The Beatles' Abbey Road Photograph Turns 50 — Everything to Know About the Iconic Snap
The London "zebra" crossing near the Beatles' recording studio has attracted countless fans and tourists recreating the album cover
It was 50 years ago today that the Beatles walked across Abbey Road for a now-iconic photograph that graces their 1969 album of the same name.
The image, taken by photographer Iain Macmillan, shows George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon posing on a crosswalk in London’s St. John’s Wood neighborhood on a street near the location of EMI Studios, where they recorded Abbey Road and most of their catalog.
The landmark recording space, which is still still in use, was later renamed Abbey Road Studios.
“The whole idea, I must say, was Paul McCartney’s,” MacMillan told The Guardian in 1989. “A few days before the shoot, [Paul] drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which we executed almost exactly that day.”
Around 11:30 a.m., on sunny Aug. 8, 1969, in roughly 10 minutes, “I took a couple of shots of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road one way. We let some of the traffic go by, and then they walked across the road the other way, and I took a few more shots. The one eventually chosen for the cover was number five of six. It was the only one that had their legs in a perfect ‘V’ formation, which is what I wanted stylistically.”
McCartney is notably the only Beatle crossing without shoes on. From the time the album appeared, conspiracy theorists spread the news that Paul was dead — having crashed his Aston Martin in 1966 — and was being played by an imposter.
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The evidence? First, Lennon seemed dressed as an undertaker and Ringo in funereal black. The license plate on the white car reads LMV28IF, the age Paul would be if he were alive.
But most telling? Those bare feet, said theorists, who noted some cultures bury their dead without shoes. McCartney laid the rumors to rest in a November 1969 LIFE magazine interview, but was still having to explain his bare feet decades later.
Last year, Sir Paul recreated the image with his daughter Mary and told fans via Instagram: “It was a very hot day and I happened to be wearing sandals like I am today so I just kicked them off because it was so hot we went across barefoot. There was no special meaning.”
Through the years, fans have come from here, there and everywhere to recreate the pose, including on Thursday’s anniversary.
“Every hour of every day there are fans on the crossing,” Beatles tour guide Richard Porter, who organized Thursday’s commemoration, told the AP. “I’ve seen lots of different sights on the crossing, too, from couples having their wedding photos taken to people going across naked.”
Abbey Road the album turns 50 on Sept. 26 and to celebrate, PEOPLE will release a new special issue, The Beatles 1969: From Abbey Road to Let It Be — The Wild Year That Changed Everything.
PEOPLE’s special issue The Beatles: 1969 is coming soon to Amazon and magazine stands near you