Apple's iTunes billboards: Where did that Beatles photo come from?
As I was driving around my West L.A. neighborhood this week, doing some hunting and gathering for our Thanksgiving feast, I noticed that Apple had bumped the movie ads off nearly every available billboard to promote the arrival of Beatles music on iTunes. I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but if you drive up Bundy Drive, there's a Beatles iTunes billboard at Olympic, at Ohio and just a couple of blocks north at Bundy and Wilshire.
But what fascinated me was the image on the billboard -- a classic black-and-white photo, taken by Bruce McBroom, of the "Abbey Road"-era Beatles: John with a furry beard, Ringo with a moustache, Paul totally cleanshaven and George with almost the exact same kind of floppy shoulder-length hair popularized today by Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (who got busted for pot last year, just like George, John and Paul decades before him).
Apple is notoriously tightlipped about its marketing strategy, so it's probably impossible to know why the company went with a 1969 photo instead of a fresh-faced 1964 photo or a "Sgt. Pepper's"-era 1967 photo. But after a little sleuthing, here's what I did figure out: The photo was taken on April 9, 1969, which would place it right at the beginning of the band's sessions for "Abbey Road," which came out later that year.
As you can see from the photos available on the Nemsworld website, the Apple photo comes from an all-day photo session with the band. It began at an undisclosed indoor location, perhaps at McBroom's photography studio, where the band struck a variety of poses, before adjourning outside. First they posed for some more photos in front of John's Rolls Royce before setting sail on a boat, the Fritz Otto Maria Anna, which the band took for a voyage down the Thames.
The Apple photo offers a great glimpse of late '60s Swinging London fashion: Paul is wearing a vest and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, along with striped trousers; Ringo has donned what looks like (judging from some of the other photos) a purple velvet suit; John is wearing a black polka dot shirt with a white collar and tie (and white tennis shoes); while George is in jeans and a jean jacket.
I can see why Apple picked this particular photo. The band looks relaxed and confident, as if totally at home in their Beatles skin. But it's also revealing that no one is smiling. The band is nearing the end of its time together, and it's likely that by the time the photo was taken, everyone already knew it. Luckily for us, and for Apple, the Beatles' music lives on, as potent and seductive as the day it was first recorded.
UPDATE: The man who took the photo, Bruce McBroom, has written in to share some of the details of the Beatles photo session, which took place at Twickenham Studios outside London. (When he refers to Apple, he's talking about the Beatles record label, not Steve Job's company, which of course, didn't even exist in 1969.) As McBroom explains: "Apple wanted fresh photos to refute rumors of them breaking up. We spent the entire day, first in the studio on a white background and later outside wandering around along the Thames. They showed up with their wives and girlfriends dressed as you see them in the photo, no stylists, art directors, hair, make up or assistants. They asked me what I wanted them to do and I said just stand on the white background. The photo you see and others from that session are purely their own body language and arrangement. A few months after this they parted ways."
Photo: The Beatles, in a photo from 1969, as pictured in Apple's new iTunes ads. Credit: Bruce McBroom/Apple Corps LTD