In 1969, The Beatles recorded what is widely considered its greatest album. Although released just before the Let It Be album, Abbey Road was the last album the band recorded before breaking up in 1970.
Aside from the tight construction of the album’s tracks, the photo cover to the bands 11th compilation release ranks among the most popular in music history.
There’s an interesting story behind the street-crossing image of John, George, Paul and Ringo.
The famous photograph was taken outside EMI Studios on August 8, 1969. At about 11:30 a.m., freelance photographer Iain Macmillan had but 10 minutes to take the photo. He stood on a step ladder while a policeman held up traffic.
For camera buffs, Macmillan reportedly used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.
The concept for the cover was originally sketched by Paul McCartney, and Macmillan adjusted it by adding more detail.
At first glance, the photo is rather simplistic. But there are some fine details that make it a historical image that is often reconstructed or parodied:
- Paul McCartney is barefoot.
- John, George and Paul are decked out in suits designed by Tommy Nutter, while George is wearing blue jeans.
- In the background, on the right, is a man. He was a tourist who was unaware of being photographed until months later, after the ablum’s release.
- In the background, on the left, is a white Volkswagon Beetle. This belonged to a tenant of the block of flats across from the recording studio. The license plate was stolen repeatedly. Years later the car was sold at auction and in 2001 went on display in a German museum.
The album cover brought so much attention to the zebra crossing on Abbey Road that it became a tourist hot-spot for fans across the globe. Today, Abbey Road Studios hosts a live webcam of the crossing. In real-time, you can see people stopping traffic (and sometimes dodging cars) in order to create their own memories.
In 2010, the zebra crossing and Abbey Road Studios were given a “listed” status for historical importance.
One has to wonder if, on that August day so many years ago, the band knew it was making history not just with its music, but by an image that would become so popular that people would stop traffic just to recreate it themselves.