It has been half a century since The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover was shot on August 8, 1969, and the conspiracy theories about Paul McCartney’s bare feet are still alive.
In the late 1960s, the rumor started circulating among Beatles fans that "the Cute One" had died in a car crash in 1967. Because they didn’t want to impact the popularity of the band, managers and handlers allegedly hired a McCartney look-alike as a replacement. The band felt bad about lying to loyal fans, however, and began leaving clues in the album artwork to tip them off.
One such "clue" was the entire cover of the Abbey Road album. Fans deduced that a simple picture of the band crossing the road was actually meant to depict a funeral procession. John, in white, was the clergyman. Ringo’s black attire showed that he was the mourner, while George’s casual jeans meant he was the gravedigger. Paul’s bare feet were the kicker: He didn’t need shoes, because he was the dearly departed.
If you’re not one of those conspiracy theorists, here’s the real story: It was hot. In some other pictures that were taken at the shoot, you can see McCartney making a fashion statement by wearing sandals with his suit. At some point during the brief shoot, he kicked them off. They didn't have much time to get the shot—because photographer Iain Macmillan had to perch on a stepladder in the middle of the very busy street, while police had to help stop traffic. So the Fab Four crossed the road one way, and Macmillan snapped three pictures. They let some traffic go by, then crossed the other way for another three pictures. Six pictures—that was it.
McCartney and Macmillan chose the picture they did because it was the only one that showed the Beatles with their legs all mid-stride in a “V” shape, though McCartney is famously out of step (another "clue," of course).
“On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day,” an exasperated McCartney told a LIFE magazine reporter who “waded through a bog in Scotland” to reach the Beatle at his farm in 1969. “Can you spread it around that I am just an ordinary person and want to live in peace?” He no doubt regretted suggesting the cover to begin with.
Though the photo arrangement was his idea, it was intended to show the Beatles walking away from the studio where they had spent so much time for the better part of a decade—not fuel more rumors.