I had the opportunity this summer to visit London for the first time. (OK, it was the fifth time, but on my previous visits I merely changed planes at Heathrow and I saw little of the city save what was visible from a few thousand feet.)
There is, to put it mildly, much to see and do in London and my wife and I crammed a lot into our 10-day visit – historical sites, top-notch theater, Thames cruises, Wimbledon and plenty of pubs. As inveterate Beatles fans, one of our first stops was Abbey Road studios. We, like millions of other tourists over the past decades, strolled the zebra crossing the Beatles made famous on “Abbey Road.”
Today is August 8 and marks the 45th anniversary of that photo shoot, the day, if you will, the Beatles stepped into history.
During the sessions, the working title for the LP was “Everest,” for engineer Geoff Emerick’s favorite brand of cigarettes, and plans initially called for the band members to charter a private jet to the Himalayas and shoot the cover photo there. But with EMI desperate for product and the group fanning its last few creative embers, they settled on a far simpler (and closer) concept: a shot of the quartet strolling through the crosswalk outside their studio on Abbey Road. Around 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 8, 1969, with traffic blocked and photographer Iain Macmillan toting a ladder into the middle of the street, they got the whole thing done in roughly 10 minutes.
“I remember we hired a policeman to hold up traffic while I was up on the ladder taking the pictures,” Macmillan later told the Guardian. “The whole idea, I must say, was Paul McCartney’s. A few days before the shoot, he drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which we executed almost exactly that day. 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.”
Photo in hand, Apple Records art director John Kosh opted to keep the ‘Abbey Road’ cover design simple — so simple, in fact, that he decided not to include the band’s name or the album’s title. “I thought, ‘Well, this is the biggest band in the world — why would you need to do that?’” he later laughed. “It was anticipated something coming out of the Beatles. So I decided not to put ‘the Beatles’ on the cover. They’re walking across the — if you don’t recognize them, you obviously live in a cave.” Sure enough, ‘Abbey Road’ flew out of stores.
That image has been much copied and parodied since but it’s worth noting that a jazz artist got there first. Just three weeks after “Abbey Road’s” release, George Benson went into the studio with producer Creed Taylor to produce “The Other Side of Abbey Road.”
Suffice it to say, such a short interval speaks volumes about both the Beatles’ influence in the ‘60s and Taylor-Benson’s commercial instincts. Which is not to knock the album’s aesthetic qualities; indeed, it is among the most satisfying Benson ever recorded, not only for his own playing but also the presence of such stars and soon-to-be’s as Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Bob James. Benson’s vocals – which would turn him into a pop star in the late ‘70s and ’80s at Warner Bros. – are featured prominently and the album’s running order includes “Golden Slumbers/You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Oh! Darling” and “Here Comes the Sun/I Want You (She's So Heavy).”
Want to keep up with the best in Bay Area jazz and blues?
Subscribe to me: Have our jazz and blues Examiner columns sent to your inbox. Click the SUBSCRIBE button on this page. It's free. (And I won't spam you or give out your information.) Bookmark me: http://www.examiner.com/jazz-music-in-oakland/brian-mccoy. CONTACT ME FOR YOUR JAZZ AND ARTS GRANT WRITING NEEDS