1969. Before the year was out, we proved you could put a man on the moon. You could gather half a million people together in the name of peace and music. But you could not, for love nor money, keep together four young men who were outgrowing the band that had changed the culture forever.
The last year of the 1960s was as busy for the Beatles as it was tumultuous. Within 12 months they would record two albums: Abbey Road — celebrating the 50th anniversary of its U.S. release in October, and Let it Be, with an accompanying film that documented both the fighting and the genius present in the studio. Individually, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison pursued separate lives. Two of them married; one became a father; all of them readied their post-Beatles solo debuts. But before they went their own ways, they began the year with an electrifying live set — their first since 1966 — on a London rooftop.
In a new special edition, PEOPLE marks a half-century since the Beatles’ last days with an intimate photo collection as well as a look at the inspirations and legacies of Abbey Road and a song-by-song look at the album’s 17 tracks. Ever wondered who or what inspired McCartney’s homicidal Maxwell Edison and his hammer? Or how London’s sunlessness and cold weather pushed Harrison to write “Here Comes the Sun”? We’ve got the answers and an in-depth look at each song.
“We went through weeks of all saying, ‘Why don’t we call it Billy’s Left Foot?’ And things like that, and then Paul just said, ‘Why don’t we call it Abbey Road?’ Starr once said about how the band came up with the name for the album.
Plus: A look at the real Abbey Road studio that inspired the cover image that was taken on Aug. 8, 1969, on location in London. To this day the famous crosswalk attracts hundreds of fans and tourists year after year.
Finally, the issue includes a reflection on Woodstock on its 50th anniversary. The photo-filled special edition includes a portfolio of memories from the upstate New York festival — when peace, music and mud prevailed. While there were no Beatles, other artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin, and many other artists performed. The Beatles were reportedly invited to headline the festival, but the dates conflicted with the recording of Abbey Road. Still, the historic gathering of half a million people for peace and music appealed to them. “Woodstock, the Isle of Wight — all the mass meetings of the youth — it’s completely positive for me… when you show your flag, you’re not alone,” Lennon said in 1969.
PEOPLE’s special issue The Beatles: 1969, is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.