At first glance, Beatles fans who visit allposters.com probably won’t notice anything odd about a poster of the Abbey Road album cover, but closer inspection reveals that Paul McCartney’s cigarette has been removed from this iconic image. Allposters denies any involvement. The company that publishes and distributes the poster also denies altering the image. “We have never agreed to anything like this,” says a spokesman for the Beatles’ company Apple, which is responsible for merchandise licensing. “It seems these poster companies got a little carried away.”
Other musicians have received similar treatment: In 1994, blues legend Robert Johnson was depicted on a U.S. postage stamp sans smoke, and on 1998’s Tracks, a Bruce Springsteen rarities set, a pack of Marlboros disappeared from the cover photo of the artist. The year before, Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends box set showed Paul Simon apparently stroking his face. In fact, he was holding a cigarette that had been carefully excised.
It’s difficult to track down the people responsible for the retouching. Calls about Springsteen and Simon to both Sony Music and the artists’ representatives drew either the ascription of blame to long-departed staff or no information at all.
Photographer Bob Gruen remembers seeing one of his 1974 John Lennon photos altered to remove a cigarette. “It made him look awkward,” says Gruen. “When they change these things, it’s not reporting the truth anymore.”