The first Abbey Road graffiti inspired by The Beatles
Crime writer and music agent Paul Charles on his 45-year hunt for a stolen Beatles album
A general view of the Abbey Road Studio room is seen at the Beatlemania exhibition in Hamburg, Germany. Photograph: Krafft Angerer/Getty Images
In 1969 when Abbey Road by The Beatles was released I was dating Ann Burgess. She was my first serious girlfriend in London. It had taken me two years to get over the girl I’d been seeing back home in Ireland.
I mean the reality was, if I’m being absolutely truthful, the girl in Ireland was a girl who was a friend, rather than a girlfriend. She might even have been one of the reasons I left my home in Ireland when I’d just turned 17 in 1967. The other main reason would definitely have been my love for The Beatles, but that’s another story altogether. At the same time it brings us back nicely to the Abbey Road album. Abbey Road was released on Friday, September 26th, 1969 and I (quite literally) rushed out on release day to buy it. I was living in Wimbledon in south London at the time and bought it in Goodness Records up on Wimbledon Bridge and it would have cost me £1, 12 shillings and 6 pence. This would have been about a sixth of my weekly wage.
I took the day off work to have a long weekend to get better acquainted with the songs. I loved them, particularly Here Comes The Sun; Something and the section on side two the Beatles had been referring to as “The Long One” during the recording sessions. The album very quickly became a good friend.
The sleeve too was a classic from the day the album was released. The Beatles had cheekily (intentionally) omitted their name from the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums sleeves, which in itself was innovative and a major first! Well actually, a minor-major second in the case of the Revolver jacket. But to have neither the title of the album nor the name of the band on the front of the album sleeve, well… as Mud Flanagan would say, that was just totally habben-flabben. So the front of the sleeve: the iconic image of the four Beatles walking over the zebra crossing, which bridged the footpaths of Abbey Road, needs little comment.
I thought that the shot on the reverse of the sleeve with an actual Abbey Road street-sign, tiled into the dirty-cream brick wall, was also an interesting photograph. Apart from the lettering the mysterious girl in a blue mini-skirt rushing though the shot stole the limelight for me. The movement of the girl, obscuring part of the NW8 tiles in the wall, gave the scene life and took me to outside the studio. I wondered about the girl. Was she a plant? Or was it just happenstance that at the moment Iain Macmillian’s camera happened to catch her she was rushing to work, or back to meet her partner? Did she immediately turn left into Alexandra Road? Did she live there? I wondered what her story might be.
At that time in my life, as a trainee civil engineer, I was using Letraset sheets of lettering; a classy way of transferring various fonts of letters onto drawings or plans. Over that first weekend and without thinking a lot about it, I added the first ever graffiti to the wall outside the Abbey Road studios:
Paul L Ann
Of course I’m talking about the rear of the Abbey Road album sleeve and not the actual wall itself. I used white Letraset letters. I even placed them at an angle (slopping up from left to right) and to make it even more realistic I used only the left-hand side of the “L” of Paul and the “N” of Ann, so that it appeared as if the girl in the blue mini-skirt was blocking out part of those letters.
My theory is: that was how the graffiti started to appear on the walls outside Abbey Road Studios, or EMI Recording Studios as they were then.
Anyway there is a point to this, a point, that is, apart from celebrating a truly magnificent album of music and its return 50 years later to the top of the album charts for the second time. The point is not to celebrate my undying love for Ann Burgess, although at the time I certainly thought the love was worth celebrating and was pure. But my reason for sharing this with you is a more mercenary one.
About four or five years later I was managing a Belfast prog rock band called Fruupp, and we were all sharing a flat together in Peckham in south London. In the very early hours of one morning we wearily returned from a gig only to discover the flat had been broken into and all of my vinyl albums and quite a few of my books had been stolen. Among the precious items which were nicked was my unique copy of the Abbey Road album with my personalised Paul L Ann graffiti.
Here’s the important bit:
I just wanted to use the opportunity to say that if you ever come across my copy of Abbey Road LP I’d love the chance to buy it.
So if you’re searching for your own golden fleece and you come across a copy, a 50-year-old copy of Abbey Road (the vinyl version) please pull it from the shelves or cardboard boxes immediately and flip it over to the reverse of the sleeve and if you see white Letraset lettering with the legend:
Pau L An
with the missing “L” and “N” disappearing behind the leg of the girl in the blue mini skirt then drop me an email and we’ll endeavour to do a deal. I have to admit that I’ve had a head start on you in that I been checking record stores, jumble sales, car boot sales, antique stores, market stalls, remainder bins etc., far and wide for several decades now and all to no avail.
My only dream is that I can find it before Mark Lewisohn concludes writing Vol 2 of Tune In, his meisterwerk on the Beatles. My idea is to send him a photo of my sleeve proving the start of the genesis of Abbey Road graffiti. I reckon we’ve got about 10 years to find it. Talking of Mark, I went along recently to see his incredible Hornsey Road show at the Bloomsbury Theatre. It’s his take on Abbey Road the album. A definite must if you’re a Beatle fan and a double definite must if you’re not a Beatle fan. You’d have to think that his sellout tour of the UK during the week of the reissue helped the album to the coveted number one spot in the charts. Hopefully Apple will be giving him a Golden Disc for his assistance.
Talking of which why didn’t Apple release Here Comes The Sun as a single this week? The new classy video they put out to accompany the release of the album secured 10,000,000 hits on YouTube in the first week! On top of which, according to the BBC and Spotify, Here Comes The Sun is now the most popular Beatle song ever. It’s never really been a single although they half-heartedly, semi-released it with six other songs on November 27th, 2010. But really, with all the current activity, the timing couldn’t have been better for a proper, fully grown, commercial release. Maybe they’re secretly playing a blinder and are saving it for the Christmas market. Yep a Christmas number one, wouldn’t that be very nice?
And what happened to Miss Burgess? I hear you ask. Well, Ann preferred Johnny Cash to the Beatles so it was never really going to work out now was it?
Departing Shadows by Paul Charles is published today