The second photo in our series on music’s most iconic photographs has ended up as possibly the most recognisable album cover in pop music history. And even if that’s open to debate, it’s certainly the most parodied. What’s more, The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover still draws fans to the road forty-four years after the photo was taken. But how did this iconic image come about?
The album’s working title was Everest, named after the cigarettes smoked by sound engineer Geoff Emerick. The packets had a silhouette of Mount Everest on them and The Beatles liked the imagery. Originally, they planned to take a private plane over to the foothills of Mount Everest to shoot the cover photograph.
However, 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. 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.
Since it was taken, the photograph has generated mountains of speculation about its symbolic meanings and every detail has been investigated and tracked. The American tourist in the back corner has been identified and even the number plate from the VW Beetle now resides in a museum.
Some people have speculated that John represents the preacher, Ringo the undertaker, George the gravedigger and Paul, who is barefoot, the corpse. Conspiracy crazies go one further, having you believe that McCartney actually died in 1966 and everything thereafter was played by an imposter – hence the symbolism here.
The fact that these six stripes of white paint on a north London road have recently gained ‘Grade II listed status’ (indicating they are a monument of national importance) tells you a little something about the huge significance of this photograph.
Adam Monaghan is a British art historian and photojournalist. His photos and words have been published in many places including Time Out and The Guardian. You can find examples of his work at his blog, Photos from my world.