LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of people gathered at the world’s most famous zebra crossing on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the day the Beatles created one of the best-known album covers in music history and an image imitated by countless fans ever since.
The picture of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr striding over the pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road was taken outside the EMI Recording Studios where they made the 1969 album of the same name.
To mark the anniversary, a special ‘Abbey Road’ package featuring new mixes of the album’s 17 tracks in stereo and 23 session recordings and demos, will be released on Sept. 27 by Apple Corps/Capitol/UMe, the record companies said on Thursday.
Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan took just six shots of the group on the crossing, with the fifth used as the cover of the band’s 11th studio album, released on Sept. 26 1969.
The picture shows Lennon in a white suit leading the group across the road. Starr wears a black suit while McCartney is barefoot, out of step and holding a cigarette. Harrison is in blue denim. A Volkswagen Beetle is parked in the background.
On Thursday, the Beetle was back in position while traffic crawled along the crowded street as dozens of fans paraded on the black and white painted crossing for souvenir photos.
Beatles insider and former Apple Records executive Tony Bramwell said nobody at the time was really aware that ‘Abbey Road’ would be one of the group’s last releases.
‘Let It Be’ was the final Beatles album, but it was mostly recorded before ‘Abbey Road’.
“In cultural terms it’s become iconic; the sleeve, the songs, the stories behind the songs,” Bramwell told Reuters.
He said the original idea for the picture had been McCartney’s. Asked why McCartney was barefoot, a subject of endless debate for fans, he replied: “It was hot.”
Abbey Road, which was voted the best Beatles album by readers of Rolling Stone in 2009, was the only one of the group’s original British albums to show neither the band’s name nor a title on the cover.
The album was the last to be recorded by all four members of the band together, and it had tracks written by each of them, including ‘Come Together’ by Lennon, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by Harrison, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ by McCartney, and Starr’s ‘Octopus’s Garden’.
Lawmaker Louise Ellman, who represents Liverpool Riverside, said she had come down to join the celebrations.
“Everyone in Liverpool is a firm fan of the Beatles and captivated by their story and how they started off as local boys messing around with guitars and music, and became international idols,” she said.
Maggie Younis, a 43-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, said she had taken a photograph with McCartney outside the studios 22 years ago when she was on a Beatles walking tour.
She was joined on Thursday by her friend Dawn Rigby, who was on the same tour. “We met that night waiting for Paul and out he came,” she said.
Less than a year after Abbey Road was released, rock music’s best-selling band had split up, ending a decade-long musical revolution that transformed popular music.
The studios, which were later renamed Abbey Road, and the zebra crossing in north London were granted protected status by the government in 2010.
Editing by Stephen Addison