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50 Years of Abbey Road: An Image, Revisited

The popular legacy of The Beatles

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Image Credit: Apple Records

Yesterday (no pun intended), hundreds of Beatles fans from across the world gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic Abbey Road album cover shoot. This comes as the first event in the year of the anniversary of The Beatles' seminal album, which was the last LP recorded by all four members of the band. There has also been an announcement of a reissue for *Abbey Road *in September which will see the release of various box sets across Vinyl and CD formats – including updated stereo mixes, demo recordings and a hardback book.

The main event of the celebrations saw Beatles tribute band the Fab Four recreate the original photograph in full costume at 11:38 – the time at which the original photograph was taken. Of course, the image being celebrated is perhaps the most famous in music history and in pop culture as a whole.

The event demonstrates the resonating influence of The Beatles as well as the cultural reach of their music. However it also provides insight into the power of images, and how they can often outlive and transcend the music itself. The obsession is very much with the image, not with the music. Although the music is of course the root of the obsession, this album in particular would not have the lasting impact which it does without the potency of its cover depicting the four Beatles crossing the street at Abbey Road.

The image creates the legend, and feeds into the overarching image of The Beatles – and what this means as an element of our culture. This is as much a part of the clamour as anything else. Of course, the music is fantastic – but it almost doesn't matter. Fans want to imitate the image; they pilgrimage to pose in the same place their idols strolled by indifferently with their rockstar nonchalance. This is a far easier tribute to do than imitating the music – which requires musical ability and efficiency. Images are accessible and simple for anyone to reconstruct, especially with modern technology.

Abbey Road received a somewhat ambivalent reception on its initial release in 1969. The best reviews credit its unification of different sounds and genres, the worst express disappointment and its lack of potency or artistic integrity. Despite the presence of numerous lasting favourites including 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'Come Together', it was by no means was it considered to be a typical Beatles album. The New York Times dismissed it an 'unmitigated disaster'; while Time described it as 'tightly knit and unpretentious'; Geoffrey Cannon remarked in the Guardian that, 'You will enjoy Abbey Road. But it will not move you.' Why, then, are Beatles fans in fact so 'moved' today by Abbey Road?

Perhaps it is because of the fact that It was the last set of recordings by The Beatles as we know them. It is the popular imagination of The Beatles, in this case, which constitutes their lasting image. More than the music. More than The Beatles actually were.

I would conclude that it is the album cover which gives the legacy of Abbey Road its weight. Its recognisability, its reproducibility, its concentration of The Beatles as an image. This is what allows the band to transcend the music, and feeds into the way we listen to it, elevating the sound above what it originally was. This is why 'Here Comes The Sun' sounds like it does. It is nostalgia, for The Beatles as we never really knew them the first time around.

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