The Making of the Sgt Pepper Cover:
It was fifty years ago today (well, not exactly today, it was 1 June 1967) that Sgt Pepper taught the band to play. Well, not exactly taught the ban to play, more correctly, the album was released. So let me introduce to you the cover you’ve known all these years, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I hope you will enjoy the posts, you're such a lovely audience, I’d love to take you home with me, I'd love to take you home. So let me introduce to you, the one and only Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover.
Yeah, I know that was pretty corny but I couldn’t resist it.
This post commences a series about the cover, today’s instalment being a look at the cover and the making of it, with later posts being a look at the people depicted thereon.
- Rolling Stone has named the cover as the greatest album cover in history, followed by Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, and the Beatles' White Album in third place. Though that’s not saying much when you consider that the Sex Pistol’s cover looks like this:
- The principal architect of the Sgt Pepper album was Paul McCartney. Lennon’s lyric in How Do You Sleep? on his first solo album in 1971 that “So Sgt Pepper took you by surprise”, is incorrect.
- It was McCartney’s idea to make a departure from the Beatles’ then image of mop-top rockers, The Fab Four, and to change direction to show their musical talents. Whilst on a plane flying back from Africa he came up with the idea of a totally different made-up band, the name Sgt Pepper coming to him from the pepper and salt sachets that came to him with his meal. That change of direction was to not only be musically but also in packaging of the album.
"What really happened was I was coming back from a trip abroad with our roadie, Mal Evans, just the two of us together on the plane. And we were eating and he mumbled to me, asked me to pass the salt and pepper. And I misheard him. He said [mumbles] 'saltandpepper'. I go, 'Sergeant Pepper?' I thought he said, 'Sergeant Pepper'. I went, 'Oh! Wait a minute, that's a great idea!' So we had a laugh about it, then I started thinking about Sergeant Pepper as a character. I thought it would be a very interesting idea for us to assume alter egos for this album we were about to make.
"So that's what we did. And yeah, I started doing drawings of how the band might look. I sort of got this military look thing going and one of my ideas was that they were being presented by the Lord Mayor of some Northern town in a park. And in the old days they used to have floral clocks, they called them. It was like a clock that was made out of flowers. So I did drawings of the floral clock and then, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band', AKA The Beatles, getting an award. So they've got a big cup and they're getting some sort of award from the town.
"So that's where the idea came from and then I just talked to all the guys and said, 'What do you think of this idea?' They liked it and I said, 'It will mean, when I approach the mic, it's not Paul McCartney. I don't have to think this is a Paul McCartney song'. So it was freeing. It was quite liberating.
"So, you know, we didn't keep that idea up all the time, but that was the basic idea that we would make something that was very free. Something that this other band might make, instead of doing something that we thought The Beatles ought to make. It originally came from that mishearing of salt and pepper!
- Paul McCartney, Q & A, 25 May 2017
- McCartney prepared sketches of what he envisioned the cover should be, the Beatles standing in front of a wall of framed photographs of their cultural heroes. One sketch showed them in military jackets, popular amongst trendy young persons at the time, with moustaches and holding instruments. Another sketch showed them being presented with an award by the Mayor in a park in front of a floral clock.
- Pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth used McCartney’s ink drawings to come up with the final design. The cover was art-directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper, Fraser having failed to disclose that he represented Blake and Cooper and that he was a partner in Cooper’s business.
- Blake turned McCartney’s floral clock into the Sgt Pepper drum with the name of the band and correspondingly the name of the album.
- "The Fab Four” depiction is of borrowed wax statues from Madam Tussaud’s. Blake also borrowed the wax statue of Sonny Liston, surprisingly his image being included rather than that of Muhammad Ali, who the Beatles had actually met and admired. By the time the album was released, Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.
- The Beatles had to give EMI a $US10m indemnity in case any of the persons depicted sued. They also wrote to them to request consent to the use of their images. Leo Gorcey, an original member of The Bowery Boys, an American comedy act, demanded an appearance fee of £500. He was booted. Mae West, 73, didn't want to be associated with a lonely hearts club. After further requests by each of the four Beatles she relented and ended up in the back row, between satanist Crowley and the comedian Lenny Bruce.
- The album came with a bonus sheet of cardboard cut-outs, a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper based on a statue from Lennon's house that was used on the front cover, a fake moustache, two sets of sergeant stripes, two lapel badges and a stand-up cut-out of the Beatles in their satin uniforms.
- At a time when most covers cost about £100 to make, Sgt Pepper cost £3,000. McCartney had to fight with Emi, the parent company of Parlophone, the Beatles’ recording company, to use quality cardboard to make it last. It was one of the first "gateway sleeves", that is, opening like a book.
- The cover features a collage which includes 57 photographs and nine waxworks depicting a diversity of famous people, including actors, sportsmen, scientists and – at Harrison's request – a number of Indian gurus. Some of the persons in the collage are singers Bob Dylan and Bobby Breen; the film stars Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe; the artist Aubrey Beardsley; the boxer Sonny Liston and the footballer Albert Stubbins. Also included are the comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (as well as comedian W.C. Fields) and the writers H. G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Dylan Thomas. John Lennon requested that Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ be included but this was rejected by the others (the Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ comment by Lennon had created controversy the year before). Lennon’s request for Gandhi was also declined in that this would be considered sacrilegious in India, where EMI had business interest. Elvis was also not there, McCartney commenting years later that "Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention ... so we didn't put him on the list because he was more than merely a ... pop singer, he was Elvis the King." Lennon did succeed in including occultist Aleister Crowley – "the wickedest man in the world" – and Albert Stubbins, a former Liverpool Football Club centre forward none of the other Beatles had heard of. A touching inclusion is Stu Sutcliffe, the ex-Beatle who died of a brain injury in 1962, aged 21, in their Hamburg days before they became famous.
Peter Blake’s 1967 outline for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover art.
Getting the shot ready
Figures and figureheads
The boy in the photograph is Adam Cooper, son of the photographer Michael Cooper
Gallery of some Sgt Pepper clone covers:
Nine months after release of Sgt Pepper, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released We’re Only In It for the Money, featuring the following cover:
Tribute to celebrities lost in 2016 using the Sgt Pepper cover.