The Beatles Album Covers
The Beatles' UK album covers
by Patrick Roefflaer
For the writing of this article I have used information found in the following books: 'Yesterday' by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, 'Many Years From Now' by Miles, 'In My Life' by Pete Shotton, 'The complete EMI Recording Sessions' by Mark Lewisohn and 'The Beatles London' by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder.
Furthermore I found interesting information on countless websites.
SGT. PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
"We were getting a little fed up of being The Beatles… It was all getting so bloody predictable. I said, why don’t we pretend that we’re another band. Make up a name for it and make up an identity, make up alter egos, just pretend, so we can make a whole album from the point of view of this other band."
Paul McCartney, 1989.
For the cover of their next album, a friend, John Dunbar, suggested a totally abstract picture without text or explanation. But Paul thought that was too radical.
Paul then made a series of pen-and-ink drawings. The starting point was an old photograph of Paul's father, Jim McCartney's jazz band. Initially the drawings showed the Beatles standing before a wall of framed photographs of their heroes. The Beatles all wear long military-band jackets and sport mustaches. They hold brass-band instruments.
"I did a lot of drawings of us being presented to the Lord Mayor" Paul explained, "with lots of dignitaries and lots of friends of ours around, and it was to be us in front of a big northern floral clock, and we were to look like a brass band. That developed to become the Peter Blake cover."
Paul shows the drawings to his friend, the gallery dealer, Robert Fraser. He suggests the use of a fine artist, for example Peter Blake, a man who’d painted the group in 1963 and had a rising reputation in the Pop Art movement.
Fraser and McCartney met with Blake in his West London house to talk over ideas. Paul showed him his basic ideas. "From that came the idea of a life size constructed collage," remembers Blake. "We thought that if we did that we could have anyone in the crowd. That opened up a whole magical area."
Taken by the idea of inventing their own audience, each Beatle compiled a list of "favorite people".
Peter Blake explained: "I asked them to make lists of people they'd most like to have in the audience at this imaginary concert. John's was interesting because it included Jesus and Ghandi and, more cynically, Hitler. But this was just a few months after the US furor about his 'Jesus' statement, so they were all left out. George's list was all gurus. Ringo said, "Whatever the others say is fine by me", because he didn't really want to be bothered. Robert Fraser and I also made lists."
"I still have no idea who chose some of these people, " states George Harrison, "I believe that Peter Blake has placed some of the more confusing types. I only wanted people that I admired. I didn’t put anybody on it that I didn’t like, in contrast to some other people"
Jann Haworth, Blake's American wife and an artist in her own right confirms: "To be perfectly honest, Peter and I chose about 60 percent of what's there because they didn't come up with enough. So we're to blame for some of the inequalities that were there. But having said that, the Beatles chose no women. The only women chosen were by Peter and I."
Michael Cooper, an excellent photographer, was a business partner of Robert Fraser. So he was commissioned to do the shoot. Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth worked in his studio for a fortnight constructing the collage.
Jann Haworth claims her part of the idea: "I'm the person who didn't do 50 percent of the Sgt. Pepper cover. I did the other 50 percent. It's sort of invisible, but in a way it's the whole thing: It was to build it like a set. The idea of the front row being three dimensional, leading into a two-dimensional flat frame was very much the territory of my work."
Jann's father, the director Ted Haworth, was in London at the time, working on the film Half a Sixpence. When she visited him on the movie set, he advice her not to make a background piece for the album. He thought the idea was too Hollywood and too expensive for the budget. So Haworth resorted to blue paper for the sky, and black-and-white cut-out photographs for the heads and bodies.
Gene Mahon, a designer who was hired as co-ordinator on the project, selected the more then sixty photographs, collected from libraries and magazines and supervised the enlargements. These life-size cut-outs were then hand-colored and glued to hardboard sheets.
"I hand-tinted all the photographs for color, and nailed them to batons on the back wall," said Haworth. "Then put the front row in 3-D. That's an old movie trick."
Peter and Jann fixed the top row to the back wall and put the next about six inches in front and so on, to get a tiered effect. Some waxworks are rented from Madame Tussaud, while the the old lady and Shirley Temple dolls are art pieces by Jann Haworth. A palm tree and some little favorite objects filled out the decorum. John brought his TV set, while Hunter Davis picked up an ornament from the mantle piece of Paul's house.
Peter Blake recalled: "The boy who delivered the floral display asked if he could contribute by making a guitar out of hyacinths, and the little girl wearing the 'Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys' sweatshirt was a cloth figure of Shirley Temple, the shirt coming from Michael Cooper's young son Adam."
The drum skin was painted by a genuine fairground artist, Joe Ephgrave. He did actually two versions. The chosen design is now part of Beatles iconography and is probably the second most famous drum skin of all time.
The Beatles had military styled costumes made for them especially by Burman’s Theatrical Agency. "They showed us pictures of the possibilities," remembers Paul, "Did we want Edwardian costumes or costumes from the Krim? We chose eccentric things from the different types and combined. … We chose psychedelic colours, a bit like the day-glow socks from the fifties."
Sir Joseph Lockwood personally was afraid the picture of Mahatma Gandhi would upset the government of India. So he had to go at the last minute. So did Hitler.
Sir Joe also realized that because many of the people that are depicted were still alive, they might be sued for not seeking their permission. So he demanded a written permission from every one to get copyright clearance. Brian Epstein, who was very wary of all the complications in the first place, had his former assistant Wendy Hanson, write to everyone. "I spent many hours and pounds on calls to the States," remembers Wendy, "Fred Astaire was very sweet; Shirley Temple wanted to hear the record first; I got on famously with Marlon Brando, but Mae West wanted to know what she would be doing in a Lonely Hearts Club."
Leo Gorcy of the Bowery Boys was the only one to ask for a fee. So his face was covered with the some blue sky.
The Beatles arrived during the evening of March 30, 1967. "We had a drink," remembers Blake, "they got dressed and we did the session. It took about three hours in all, including the shots for the center fold and back cover."
Originally a Dutch group called the Fool had made a design for the center fold.
Miles: "Simon and Marijke painted a dream landscape of stylised mountain peaks and wonderful birds, like an LSD-influenced Chinese willow-pattern design. The sky was rainbow-ed with two oval panels for text, one of which was filled with stars and comets. A further empty panel had a flower border with a peacock draping its tail over the side. Tiny figures of the Beatles peeped out from among the flora. The style was Euro-psychedelic, owing much to Mucha, Beardsley, art nouveau and nineteenth-century children’s book illustrations. Unfortunately they got the dimensions wrong, but even with a border added, the work looked somehow second-rate. The Beatles, however, loved it."
But Fraser saw it differently. He felt it would be judged by posterity as simply another piece of sixties acid art. Robert suggested a series of portrait shots instead. For this picture the Beatles all looked in the camera and tried to express a feeling of love to their fans. "And that’s what that is," declares Paul "if you look at it you’ll see the big effort from the eyes".
John had a different opinion: "When you look at the cover, you see two people flying through the air, and two not flying through the air."
Gene Mahon suggested the lyrics should be printed on the sleeve. That was never done before. Northern Songs, their music-publishing company immediately objected, because it would cut the sales of their sheet music.
The Beatles wanted the record to be pressed on colored vinyl, but EMI told them it was not possible. Instead, for the first British pressing at least, the inner sleeve was decorated with an abstract design in red, pink and white. So Simon and Marijke could make a contribution to the sleeve after all.
The Beatles also wanted a envelope with every LP, with in it sweets, badges, pencil colors and such. But EMI foresaw too much problems and expenses, so Blake designed a cardboard cut-out, with a mustache, a picture card, some sergeant stripes, two badges, and a stand-up.
E.M.I. were allegedly horrified when they saw the cost for producing the sleeve. The usual budget for a record cover photograph in the sixties was £25, though it could run up to as much as £75 for an act as big as The Beatles. Copyright and retouching fees came to £1,367.13s.3d. while Robert Fraser's fees came to £1,500.12s.
Peter Blake again: "I'm not sure how much it all cost. One reads exaggerated figures… I got about 200 pounds. People say to me, "You must have made a lot of money on it" but I didn't because Robert signed away the copyright. But it has never mattered too much because it was such a wonderful thing to have done."
Everyone loved the cover, but Brian Epstein had his doubts. He was already stressed out because of an increasing distance growing between him and the Beatles and became even more anxious about the numerous drug references in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was worried what the pictures on the sleeve would do to further tarnish the band's clean-cut image he had worked so hard to establish. At one point, he had written himself a note about the possibility of the album in a brown paper bag.
He shouldn’t have worried, because, during the tenth annual Grammy Awards, on 9 March 1968 Sgt. Pepper’s is voted Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts of 1967. Besides being chosen as Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Album, Best Engineered Recording, but that’s another matter.
Click on an album cover to read about it:
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