The Beatles' Abbey Road iconic album cover turns 50: A brief history

8 August 2019, 10:58

Abbey Road
Picture: Apple

Today (August 8) marks 50 years since one of the most iconic album cover photographs was taken: Abbey Road by The Beatles.

On the face of it, it's rather simple. The Fab Four walking in unison along a zebra crossing near to the then-EMI Studios in Abbey Road.

However, like with everything connected to The Beatles, it quickly became a hugely inspirational and memorable shot. But who took it and who came up with the idea?

Who designed the Abbey Road cover?

The cover was designed by Apple Records creative director Kosh. It became the only UK Beatles album cover to include no artist name or album title. This was Kosh's idea, despite EMI claiming it would not sell without the information.

He later said that "we didn't need to write the band's name on the cover ... They were the most famous band in the world".

Who came up with the idea and who took the photo?

The front cover was based on ideas drawn by Paul McCartney, and was taken on August 8, 1969, outside EMI Studios in Abbey Road.

At 11.35am, photographer Iain Macmillan was tasked with taking the perfect photo in just 10 minutes. To do this, he stood on a step-ladder, while a policeman held up traffic behind the camera.

Macmillan took six photographs in total, which McCartney later studied with a magnifying glass before picking his ideal shots that would be used for the album.

What appears on the cover?

The final shot chosen by McCartney sees the group walking across the street in single file from left to right, with John Lennon leading, followed by Ringo Starr, McCartney, and George Harrison.

McCartney is barefoot and slightly out of step with the other members. Aside from Harrison, the group are wearing suits designed by Tommy Nutter.

Also in the photo, parked next to the zebra crossing, is a white Volkswagen Beetle, which belonged to one of the people living in a nearby block of flats. When the album was released, the number plate (LMW 281F) was stolen many times from the car. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for £2,530.

In 2004, it was claimed that retired American salesman Paul Cole (who later died in 2008) was the man standing on the pavement to the right of the picture.

The Beatles
The Beatles. Picture: Getty

What is the 'Paul is Dead' theory?

Soon after the album's release, the cover became the basis of the 'Paul is dead', which claimed that the cover depicted the Beatles walking out of a cemetery in a funeral procession.

The procession was led by Lennon, seen in white as some kind of religious figure. Starr is dressed in black and is the undertaker. McCartney, who is out of step with the others, is a barefoot corpse. Harrison, seen in denim, is the gravedigger.

Is the crossing still there?

The crossing remains a popular place for Beatles fans around the world. A webcam has operated at the site since 2011.

In 2010, the crossing was given grade II listed status for its "cultural and historical importance".