middle of the road in north London for the shoot.

He had just 10 minutes to get his shot so he got the Fab Four to walk back and forth continuously over the now famous zebra crossing.

As a consequence three of the unused shots feature the Beatles walking ‘the wrong way’ over the crossing in the opposite direction to the iconic image that was chosen as the album cover.

In the fifth shot in the sequence each member of the band appears to be walking at the same time, and the road behind them is clear.

Paul McCartney picked the shot to be used as the album cover – the rest were discarded.

Also sold was the photo that became the back cover of the album – a road sign with a blurred person in the foreground.

Macmillan was just about to take his shot when a girl in a blue dress walked into the frame, but the band liked it and chose it for the back cover.

Experts predicted the photos would make £70,000 when they went under the hammer at Bloomsbury Auctions.

It will be the first time they have ever been sold as a complete set.

Sarah Wheeler, Head of Photography at Bloomsbury Auctions said: ‘Iain Macmillan was hired by the Beatles in 1969 to shoot the album art for Abbey Road but he only had 10 minutes to do it in.

‘He was stood on a ladder leaning against a tree and for 10 minutes he got John, Paul, George and Ringo to walk back and forth across the zebra crossing on Abbey Road.

‘He took shots of them going both ways across the crossing until he finally got the frame he was after.

‘In the photo we all know the Beatles are all very symmetrical and there is no traffic in the background but in the outtakes there are taxis and buses on the road.’

She added: ‘It is amazing to see the making of what is one of the most iconic pop photographs ever taken.

‘More than 50 years on people are still going to Abbey Road to recreate Iain Macmillan’s photo.

‘The outtakes are incredibly rare individually but this is the first time they have ever been sold as a set.’

Abbey Road was the penultimate album released by the Beatles, however Let It Be, their final album, had largely been recorded before the material on Abbey Road.

The outtake photographs were passed to Iain Macmillan’s family following his death in 2006.

They were sold individually but have since been reunited by a private collector who is now selling the set.

Two weeks ago a woman was sent flying through the air after she was struck by a car at the Abbey Road crossing.

Video footage captured on a webcam installed outside the historic studios, shows the unnamed female running across the famous street.

The clip was uploaded to Youtube and has now been viewed almost 300,000 times.

conspiracy theorists

The most brilliant thing about the cover though is that it fuelled the paranoid rumours that Paul McCartney was in fact dead. In all there are 12 ‘clues’ on Abbey Road’s cover that conspiracy theorists believe ‘prove’ that Paul died in a car accident in 1966 and was being played by an actor; a Faul, if you will.

It was the end of the ‘60s and we can only assume that prolonged substance abuse had addled the minds of some of the most obsessive Beatles fans.

The photoshoot for their new Abbey Road album happened just yards from the eponymous recording studios and took ten minutes – only six frames were taken by the photographer, Iain Macmillan, who was perched on a stepladder.

It has since become one of the most iconic covers in history for two reasons – no album cover has inspired more imitations, and none has spawned such a mass of conspiracy theories.

For Beatles obsessives with fevered imaginations, it was ultimate proof of the bizarre theory of the time – that Paul McCartney was, in fact, dead.

According to the legend, Paul had died in a car accident and been replaced by an impostor. The band, it was said, subsequently felt guilty about the deception, and so placed hidden clues on the album cover for their fans.

Thus, even today, despite the apparent rude health of McCartney, they insist that if you look closely at the images on the front and back of the album it is packed with deathly symbolism.

What is certain is that the album denoted one death of sorts. Unbeknown to the public at the time, The Beatles were in the final throes of a bitter break-up and would never record another album.

Relations had deteriorated to such an extent that the group abandoned their original title of Everest, together with a shoot in the Himalayas, and were photographed instead walking away from the studios and everything they had once shared.

For other devotees, however, far more could be read into the image…


The procession of The Beatles across the zebra crossing, say the conspiracy theorists, represents Paul’s funeral.

John Lennon leads in a white suit and symbolises the preacher; Ringo Starr is the mourner, dressed in black; George Harrison, in scruffy shirt and trousers, denotes the grave-digger; Paul is wearing an old suit and is the only one who is barefoot.

He later explained that he began the shoot wearing sandals but, because it was a hot day, he kicked them off.

The theorists believed that if this was the case, the hot tarmac would be too uncomfortable. This, they argued, was a sign that Paul was the corpse.


Paul McCartney is left-handed, but here holds his cigarette in his right hand. At the time, cigarettes were commonly referred to as ‘coffin nails’. This, therefore, could be seen as a message that Paul’s ‘coffin lid’ had been nailed down and that the man in the picture was a lookalike.

Paul is also out of step with the other band members. Each of the others has his left leg forward, but Paul has his right leg forward – again marking him out as different.


The white VW Beetle in the background has the registration LMW 28IF – 28 being the age conspiracy theorists say Paul would have been IF he hadn’t ‘died’.

In fact, Paul was 27 when Abbey Road was released – but fortunately for the theorists, Indian mystics count a person’s age from conception, not birth, in which case Paul would have indeed been 28 at the time.

Besides, the band were famously followers of the Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It has also been suggested that the LMW stands for ‘Linda McCartney Weeps’ – referring to his new wife whom he had married earlier that year.


In the background, a small group of people dressed in white stand on one side of the road, while a lone person stands on the other.

Is this meant to be Paul, alone and different from the others?


On the right-hand side of the road is a black police van, believed to be a reference to the police who kept quiet about Paul’s ‘death’.

According to legend, the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, bought their silence, and the presence of the Maria is meant as another subtle thank you.


A line can be traced from the VW Beetle to the three cars in front of it. If it is drawn connecting their right wheels it runs straight through Paul’s head, with theorists suggesting that means Paul sustained a head injury because of a car crash.


On the Australian version of the album, the cover showed what could be a bloodstain splattered on the road just behind Ringo and John, supposedly backing claims of a road accident.


On the back cover there is a picture of the Abbey Road sign and above it the name Beatles has been written. There is an obvious crack running through the S – thought to suggest problems within the group.


To the left of the name ‘BEATLES’ there are a series of eight dots. When joined together they form the number three.

Did this mean there were only three Beatles left?


If the back cover is turned 45 degrees anticlockwise a crude image of the Grim Reaper appears, from his skull to his black gown. Theorists believed it was a sign that someone in the group had died.


Nobody knows the identity of the girl dressed in blue on the back cover. On the night of the theorists’ ‘car crash’ it was raining heavily and Paul is said to have given a lift to a fan called Rita. It could be that this girl is her, either fleeing the scene or running to get help.


If the writing on the wall is split into sections, it conveys the cryptic message, ‘Be at Les Abbey’. In numerology the following two letters, R and O, are the 18th and 15th letters in the alphabet. By adding this together (33) and multiplying by the number of letters (2), we get 66, the year Paul is supposed to have died.

Three also represents the letter C so 33 could also stand for CC. Cece is short for Cecilia, with theorists claiming Paul was ‘laid to rest’ at St Cecilia’s Abbey, a monastery in Ryde, Isle of Wight.

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