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Happy Birthday, Abbey Road

Kara Kovalchik
Happy Anniversary, Abbey Road!
by Kara Kovalchik – August 10, 2009 – 12:02 PM

genius-issueThe cover of the final Beatles studio album has become so iconic that thousands of entities have incorporated it for their own use (including the second issue of mental_floss).

The original photograph was snapped on August 8, 1969—40 years ago this past Saturday. As one of many tourists who has attempted to re-create that photo (darn, that’s a busy street!), I present a few interesting behind-the-scenes fact about the Abbey Road cover shoot.

Paul McCartney had the original concept for the cover, and had sketched out four stickmen walking over the “zebra crossing” (the name given to the stripe marks on roads indicating pedestrian crossings in England) just outside Abbey Road studios. Photographer Iain Macmillan was hired to capture McCartney’s vision on film. Macmillan climbed a ladder that perched him about ten feet above the fabled street. A police officer held the traffic back while Macmillan squeezed off a few shots of the Beatles crossing the street in one direction. Some traffic was allowed to pass for a short time, and then Macmillan photographed the group crossing the street in the opposite direction. He took a total of six photographs during the shoot, and it was number five – which featured all the band members’ legs in a perfect “V” formation- that was ultimately chosen for the cover.

abbey-rd

When the rumor that Paul McCartney had actually died in a 1966 car crash started spreading, conspiracy theorists had a field day with the Abbey Road cover. It was rife with clues, according to them. For example, Paul was barefoot, which is the way corpses were buried at the time in England. (In actuality, Paul had turned up at the photo shoot wearing sandals, but had kicked them off after the first two takes.) Also, the Volkswagen behind George bears the license plate number “28IF” – obviously meaning Paul would be 28 years old if he had lived. (At the time of the photo shoot, Paul McCartney would have been or was 27 years of age.)

abbey-rd2After the road-crossing photo was finished, Iain Macmillan set off to find a good “Abbey Road” street marker sign to use for the back cover of the album. He found it at the junction of Alexandra Road and started taking photos of the sign. Much to his chagrin, while he was busy shooting an oblivious woman in a blue dress walked right in front of his viewfinder. While reviewing his shots later that day, however, he decided that the “blue dress” photo was the most interesting of the bunch, and he ended up using it in the final composition.

In a somewhat revolutionary move for that time, the front of the album cover did not mention the band’s name or the album title. That decision came from John Kosh, who was the creative director for Apple Records at the time. Kosh was already well known in the London avant-garde art scene when the Beatles hired him, and his argument for the “photo only” album cover was that they were the most famous band in the world and there was no need to clutter the photograph with text. EMI Records protested at first, saying they’d never sell any records that didn’t indicate who the artist was, but the Beatles supported Kosh’s vision, and in the end, they were right.

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August 20, 2009 - Posted by | Beatles, Confessions of a TV-Holic, Mental Floss, Songs, The Beatles | ,

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