Why The Hell Do People Go To Abbey Road?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 16 months ago
Why The Hell Do People Go To Abbey Road?

Why did the tourist cross the road?
Because the Beatles were bloody lazy.

There is a photo somewhere of us as a grungy teenager striding across the Abbey Road crossing with a mate. The white chinos were probably the result of a sale at Madhouse, rather than a nod to John Lennon's creamy hued togs. But despite the blurriness, a smile is just about perceptible on our teen visage: it meant a lot to be on that crossing. Alas, we couldn't dig the photo out for this article. Pity.

Abbey Road was, confusingly, the penultimate Beatles album but the last to be recorded. It was also supposed to be called Everest, the cover to feature the Fab Four striding in the Nepalese foothills. They couldn't be bothered. Its cheapo stand-in — a zebra crossing, 10 seconds walks from their London recording studio — became perhaps the most iconic album cover ever.

Little did the lazy Fab Four imagine that shortest of walks being lived out time and time again, these days on a 24-hour webcam too.

A screenshot from the Abbey Road Crossing Cam

"It's a legacy that's stayed on and on," says Chris, from the Isle of Wight, who loves everything about the Beatles, "When I go up to Liverpool it's Mathew Street. I've got every single album they've ever released.

"I'm not a trainspotter. If you said 'what's the third line of the second...' you know. It's the difference they brought to society and the world."

"My wife actually bought me the 3D goggles and virtual tour. It's interesting apart from the fact you look like a weirdo with them on." Chris from the Isle of Wight

Just like SW19 means strawberries and cream and Tim Henman Andy Murray, NW8 means the Beatles and Abbey Road and exaggerated rumours of Paul McCartney's death. Not many postcodes — not even WC — can strike such feelings in the hearts of people, some who've never set foot in London.

Maggie, visiting from Minnesota, agrees with Chris that it really means something to cross this street in suburban north London. "It does," she says, "It's really exciting that they were here at some point."

Graffiti outside Abbey Road Studios

Bu following in the exact footsteps of the Beatles isn't easy. On that wham-bam photo shoot in August 1969 — just a month before the record was rolled out — a policeman was hired to stop traffic. The photographer, Iain Macmillan, had a stepladder. These are not luxuries afforded to the hundreds who come to Abbey Road every day. And while a hardy few stand in the middle of the road for an authentic angle of their friends, most settle for a shot from the pavement — or even from an angle that's altogether incongruent with the album cover.  

What's also apparent is that many don't know how a zebra crossing works. London's pedestrians might take perverse joy in watching cars, cabs and HGVs rev, stall and beep, as Beatles fans edge out into the road, then retreat to the pavement, unsure who's got right of way.

There's giggling, the odd scream. We imagine there are more under-breath curses than on the North Circular at rush hour. It's a strange, and welcome, addition to a swathe of London where every other person we pass seems to be on some kind of stern business call.

Maggie (centre) with Emily and Tyler, from Minnesota

For some visitors, it's this hi-jinx, rather than the Beatles themselves, that's brought them to Abbey Road. Nicola from Florence, says he's here"to see the stripes." Are he and his friends fans of the Fab Four? "No, no, no," he says, "not our favourite but I like it. My parents are big fans of the Beatles..."

"...Because they are not so young!" chips in one of Nicola's friends.

"I'm a Rolling Stones fan," continues Nicola, "but you can't come to London without coming here."

Nicola, far right, and his friends from Florence. None are massive Beatles fans

Auralie and Christoph, from Paris, epitomise the mixed justifications people have for coming here. When we ask Aurelie why she's standing at the side of a road on a drab January morning, she answers, "Of course to see the place where the picture taking for the Beatles. And to see the studio too. Because I love the music. So of course I come here!"

Then Christoph chips in. "Beatles?" he scoffs, "I prefer Metallica, Megadeath."

At the nearby Beatles Coffee Shop
Fukimo Toma (centre) and her friends from Japan. She did a great Beatles impression for us, and says her favourite track is Magical Mystery Tour
Not a bad attempt actually
Christoph and Aurelie from Paris
A small tribute to Led Zeppelin. The Beatles, of course, are one of countless acts who've recorded here

In honour of Abbey Road's hidden epilogue Her Majesty, here's that old photo, which we dug out after all.

Last Updated 26 January 2017