The cover artwork

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.

’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.