Abbey Road

The cover artwork

Abbey Road - The Beatles

Abbey Road was unique among The Beatles' albums to feature neither the group's name nor the title on its front cover. The four members were pictured walking away from EMI Studios - a symbolic gesture given the thousands of hours spent inside there since 1962.

The photography was taken by Iain Macmillan on 8 August 1969. A freelance photographer, Macmillan was a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono; he died in May 2006.

The session began at 11.35am. Macmillan positioned a stepladder in the middle of Abbey Road, and quickly took six photographs using his Hasselblad camera while a policeman stopped traffic from passing. He used a 50mm wide-angle lens, set at aperture f22 at 1/500 seconds.

In three of the pictures The Beatles were walking away from the studio; in the remainder they walked from right to left. In each of the shots the order was John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

During shots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 the group were walking out of step. However, the fifth shot was perfect, and was selected by Paul McCartney for the album.

In the background an American tourist, Paul Cole, was pictured standing next to a police van. Cole was unaware he was pictured on a Beatles album cover until some time later. The Volkswagen Beetle car which was parked on the other side of the road was sold at auction in 1986 for £2,530, and is currently on display at the Autostadt museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The legacy

While it was well-known that The Beatles recorded most of their music at EMI Studios in Abbey Road, the release of the album made the building, and the street on which it stands, world famous. In the early 1970s the company officially changed the studio's name to Abbey Road Studios, to acknowledge the legacy bestowed upon it by The Beatles.

The pedestrian crossing outside the studio, too, is a favourite destination for tourists, with countless photographs being taken of fans following in The Beatles' footsteps. A webcam was later installed to give fans outside London a chance to see the crossing at any time.

The artwork has been much-mimicked and parodied in the years since Abbey Road's release, by musicians including Booker T and the MGs, Kanye West, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 1993 Paul McCartney even adapted the original artwork for his album Paul Is Live.

'Paul is dead'

McCartney wore sandals for the first two shots taken by Iain Macmillan, but afterwards took them off and walked barefoot. This action became one of the 'clues' in the Paul Is Dead myth, which began in September 1969.

There were said to be three clues on the front cover:

  • The order in which The Beatles walked was said to make reference to a funeral procession, with John Lennon dressed all in white as a priest; Ringo Starr in a black suit as an undertaker; McCartney being barefoot, as many corpses would have been buried; and George Harrison following as a gravedigger. McCartney was also out of step with the others, with his eyes closed.
  • McCartney was pictured holding a cigarette with his right hand. However, it was well known that he was left-handed, suggesting that an impostor was in his place.
  • A Volkswagen Beetle car in the background has the numberplate LMW 28IF. LMW was taken to mean 'Linda McCartney weeps', and 28IF was interpreted as referring to Paul's age if he had lived. However, at the time of Abbey Road's release in 1969 he would have been 27, rather than 28.

Furthermore, on the back cover a ghostly face, fancifully believed by some to be the Grim Reaper, is cast by a shadow onto the wall next to The Beatles' name.

Chart success

Abbey Road was released in the United Kindom on 26 September 1969, as Apple PCS 7088, and in the United States on 1 October 1969 as Apple SO-383.

Advance orders in the UK were more than 190,000. The album entered the UK albums chart at number one on 4 October, and remained there for 11 consecutive weeks. It spent a further six weeks at the top from 27 December, having briefly been displaced by The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, and spent a total of 81 weeks in the charts.

Abbey Road was the UK's best-selling album of 1969, the eighth highest-selling of 1970, and the fourth highest-selling of the entire 1960s.

In the US it débuted at number 178, then climbed the following week to number four, before topping the chart in its third week on sale. It spent 11 non-consecutive weeks at number one, and was in the top 200 for 83 weeks until May 1971. It was America's fourth best-selling album of 1970.

In the first six weeks four million copies of Abbey Road were sold worldwide, with a further million by the end of 1969. It was the first Beatles album to sell more than 10 million copies, a milestone which was passed in 1980.

Something/Come Together

A double a-side single, Something/Come Together, was released in the US on 6 October, and in the UK on 31 October. It was the first time a song by George Harrison received top billing on a Beatles single.

In America it was common practice to count sales and airplay of a- and b-sides separately, allowing both sides of a single to chart separately. Both songs were popular, which threatened The Beatles' chances of topping the charts, but from 29 November the Billboard chart compilers began combining both sides.

As a result the single topped the chart for a week; converseley, on the Cash Box chart, which counted the songs separately, Something peaked at number two, while Come Together topped the chart for three weeks.

In the United Kingdom it was the first Beatles single to feature songs already available on an album. The group had previously avoided this, believing it represented poor value for money. The arrival at Apple of Allen Klein changed this, and the release was a brazen attempt to bring in more money for the group and their company.

Such a move was evidently unpopular with record buyers: the single peaked at number four in the UK, and spent 12 weeks on the charts.

48 responses on “Abbey Road

    1. Joe Post author

      Mal Evans played the anvil during rehearsals at Twickenham, as seen in the Let It Be film. In the studio some months later, when they were making Abbey Road, it was Ringo.

      1. Steve

        Actually, it seems that it was Mal. This quote from Geoff Emerick in a track-by-track walkthrough, interviewed by Joe Bosso, Thu 10 Sep 2009:
        “For the hammer bits, we actually had to rent a proper blacksmith’s anvil. The thing weighed a ton, as did the hammer used to strike it. Ringo tried but he just couldn’t hoist the hammer in a way that allowed him to hit the anvil with the correct timing, so Mal Evans [one of The Beatles’ roadies], who was a large man, he wound up doing it.”

  1. Oscar

    Just a curious fact when the picture was shot (8/8/1969), these were the Beatles’ ages (in order from left to right in the picture):
    a) George – 26 (02/25/1943)
    b) Paul – 27 (06/18/1942)
    c) Ringo – 29 (07/07/1940)
    d) John – 28 (10/09/1940)

    Regards.
    Oscar.

    1. Joe Post author

      Thanks Oscar. Useful to have a reminder that Paul was 27, not 28.

      “28 IF” became part of the ‘Paul is dead‘ conspiracy, in relation to the number plate of the VW Beetle car behind the group. As in, McCartney would have been 28 IF he was still alive. Incidentally, the other part of the number plate, LMW, was taken to mean ‘Linda McCartney weeps’. Crazy stuff!

      1. Fuzzy

        Don’t forget the attire, Paul is barefoot, (people are buried barefoot), John is in all white as an angel, George is a grave digger and Ringo is a preacher.

        very intentional

  2. Garrett Hawk

    Back when they had LP’s, I always liked the back cover shot of the girl in the blue mini-dress walking by Abbey Road. So 1969.
    I wonder if the model was one of the Beatle women of the era?

    1. Alison

      It wasnt a model who posed for the back of the album. the photographer, Iain McMillan, wanted the back just to be the road sign, however the girl in the blue dress walked in the shot and had no idea what was going on.. in the end they liked how the shot came out because it was interesting.. so there you have it

  3. Roger

    My favorite song on the album is “Sun King”. I like everything about it from the arrangement to the way it is performed. If you want to go to school, you get three albums: Revolver, the White Album and Abbey Road.

    1. Andy

      I feel I have learnt everything there is to know about that iconic cover shot, and have walked back and forth across the crossing by myself like some kind of lunatic, but I had never considered your observation until now! All things considered, that was probably one of the main ideas behind the shot – thanks for the insight!

  4. beatle_fan_boy

    Only problem with todays technology like cd’s in general are the last songs are supposed to be medley yet they are cut song by song for easy tracking on cd so you get some annoying sudden blank killing the medley vibe. In order to bring back the medley feel to those tunes just like in records and cassette tape is simply stick them together using a nice audio software and boom! their continuous again just the way i like it.

  5. Von Bontee

    That only happens to me if I play it in my computer rather than CD player. (And the cool thing about the computer is that I can resequence the tracks to restore “Her Majesty” to its original and rightful place in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”!)

  6. LOMAN

    The greatest album ever recorded, composed, conceptualized, performed and produced! Every track is a jewel. Even the Ringo track is a masterpiece (probably due to Harrison’s imput) but a masterpiece none-the-less. The second side suite or medley, whatever you wanna call it, is the single most inspiring entity in rock history that there is! It’s like a Beethoven symphony with each movement by a different composer. When it slides from “Polythene Pam’ into “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” and kicks back into “You Never Give Me Your Money” during “Carry That Weight” it makes me wish I was a Beatle just so I could claim that level of genius! I’ve read that “I Want You (she’s so heavy)” was written by Lennon to align himself with the new emerging heavy/progressive bands like Led Zeppelin. If that’s true than he did it right! I dare say that it surpassed anything ever done by any “heavy” band including the great Led Zeppelin. Although I do think that it’s Paul’s bass playing that makes the song along with Billy Preston’s playing. Indeed, Paul’s bass playing overpowers almost every track…in a good way! I’ve also read tat Paul was primarily responsible for the second side of segued tracks. Well, thank you Paul! John always said that he hated that second side of half finished tracks thrown together, maybe a little jealousy on his part?

    1. Jeff

      During the Beatles’ later years, Ringo and George seemed to be developing their own musical partnership. George obviously assisted in writing Ringo’s Octupus’ Garden (even though he did not take a songwriting credit). Then, a year or so later, Harrison helped Ringo record one of his greatest songs “It Don’t Come Easy.” Then in 1973, George played a big role in Ringo’s self-titled solo album with the 2 former Beatles co-writing the #1 smash “Photograph” – a song as good as any they (or Lennon-McCartney)had released since the breakup. Perhaps had they remained Beatles, the Harrison-Starkey songwriting team would have evolved to counter the vaunted Lennon-McCartney songwriting machine.

  7. Joseph Brush

    The reason why I Want You is so great is John’s intensity. Obsession and soul.
    That is what makes the song.
    All the great bass and piano playing don’t mean a thing if a song isn’t great to begin with.
    Without John’s four tracks on the second side, especially Because, the segue wouldn’t be the same.

  8. Ed

    “Another interesting fact the beatles are walking away from abbey road studios which could mark the end of their recording career”

    Begining with I want you, all the way through to the end of the album, is unbelievably awesome. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopus’s Garden however both pretty much blow. And Oh Darlin should have been sung by Lennon (even though McCartney wrote it).

    1. Julio

      Octopus’s Garden has awesome Harrison guitar and cool piano and backing vocals. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer has goofy sounding but very cool lyrics and cool use of the moog. It is this kind of variation that makes the Beatles so great. Yeah, those songs pretty much “blow” (my mind).

      1. George Demake

        Harisson brought a renewed vigor and confidence to Abbey Road, not only with his compositions , but also with his guitar playing which reached a new level.Although they still composed seperately, it seems as though George and Paul had a better musical connection with one another on Abbey Road, that was lacking previously.
        Again, maybe they knew this was it, and they had that final spiritual breath to let out.

      2. Frank

        I also think Maxwells Silver Hammer is very underrated. I absolutely love the do do do do do in the middle of the chorus. And the woah woah woooaah app right before the synthesizer.

  9. robert

    It interesting that John often said how he hated the segue of songs on side two – also there is this sense that he and Paul were not working together by this point – yet look at this interview quote:

    “Paul and I are now working on a kind of song montage that we might do as one piece on one side. We’ve got two weeks to finish the whole thing so we’re really working at it.”

    You can read the whole Lennon quote at http://beatlesinterviews.org/db1969.0503.beatles.html

    it’s really interesting because John’s tone is so normal.

    1. Joe Post author

      That’s a really interesting interview – I’d not seen it before. It’s great to see John being so enthusiastic about The Beatles’ projects, and so sad that it all fell apart just a few months later.

  10. Chad

    It’s been great reading the discography notes here- very informative!

    Just a note about “Her Majesty” not being performed/rehearsed until the Abbey Road sessions: if you’re talking strictly the TRACKING sessions at Saville Row, that’s true… But it actually was shown to the boys by Paul during rehearsals at Twickenham in January ’69.

    (I just looked up the dates on A/B Road, and it appears it was played 1/9, and twice on 1/24.)

  11. william

    It is interesting to compare the depth of articles written here for the various albums. Abbey Road almost seems to be taken for granted.

    If Revolver was the album where the playing first really started coming together for the Beatles, then Abbey Road was the album that proved that these guys were no mere songwriters or lyricists.

    From Harrison’s incipient slide work throughout, to the amazing solos by all four at the end, the playing (and performances in general) on Abbey Road is hard to top.

    Harrison’s solo on the first song on side one, You Can’t Catch Me is both scary and astonishing. Compare this version, to Lennon’s forgive-me version for not giving Chuck Berry credit on Rock and Roll Songs. Both are great, but Harrison’s performance here is unearthly. At the end where Lennon yells “Yeah, and Harrison starts off with a high pitched discordant twang, that is now his signature, no words.

    Harrison’s guitar then takes Octopus’s Garden from being something humdrum to meriting inclusion on the Blue Album (questionable though it may be–Ringo needed a credit). McCartney and Lennon’s and Harrison’s bass and lead work on I Want You is incredibly intense. Ringo’s drumming is at the Rain level.

    The musicianship on this record is really incredible. Aside from a couple of Billy Preston and Eric Clapton appearances, these guys did everything. As great as the Beatles were from the start, they obviously improved in some areas. On Abbey Road they show that studio tricks aside, they had it, in each and every area.

    1. Joe Post author

      Is there any slide guitar on Abbey Road? I thought George didn’t play it until My Sweet Lord, with the exception of Strawberry Fields Forever (best heard on take one on Anthology 2). Happy to be corrected.

          1. Deadman

            That’s slide, surely, from 2:14 to 2:27

            The version of CT on the Love album, to me at least, seems more clearly two slide parts. Furthermore, there are slide chords (3:01 – 3:15) before the fade-out.

            As for the lead on the fade-out, it can and might (I concede) be played with finger-style sliding, but I suspect that much thereof is played with a slide (on the little finger, with some finger-style) because of the attack and the style of vibrato.

            1. Joe Post author

              The solo may well be slide, although it’s two different guitars (separated in stereo on Love). They could have been finger-style rather than slide – it’s difficult to tell. Here’s the isolated guitar track.

              I’m less sure about the chords at the three-minute mark – I think they’re done using a volume pedal or at the mixing desk, but don’t see that a slide was involved (it may have been). Probably they were just chords played and faded in, as on Yes It Is. The fourth chord, as heard on the isolated version, doesn’t seem to have been faded at all, and definitely doesn’t sound like it’s played with a slide.

              I definitely don’t think the lead in the fade is slide. I may be wrong about all this though – happy to hear more debate.

              1. vonbontee

                Doesn’t sound like slide to me either, just stringbending. Can’t hear any metal-on-metal abrasion, for one thing.

  12. Lukey Boy

    I feel that John and George’s songs are what really make this album. Come Together, Something, I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Here Comes the Sun, Because and Sun King are (for me) the standout tracks. I do like Paul’s songs and Ringo’s song, but I just don’t love ‘em. Still a great album.

  13. Window Pane Lizard

    Just curious whether anyone has ever heard of an album other than side 2 of this Beatles’ masterpiece that has more than 11 tunes on one side? I can’t think of another. Can any one? Most albums have 4-6 tunes per side on average. Do tell if you know of any other pop or rock album with more than 11 tunes on one side.

    FABulous site by the way Joe! Thanks so much!

  14. L. Meyer

    Paul’s genius on Abbey Road is being the major force in the creation of the medley that makes up most of side two. “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” is a beautiful and eloquent farewell to the fans.

    1. Frank

      And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

      Words I live by every day.

      Also it’s the single most beautiful thirty seconds of sound ever created in the history of time and matter.

      Paul McCartney was just so great.

      So was John Lennon, RIP

      So was George Harrison, RIP

      So was Ringo, he was awesome.

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