The Beatles Bystander

On August 8, 1969, The Beatles were photographed crossing 'Abbey Road', shots that would form the cover of their final studio album. But in the background of this iconic image, a blurry bystander also found themselves immortalised; who was this early-photobomber, and what was he doing there?

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Recording 'Abbey Road' was not easy.

By 1969 The Beatles were out of gas; tired of each other and the media circus that surrounded them. John and Yoko wanted to move to America and pursue experimental music, Paul and George were ready for solo careers. Ringo, as usual, had no burning desire to do anything.

Paul and George at the Abbey Road sessions. Photo: beatles.com

But after the acrimony and bad feeling that surrounded their live album, 'Let It Be', the previous year, things did improve during the recording of 'Abbey Road'. Everyone felt the new songs were strong, and some of the old camaraderie returned.

'During the album, things got a bit more positive. We got to perform like musicians again.'

-George Harrison

The enthusiasm was, at least in part, down to the material; 'Abbey Road' featured a strong set of songs, the best of which have become famous landmarks in popular music. 'Something,' 'Here Comes the Sun' (both written by Harrison) and 'Come Together' were all chart topping hits, and took their place among The Beatles most well known songs.

The working title for the album was 'Everest':

'Our engineer, Geoff Emerick, always used to smoke cigarettes called 'Everest,' so the album was going to be called 'Everest'. We never really liked that, but we couldn't think of anything else to call it.'

- Paul Macartney

In an act of typical Beatles largesse, plans were even made to charter a plane to fly over Everest, and take photos for the cover.

But the feeling that the title wasn't quite right remained. And then; inspiration:

'One day I said, 'I've got it!' Abbey Road! It's the studio we're in, which is fabulous, and it sounds like a monastery.'

- Macartney again

Although some accounts differ as to who, exactly, came up with the idea.

Getting ready to walk.

 

Macartney's sketch of the cover photo. Both photos: The Beatles Bible.

On August 8, 1969, the four Beatles assembled at the Abbey Road studios for the cover shoot.

Wherever the inspiration for the cover had come from, Paul seemed to have come up with the specific idea for the cover shot itself; the four Beatles striding single file across the pedestrian crossing in front of the building. Prior to the shoot, he sketched his idea for photographer Iain Macmillan, who added the more detailed drawing visible top right of the image above.

Two policeman closed the road to traffic, and Macmillan positioned himself on a step ladder adjacent to the zebra crossing. The Beatles then walked back and forth six times, so they would have a few examples to choose from.

After the shoot, The Beatles reviewed the transparencies and picked the fifth image as the cover shot.

But what everyone missed at the time, or at least ignored, was the man standing in the background of the photo; a bystander to this moment in music history. His name was Paul Cole.

Paul Cole; The Beatles Bystander

Paul Cole was an American tourist, on holiday in London in with his wife. That morning, while his wife went off to see a museum, Cole was out for a walk, aimlessly passing the time.

'I saw this police van and so I went over. I must have been chatting to the policeman for half an hour.  I was asking him all sorts of things, just passing the time of day. I then saw these four guys walking across the street like a line of ducks.'

-Paul Cole

Cole, not a fan of popular music, did not even recognise the famous pedestrians. Describing the incident to his wife later, he told her he had seen four 'kooks' with long hair.

Paul Cole; Beatles footnote. Photo: buzzfeed

It was not until a year later, according to Cole, that he realised the significance of what he had witnessed. His wife, an avid organist, was listening to Abbey Road so she could learn to play 'Something'. The album was on top of the record player, and Cole spied himself on the front cover.

'I recognised myself straight away. I had a new sport jacket on, and horn rimmed glasses.'

-Paul Cole

His incredulous children were delighted, and had Cole's snippet of the cover blown up to poster size.

As a small footnote in the career of the most famous band of all time, Cole was often sought out by fans, and never tired of granting interviews about his participation that August morning. In all of these, he delighted in recounting that he had never once listened to the album whose cover he was on.

 


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