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Celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Beatles Crossing Abbey Road.

August 8th 2009 was the 40th Anniversary of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road for the famous album cover. We celebrated the day by organsing a mass crossing of Abbey Road at 11.35am - 40 years to the minute since the Beatles! The event received media coverage all over world.

To read our account of the day's events click here

The Abbey Road Crossing

On 8th August 1969, at 11.35am, four men walked across a zebra crossing in St John's Wood. Hardly an earth-shattering event, but since then millions of people have come to the very same crossing to imitate those four men.

Of course the four men in questions were The Beatles, and the crossing is in Abbey Road. The 'Fab Four' were posing for the photo that was to be used on their last album to recorded. Abbey Road has never been the same since.

Every day, fans from around the world come to the crossing to walk in the footsteps of their heroes and to see the studios where they recorded most of their songs.

The Beatles had been coming to Abbey Road for many years to record at the EMI Studios. Their die-hard fans often visited the studios in the hope of catching a glimpse of them coming or going. In fact a select few even camped in the car park to see their heroes come out after a late night recording session. However it wasn't until after The Beatles named their album after the street it is was recorded in that it became world famous and a shrine for fans.

In fact things could have been very different. Originally the LP was going to be called 'Everest' - after the favourite brand of cigarettes smoked by Geoff Emerick, The Beatles' recording engineer. Someone had the bright idea that The Beatles should go to the mountain of the same name to shoot the album cover! The Beatles reaction to that idea can't be repeated here without offense! Finally it was decided to call the album Abbey Road. Incidentally the album was NOT named after the studio, but the road where the studio is situated. The studio was then called EMI and didn't change its' name until after the album came out.

The famous pose of The Beatles on the Abbey Road crossing endures as one of the most famous LP covers of all time, and one of the easiest for fans to replicate. The idea for the picture was probably Paul McCartney's. A sketch drawn by Paul showing how the picture should look still exists. The photographer hired was Iain MacMillan, a long time friend of John and Yoko. MacMillan had known Yoko before she met John and it is quite possible that John's first site of Yoko might have been on one of MacMillan's photos. His photos illustrated the catalogue for Yoko's exhibition 'Unfinished Paintings and Objects', at which the couple first met.

Abbey Road Crossing

Abbey Road Studios and the famous crossing

 

For the photo shoot, The Beatles congregated by the crossing at around 11.35am. This was an early start for them as normally recording sessions didn't start until around 2pm. This was done deliberately to ensure fans would not interrupt the photo session. The day was gloriously sunny and Iain MacMillan stood on a step ladder in the middle of the road to get the required angle. The Beatles were asked to cross the road in procession while MacMillan attempted to get the best shot. In the end six photographs were taken, and the whole session only took about 10 minutes.

Shot one shows them walking from left to right, with a Mercedes car coming out of the car park of the studios. Shot two has them walking the other way across, towards the studios. In both shots Paul has his head bowed and is seemingly preoccupied with his feet. By shot three Paul has removed the open topped sandals he was wearing and is now barefoot - an historic decision! Shot three was probably the best so far, but has traffic too near to the crossing to be perfect.
Shot four again shows them going from right to left. Like shot two, The Beatles don't seem to be concentrating on getting the right pose. Maybe they already had it in mind that the shot would look better going the other way across.

Shot five was the best by far and the one used on the album cover. Another shot was taken but this was far inferior. After the session on the crossing Iain MacMillan got in a car with Anthony Fawcett, John and Yoko's assistant, to find a suitable road sign for the back cover. They found one on the junction of Abbey Road and Alexandra Road. As MacMillan was about to take a photograph of the sign a girl in a blue dress walked through the shot. Fawcett remembers that Iain MacMillan was angry the girl had got in the way - but other accounts said it was planned. Unfortunately the Abbey Road sign no longer exists. This part of Abbey Road was redeveloped in the 1970s and the wall and sign demolished.

Story of Abbey Road

The Story of Abbey Road Studios book - showing an out-take from the famous photo session

Paul McCartney

A rare magazine about the Paul is Dead rumour

The session on the crossing only lasted about 10 minutes - leaving The Beatles over three hours to kill before they were due to start recording. According to Mal Evans, in his personal diaries, Paul. John and Ringo went to Paul's nearby home to relax while George and Mal went to "Regents Park Zoo to meditate in the sun. To Krishna Temple for lunch and studio for 3pm".

Since the famous Abbey Road picture was taken several million people have crossed the street to imitate their heroes. In 2005 Abbey Road Studios estimated 150,000 come to Abbey Road every year.

Just after the album came out, the Abbey Road cover became the central part in a bizarre rumour and conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney was dead! It is hard to pinpoint where the rumour started, but it seemed to begin almost simultaneously in different universities in America. Word went around that Paul had died in a car accident in 1966 and that The Beatles had replaced him with an imposter, to ensure their fame wasn't affected. However, The Beatles felt guilty about doing this so put 'clues' on various album covers and songs to tell the truth. Many of these clues can be found on the Abbey Road album cover.

The picture is supposed to be of Paul's funeral procession, with George Harrison dressed as the gravedigger, Ringo Starr the undertaker, and John Lennon the preacher. Paul McCartney is supposedly wearing and old suit, and is barefoot - how bodies are buried! Paul is holding his cigarette in his right hand - fans pointed out the 'real' Paul McCartney is left handed, so the man in the picture isn't Paul, but an imposter. Some even named the imposter as 'William Campbell', who had won a Paul lookalike competition. Paul is also out of step with the others, drawing attention to himself.

By the side of the crossing is a white Volkeswagen car. The first part of the car's license plate is LMW - this is supposed to stand for 'Linda McCartney - widowed.'
The second part is 281F - this is supposed to signify that Paul McCartney would have been 28 years old - IF he was still alive! Actually, he was 27 in 1969.

There are even clues on the back cover. The 'Beatles' sign has a crack through it - to show that the band are no longer complete. Also the sun has shone though the shadows to create a shape that is supposed to resemble Paul McCartney's skull!

Rumours of Paul McCartney's demise spread like wildfire, especially when Russ Gibb, a DJ on a radio station WKNR in Detroit, received a telephone call from a student telling him to look for clues. From there the whole thing became an international pastime. The Beatles' offices received many calls from distraught fans wanting to know the truth.

The rumour only started dying down when a reporter from Life magazine went up to Scotland, where Paul was staying, to obtain an interview to prove that Paul was still alive.

Since 1969 the rumour has refused to go away. There have been many books and TV shows on the subject. Paul himself lampooned the rumour on his 1993 album 'Paul is Live'. He returned to the Abbey Road crossing with Iain MacMillan to pose with his old English sheepdog, Arrow. For the cover Paul is superimposed on an original Abbey Road picture - with The Beatles taken out. However the VW license plate has been changed, to 51 IS Paul's age when the Paul is Live picture was taken.

Abbey Road Crossing
Fans Crossing Abbey Road 25 year to the minute since The Beatles
Abbey Road Album
The Paul is Live album cover

Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road Studios opened on November 12th 1931 when Sir Edward Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, playing Elgar's own composition, Land of Hope and Glory. Since then countless musical stars have passed through the studio's doors.

An early regular visitor to the studios was Sir Thomas Beecham, who lived just around the corner from Abbey Road in Grove End Road. Other early visitors included Fred Astaire, Paul Robeson, Noel Coward and Glenn Miller, who made his last ever recording at Abbey Road in 1944.

During the early days the studios official title was EMI Studios, in fact it didn't change it's name until AFTER The Beatles album of the same name came out.

The Beatles first visited Abbey Road on June 6th 1962 for their audition with George Martin. After playing him many songs George Martin gave The Beatles a long lecture on recording techniques. When he finished he said to them, "Ok, I've had my say, now you tell me if there is anything you don't like." After a short pause, George Harrison commented, "Well, for a start, I don't like your tie!" Fortunately, for George Harrison, George Martin was known for his sense of humour and The Beatles passed their audition.

However, George Martin was not happy with The Beatles drummer Pete Best, and decided he would use a session drummer on their future recordings. The Beatles themselves were getting fed up of Pete too and George Martin's comments about his competency was a factor in his subsequent sacking and being replaced by Ringo Starr, who joined The Beatles in time to participate in the recording of their first single, Love Me Do, on September 4th 1962. Although Ringo drummed on that session, George Martin wasn't convinced of this talents, and when The Beatles returned to Abbey Road a week later, a session drummer called Andy White was asked to play drums while Ringo banged on a tambourine. However it didn't take long for Ringo to convince George Martin he was up to recording and no other session drummers were used on Beatles records.

The Beatles first album, Please Please Me was recorded on February 11th 1963 - in one day! Recording techniques were very basic in those days, but even for 1963 doing an album in such a quick time was very unusual. Although it only took one day to record, Please Please Me was top of the album charts for 30 weeks, only to be toppled by The Beatles second album, With The Beatles, that was number one for a further 52 weeks.

In their early days The Beatles fitted in recording sessions between concert tours. However, all that changed when The Beatles gave up touring. The landmark Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album took over four months to record. They could spend as long in the studio as they liked.

The Fabs also changed working practices at EMI. Before then recording sessions had set times but The Beatles liked recording at night time and the Studios had to adapt to meet their needs.

A very famous recording session took place on June 25th 1967, when The Beatles recorded All You Need is Love. The session was seen live on a global satellite TV show called Our World. It is estimated that 400 million people saw this historic broadcast.

The last Beatles song to be recorded at Abbey Road was I Me Mine, in January 1970. However since then many Beatles projects have been carried out at the studios, Including the Beatles Anthology DVDs and CDs, The Live at the BBC album, and more recently the soundtrack to the Circque Du Soliel show Love.

Abbey Road Studios remains as one of the most advanced and most used in the country. During the last 25 years the Studios have recorded scores of soundtracks of major films, including Star Wars, The Indiana Jones films, Lord of the Rings and many others.

George Martin at Abbey Road
George Martin and Geoff Emerick on the steps of Abbey Road Studios
Richard Porter at Abbey Road
Beatles Coffee Shop owner Richard Porter with George Martin inside Studio Two at Abbey Road

Pop and Rock music is still recorded at the studio too. The 1970s were dominated by Pink Floyd, who recorded their huge hit album Dark Side of the Moon there. In the 1990s Radiohead did work on several albums.

Please remember that Abbey Road Studios is a commercial facility and there is no public access to the building.

 

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