Album covers: Abbey Road


by Patrick Roefflaer

For the writing of this article I have used information found in the following books: ‘Yesterday’ by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, ‘Many Years From Now’ by Miles, ‘In My Life’ by Pete Shotton, ‘The complete EMI Recording Sessions’ by Mark Lewisohn and ‘The Beatles London’ by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder.

Furthermore I found interesting information on countless websites. The previous incarnation of this article is here.


Abbey Road – Iain Macmillan

At first the album was going to be called Everest, after the brand of cigarettes smoked by the engineer Geoff Emerick. It was suggested to make a photograph with the Mount Everest in the background. But none of the Beatles could be bothered to travel that far for an album cover.

When asked how far they wanted to go, the reply came: “Why don’t we just do it in the street?”

Paul immediately made a rough drawing and freelance photographer Iain Macmillan, a friend of John and Yoko, was asked to make the picture.

Paul’s drawing

On Friday August 8. 1969, at 11.35 am, Iain stepped on a small ladder in the middle of Abbey Road, while a police officer stopped the traffic. The Beatles walked up and down the zebra crossing in front of the EMI Studio and Iain took six pictures. The fifth being the best. Not only was it the only photograph on which all four were in step, but also they walked away from the studio. A matter which seemed important to some of them at the moment.

Thanks to the research of Mark Lewisohn we know now that Macmillan used a Hasselblad camera, with a 50 mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 sec.

Linda McCartney took some extra pictures of the Beatles, while they were waiting for the session.

This time the album came without a title on the front cover, and no lyric sheet … being quite simple, it just had one photograph on the front, and one on the rear. For the back cover Iain Macmillan took a photograph of one of the many old-style tiled street signs.

Abbey Road back cover photo – Iain Macmillan

On the original cover, the Beatles deliberately did not list ‘Her Majesty‘ at the end of side 2. But no one informed the industry moguls in the US. As a result, the song was added to the eight track’s listing and to some of the albums. It was eventually removed again from the cover. Thus, the album again differed ever so slightly from the British release.

A few months later every detail of this and the previous Beatles sleeves were studied the world over to search for clues for the dead of Paul McCartney. “I started to get letters and cards from people outlining how obvious it was that Paul was dead,” recalled George Martin. “They said that they understood all our clues on the covers over the past few years years and, you know, I started believing it myself.”

Peter Blake too was almost fooled: “We went to visit Paul. We talked about the rumors and he said, “You know I’m not Paul McCartney. You met Paul when you were working on Sgt. Pepper and he didn’t have a scar on his mouth. Look, I’ve got a scar. I’m a stand in.” And just for a moment, I wasn’t sure. Then he told me that he’d fallen off his bicycle…”

In March 1970 Abbey Road won a Grammy for “Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording“.

In the wake of the album title, the EMI Studios were later re-named as “Abbey Road Studios“.

The celebrated cover was copied by Paul for his Paul Is Live album, in 1993.

Paul is live – Iain Macmillan

Paul on the Abbey Road crossing

Even though Paul actually revisited the scene for the “Paul is live” album cover shoot, the designers ended up not using the modern day Abbey Road background. Instead, they pieced together the original album cover minus the Beatles, by using all the six different original photos. Paul’s image was then superimposed over the 1969 street scene. The retouching was done by CGI artist Erwin Keustermans.

A stepladder was also in use for Paul’s solo photo shoot

 Paul’s old sheepdog Martha was gone by 1993 of course, so the dog he walks is a descendent of Martha.

The promo album sampler shows the modern day Abbey Road backdrop

Of course, for a much more detailed look at the Beatles’ Abbey Road photo session, we refer you to our constantly updated page, “The Road Goes On Forever“.

5 Responses

  1. Andreas says:

    This is a fantastic series of features on the album sleeves. Thanks for the great photos and text. Will there be a feature on the white album? If I remember correctly there were a few suggestions prior to the idea that the sleeve should be entirely white. I think in Derek Taylor's "Fifty Years Adrift" there was a mention of a transparent record and sleeve. Thanks anyway for your great blog. Andreas

  2. shekespeare says:

    Hi Roger. You miss The Withe Album

  3. wogew says:

    I posted the White album article in 2011, here

  4. McCracken says:

    I was at Abbey Road crossing recently, the graffiti is atrocious.

  5. Unknown says:

    I agree McCracken. It looks quite awful.

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