By Patrick Prince
Who knew that a photograph of The Beatles crossing an ordinary street would end up as such an iconic image within popular culture? John Kosh, a 21-year-old art director for Apple Records in 1969, let out an emphatic “No one!” when asked that question all these years later.
Much has been made of Paul McCartney giving photographer Iain Macmillan sketches of his ideas beforehand but Kosh remembers the photoshoot as a more spontaneous arrangement.
“To tell you the truth, I have no recollection of that whatsoever,” says Kosh of the sketches. “All I know is that Iain had brought his step ladder and we were doing what we thought was a photo session and all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh God, we need an album cover tomorrow!’ Iain turned up at Apple later, we looked at 12 frames on the light box, and Iain and I decided which was the best one.”
However, there were adjustments to be made to the chosen photograph. “I discovered the background had gray skies and we had to enhance that a little bit,” Kosh explains. “This is before Photoshop, so it took some time.”
Perhaps the ‘Paul is Dead’ rumor helped the photo become an iconic image. “The myth that Paul is Dead certainly helped,” says Kosh. “Derek Taylor (press officer) would say to us, ‘You know, do not confirm nor deny. Just say it looks like Paul,’ or something like that. So we’d do that and of course it sold in America on the strength of that.”
Looking at the alternative frames of the photoshoot (see an example of one above), Paul McCartney is wearing sandals in a few shots. He seems to have, quite innocently, taken the sandals off for the remainder of the session. Contrary to popular beliefs, walking barefoot had no symbolism attached to it.
“We had no clue we were creating an iconic album cover,” emphasizes Kosh. “We just needed to get things done. At this particular time Apple was a powerhouse. We had all this other stuff going on so everything was really urgent. My main concern was getting my art delivered on time. And at the time I was also working on the Get Back cover, which was the black cover’s answer to the white cover of ‘The White Album.’ Get Back then got changed to Let It Be. I was working on that and I got thrust into Abbey Road which, in my opinion, is the best Beatles record ever.”
John Kosh has his own podcast called Art of Rock with Kosh & Friends, which centers on the great artists and photographers behind the most iconic album artwork. Kosh was of course behind many great pieces of album art himself, making him the ideal host.