(originally posted 9th May 2012)
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Design by Kosh
Photography by Iain MacMillan
Does the fact that a record sleeve is internationally recognised and has been impersonated several times make it a great design? Does a sleeve become so famous or parodied because it is such a great design? Quite often the answer is yes but then I think of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and realise that it isn’t always the case.
But Abbey Road? Famous? Check! Parodied? Check! Great design? Absolutely!
The album was the bands attempt to make a back to basics record – pure and simple. The concept behind the album sleeve was a simple one too: four men walking to work. The men just happened to be four of the most famous men on the planet and work was just Abbey Road studios. In fact it turns out the band are actually walking away from the studio but that’s just detail!
The photographer for the cover was shot by Iain MacMillan who’d been introduced to John Lennon by Yoko Ono. He was given just ten minutes and so, standing on a ladder with the local police stopping the traffic at each end of the road, six shots were taken.
The chosen shot has become one of the most iconic images of all time. Abbey Road was the only sleeve not to feature the bands name on the cover and was the basis for many “Paul is dead” rumours. The Volkswagen Beetle was sold, at auction in the mid-80s and now sits in a motor museum in Germany.
The designer of the sleeve was Kosh (born John Kosh) who, after previously designing for the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera House, was appointed Creative Director of Apple Records in the late 60s where he was responsible for all of the design work for the label. As well as designing the artwork for Abbey Road and Let It Be, he also worked on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “War Is Over” campaign.
In the mid-70s, Kosh moved to Los Angeles where he went on to design sleeves for Ringo Starr, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, ELO, Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan among many more.
So why is this such a great sleeve? Am I just biased because it’s one of my favourite albums? I don’t know, but it just works doesn’t it? The framing of the band, the perspective of road going off into the distance, the amount of nothingness in the top half of the picture (that so many designers would have cropped or filled with graphics) – these all owe as much to the photographer as the designer. Would the sleeve still work if it wasn’t for the VW Beetle or the chap in brown looking perplexed in the background (who today would probably have been airbrushed out).
For such a simple sleeve there is so much to look at and so much that could have been added (or taken away) but wasn’t. And that’s why this sleeve is a classic.