Paul McCartney’s Conceptual Drawings For the Abbey Road Cover and Magical Mystery Tour Film


The web­site of Abbey Road stu­dios has an Earth­Cam trained on the inter­sec­tion of Abbey Road and Grove End Road, right out­side its state­ly Geor­gian Town­house. You can mon­i­tor the site all day and night if you like, and the prospect of doing so seems no cra­zier to me than indulging a fix­a­tion with Paul is dead con­spir­a­cies. It’s a mag­i­cal place, as like­ly to inspire awe as blind obses­sion. Although it has record­ed artists from Paul Robe­son to Lady Gaga, the his­toric stu­dio acquired its shrine sta­tus from one moment only—The Bea­t­les final record­ed album, Abbey Road, and its infa­mous cov­er shot.


See­ing the sausage of that cov­er made in the alter­nate takes post­ed at the Bea­t­les Bible site (two of which have Paul wear­ing san­dals) doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly dis­pel the mys­tique, but it does dis­abuse one of illu­sions of total spon­tane­ity. Even more so does the draw­ing at the top, which Paul McCart­ney made for pho­tog­ra­ph­er Iain Macmil­lan, who had 10 min­utes to get the hand­ful of shots he cap­tured with his Has­sel­blad. In the top right-hand cor­ner, you can see a small draw­ing added by Macmil­lan which adds depth to McCartney’s rudi­men­ta­ry com­po­si­tions. These sketch­es show McCart­ney and Macmil­lan care­ful­ly visu­al­iz­ing the sym­me­tries, strides, and even shad­ows of the cross­walk pho­to. (See the land­mark above, emp­ty, in a pho­to tak­en that same day.)


Sketch­ing out impor­tant shots like these is com­mon prac­tice. For exam­ple, above you can see Peter Blake’s 1967 out­line for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band cov­er art. But the Abbey Road sketch is fur­ther evi­dence of McCartney’s guid­ing hand in The Bea­t­les’ image-mak­ing. Of Sgt. Pepper’s, John Lennon went on record as say­ing of the con­cept that “Sgt Pep­per is Paul.” In this case, McCartney’s idea for the cov­er was instru­men­tal in Blake’s even­tu­al design: “a pre­sen­ta­tion fea­tur­ing a may­or and a cor­po­ra­tion, with a flo­ral clock and a selec­tion of pho­tographs of famous faces on the wall behind The Bea­t­les.” McCart­ney cir­cu­lat­ed a list among the band mem­bers, ask­ing them to list their choice of celebri­ties. Many of the sug­gest­ed fig­ures end­ed up on the cov­er.


Of their sub­se­quent con­cept album, The Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour, Ringo like­wise claimed “it’s Paul’s idea real­ly, he came up with this.” When­ev­er McCart­ney for­mu­lat­ed his ideas—for album struc­tures, cov­er designs, or movies—he says in this video (which we can’t embed, unfor­tu­nate­ly) that he would “draw some­thing out.” Above, see his con­cep­tu­al map for the Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour film (click to enlarge). It may only be a coin­ci­dence that it looks some­thing like a dream­catch­er. Maybe it’s more of a pie chart. In any case, McCart­ney describes it in fair­ly mat­ter-of-fact terms as “vir­tu­al­ly a script” that allowed him to “focus his thoughts.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Tracks for The Bea­t­les’ Cli­mac­tic 16-Minute Med­ley on Abbey Road

John, Paul and George Per­form Duel­ing Gui­tar Solos on The Bea­t­les’ Farewell Song (1969)

The Bea­t­les: Unplugged Col­lects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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