50 Years Ago: The Beatles Pose for Their Final Photo Session
As was so often true with their earlier photo shoots, the Beatles' final session tells you everything about where the band was in its evolution.
Looking back, the clues were always there. If the Beatles were in leather and collarless suits? That meant "I Want to Hold Your Hand." If they had shaggier haircuts? They were at the beginning of their sonic adventures. Mustaches and flouncy shirts? That's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Long hair and beards, as we see in the photograph above? Just about at the end. Even the most casual fan can spot, with a passing glance, the era – and what was at stake – with the final pictures taken on Aug. 22, 1969.
At this point, the Beatles had most of Abbey Road in the can. We find them all boasting bushy beards, save for the clean-shaven Paul McCartney. There are wide-brimmed hats for George Harrison and John Lennon. The occasion was two days after they recorded their last session as a four-piece, at Tittenhurst Park, Lennon and Yoko Ono’s recently purchased 72-acre estate in Sunninghill. Ono and Linda McCartney, who would give birth to daughter Mary within the month, were also in some of the pictures taken by Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco. A few were taken by ever-present Beatles assistant Mal Evans. Linda shot some off-the-cuff film of the gang, too.
The images, intended to be used as publicity shots, would provide a final bookend for their time together. Shots of the Beatles in tall grass and among the weeping cedar trees were used for posters and booksleeves. A portrait of the foursome lined up in front of Tittenhurst’s assembly hall ended up as the cover for the Hey Jude compilation album, released in the U.S. in February 1970.
But Aug. 22 wasn’t merely the last time that John, Paul, George and Ringo Starr stood together before the cameras. It was also the last time that all four members were together as a band. There would be a few business meetings, but Lennon quietly left the group in September. McCartney, Harrison and Ringo later convened to record a few final parts for the Let It Be album, then McCartney made the breakup official on April 10, 1970.
These photos, we now know, marked the last time the Beatles were the Beatles. Not that anyone acknowledged this fact at the time. As Ringo says in Anthology: “It was just a photo session. I wasn’t there thinking, ‘Okay, this is the last photo session.’”