A 10-minute photo shoot. Four guys crossing a street. What could be less eventful? But the photograph taken for the last record the Beatles made, Abbey Road, has become a classic of album art — one of the best-known and most copied images in popular music.
It was Paul McCartney who came up with the street-crossing idea and worked out the details with photographer Iain Macmillan. The other Beatles liked the idea — ”with varying degrees of enthusiasm,” says Macmillan — and agreed to meet at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8, 1969, outside their Abbey Road studio. A bobby held up traffic while the band walked back and forth across the street three times. Perched on a ladder in the middle of the road, Macmillan snapped six pictures from which McCartney chose the cover shot.
”It was nerve-racking,” remembers Macmillan. ”Getting them to walk in the right way was difficult.”
The result was ironically eloquent, a jarringly mundane image of the larger-than-life Beatles. Even 28 years later, fans still flock to the site of the crossing and re-create the picture themselves.
Of course, not only tourists have been imitating the famous photo over the years. Booker T. & the M.G.’s ambled across a Memphis street for their 1970 album, McLemore Avenue, and alterna-funk band the Red Hot Chili Peppers cheekily parodied it on their 1988 The Abbey Road E.P., while the cover of rapper Chubb Rock’s recent album, The Mind, also pays tribute. Even McCartney has joined the fun, digitally spoofing the famous scene for his 1993 album Paul Is Live (whose very title plays off the old rumors of McCartney’s death, supposedly proven by evidence in the original photograph). Why is the cover so imitated? ”You can replicate it wherever you’re making a record,” says James Henke, chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. And hey, an association with the Beatles’ best-selling album can’t hurt. What band wouldn’t want to carry that kind of weight?
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