This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. The first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. Yet, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually becoming the cultural stamp on the music of the time. Catching the eyes of potential record-buyers and later their ears and minds. Melding the musical experience with the artist into a unique visual form.
Why Compact Disc versions of album art don’t exactly raise the same reaction these days was looked at in this post. Although, music label artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today. The bits and bytes are looking over their shoulder, though, because vinyl hasn’t entirely gone the way of the dinosaur. Online or at the record shops still out there. Cover art hasn’t lost purpose, either for old and new. Mostly, it’s my contention while digital reigns supreme, its vigor among fans lacks the tactile passion of the past LPs.
Hence the reason for this series. Some register more with me musically than others, though. Yet, the artwork will always take center stage, at least here. Let’s continue, shall we?
With last week’s re-release of The Beatles final album1 for its 50th Anniversay, thought it time to bring my all-time favorite group into the spotlight once more. Another of their’s that featured a pictorial hallmark. Likewise, Richie Unterberger of Allmusic nailed why the LP registered supremely for its music:
“The last Beatles album to be recorded (although Let It Be was the last to be released), Abbey Road was a fitting swan song for the group, echoing some of the faux-conceptual forms of Sgt. Pepper, but featuring stronger compositions and more rock-oriented ensemble work. The group was still pushing forward in all facets of its art, whether devising some of the greatest harmonies to be heard on any rock record (especially on “Because”), constructing a medley of songs/vignettes that covered much of side two, adding subtle touches of Moog synthesizer, or crafting furious guitar-heavy rock (“The End,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Come Together”).”
Would have to confess over the decades, from then to this day, Abbey Road has been among the most played by this Beatlemaniac. Representing a return to what made them foremost as a pop and rock group. Once more setting a standard, past and future. The euphonics and personalities represented lightning in a bottle, one that crackled musically. Even if their rise and split, you can’t say they ever fell, made in a relatively limited run on stages and stadiums across the globe.
Yet the impact reverberated.
There’s a reason this record, along with the first of theirs showcased in this series, hang side-by-side on my wall. They are both iconic. Taking something simple, a concept of a proof sheet or the straightforward photograph of four people walking across a road, and elevating it to another nature entirely in music fans’ minds. Admittedly, each album achieves this through its content. Both LPs rocketed up the charts upon initial release and caused frenzy among song buyers and critics.
For all that, Abbey Road stood apart, and not simply because it wasn’t tied to a British musical comedy.
Beyond its legacy, the cover photo and the band’s imagery nearly on par with that music heritage. With one shot2, a précis of the band was forever frozen in time. Not in the quadraphonic headshots Brian Epstein and their record label had presented, and what people had grown up with, in earlier albums. This once youthful quartet no longer in lockstep in hair, dress, and manner that manifested the fevered behavior of their fans and became a calling card of the 1960s.
Like The Beatles and the decade, this its epilogue.
Now four distinct people, sans homogenous mop-tops and suits, captured here striding along a UK zebra crossing and heading away from the record studio3 they’d spent thousands of hours at that gained them everlasting fame. Each soon to go their own separate way. Symbolically epitomized in one perfectly framed and composed photograph, without benefit of title4 or explanation. Thereafter, continually repeated over time by fans and through other artists’ albums5.
Abbey Road re-defined them, the age, and the medium via its sleeve art.
- “Come Together”
- “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
- “Oh! Darling”
- “Octopus’s Garden”
- “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
- “Here Comes the Sun”
- “You Never Give Me Your Money”
- “Sun King”
- “Mean Mr. Mustard”
- “Polythene Pam”
- “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”
- “Golden Slummers”
- “Carry That Weight”
- “The End”
- “Her Majesty”
The entire series can be found here.
- Any fan of The Lads knows this is was their final effort together as a band, even if the troubled Let It Be LP, recorded months prior, would be released the very next year. ↩
- “…given only ten minutes to take the photo while he stood on a step-ladder and a policeman held up traffic behind the camera”, photographer Iain Macmillan took six photographs using his Hasselblad camera, with a 50mm wide-angle lens, set at aperture f22 at 1/500 seconds; Paul picked the one used for the cover since it was based on his idea. ↩
- Abbey Road Studios (formerly known as EMI Recording Studios) is a recording studio at 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, City of Westminster, London, England. It was established in November 1931 by the Gramophone Company, a predecessor of British music company EMI, which owned it until Universal Music took control of part of EMI in 2013. ~ Wikipedia ↩
- The cover was designed by Apple Records creative director Kosh. It is the only original UK Beatles album sleeve to show neither the artist name nor the album title on its front cover, which was Kosh’s idea, despite EMI claiming the record would not sell without this information. He later explained that “we didn’t need to write the band’s name on the cover … They were the most famous band in the world”. ~Wikipedia ↩
- Similarly, other artists who have covered the album have also attempted to recreate the album cover in their own image, such as George Benson‘s The Other Side of Abbey Road and Booker T. & the M.G.’s McLemore Avenue. ~ Wikipedia ↩