The Beatles Take A Walk 50 Years Ago Today

August 8, 2019

Krafft Angerer/Getty Images

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Fifty years ago today, August 8th, 1969 (a Friday) at 11:35 a.m., The Beatles walked across Abbey Road, just outside the EMI studio where they recorded.

This was for the cover of what would become their last studio album, Abbey Road. The cover is famous not only for the crosswalk, which fans visit daily, but because of the fuel it added to the "Paul Is Dead" controversy.

Interpreted as Paul McCartney's funeral procession, it shows:

Paul in an old suit and barefoot, which is how bodies were buried, and he's out of step with his bandmates.He is also holding a cigarette in his right hand, despite being left handed. This led to the rumor that the person on the cover was an imposter.

The Volkswagen Beetle in the background has a "LMW 28-IF" license plate, which some believe stands for Linda McCartney is widowed, and Paul would've been 28 if he "lived."

John Lennon is dressed in white, signifying a priest.

Ringo Starr is in black, signifying an undertaker.

George Harrison is in denim, so he was dubbed the gravedigger.

Paul McCartney explains why he was barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road. 

"You know why he was walking across that crossing with no shoes on?' Well, it was hot, man. It was like a real hot day in London, and I had sandals on and I kicked them off, you know -- big deal."

The album was originally going to be titled Everest after their engineer Geoff Emerick's favorite brand of cigarettes. It was then suggested that the band go to the Himalayas, where Mount Everest is located, but they declined.

It was then decided to name the album Abbey Road after the street that the studio is on. Paul then sketched out an idea that had them walking across the zebra crosswalk down the street from the studio.

The photo was taken by photographer Iain MacMillan, a friend of John and Yoko, while standing on a stepladder in the middle of the road. When all was said and done, he took six photos and the whole session lasted 10 minutes.

"We let some of the traffic go by," said MacMillan, "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.”

MacMillan died in 2006.

With time to kill before they were to start recording at 5 p.m., Paul, John and Ringo went to Paul’s home nearby, while George went to the Regents Park Zoo to meditate.

The back cover of the Abbey Road street sign was also taken by MacMillan, who became angry when a girl in a blue dress walked through the shot. The sign and wall are no longer there, having been demolished in '70s.

Conspiracy theorists also say there are clues on the back -- The "Beatles" sign has a crack through it – to show that the band are no longer complete. And, the sun shining through the shadows create a shape that is supposed to resemble McCartney’s skull.

In 1993, McCartney returned to the crosswalk with his dog Arrow and MacMilian to shoot the cover for his Paul Is Live album. Paul is superimposed on an original Abbey Road picture – with the Beatles taken out. However, the VW license plate was changed, to 51 IS – Paul’s age when the picture was taken.

The other controversy was that when Sir Joseph Lockwood, the head of EMI, saw that the words "The Beatles" were not on the front cover, he threw a fit.

John Kosh, the art director at (The Beatles' company) Apple, says, “Lockwood said I would cost them thousands of sales by not having the name of the band on the cover.

“So I went into Apple the next day scared stiff and the first person I saw was George Harrison and I told him about the phone call. He just said, ‘Screw it man, we’re The Beatles’. In the end, the album has sold something like 26 million copies, so I feel vindicated.”

The crosswalk, which is visited by upwards of 200,000 people a year, is an historic landmark and cannot be moved or altered without specific government permission.

Richard Porter, a longtime Beatles tour guide in London, will lead fans across Abbey Road today, 50 years to the minute since The Beatles.

You can check out the crossing live, anytime of day or night, at EarthCam.com.

The Beatles will release a 50th anniversary edition of the album in September.