“It was twenty years ago today……” in fact it was fifty years ago on 31.03.17 that the iconic photo was taken by Michael Cooper, for the cover of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. The Beatles 8th studio album was released on 1st June 1967 becoming the first Beatles album to be released simultaneously, worldwide.
Produced by George Martin in just three months the album sold in excess of 2.5m copies in the first there months of release. It spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and 15 weeks at number one in the US. In 1968, it won four Grammy Awards including for Best Album Cover and Album of The Year.
By 2011, sales had exceeded 32m.
Newly acquired studio techniques including multi-tracking, reverb, a Mellotron keyboard and overdubs used by George Martin and Abbey Road Engineer, Geoff Emerick, along with the multi-cultural soundtrack created an innovative aural landscape. From the band’s perspective, as they had decided to cease touring in 1966, they knew that they would not be required to reproduce the album on stage.
The familiar hippy/psychedelia inspired album cover, was designed by “Pop artists”, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing suggested by Paul McCartney. It depicts the great and good, as waxworks or cut-out portraits that were enlarged, coloured and worked into a collage by Blake and Haworth. They surround the members of the Beatles as their younger and older selves, wearing moustaches and gaudy uniforms and a grave dressed by marijuana plants.
Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying that they chose military style garish uniforms as a statement as it would go against the very idea of a “uniform”. Well, this was 1967!
“Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” were both recorded during the album’s sessions but were released, at the behest of EMI, as a double A side single in February 1967. Due to their lack of success they were dropped from the final cut, much to George Martin’s regret.
The stunning, stand out track, for me has always been “A Day In The Life” with its lyrical imagery, pace and sheer wall of sound. It’s unsurprising that it was banned by the BBC for its drug allusions and associated imagery. When did a BBC ban ever hurt sales?
The photo session with Cooper, also resulted in the back cover and the inside of the gatefold sleeve. Bonus gifts inside the album’s packaging included a sheet of cardboard cut-outs, a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper and a fake moustache – like those worn by the band’s members.
Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandi and Aleister Crowley were each suggested by Lennon and others but ultimately not included for a variety of sensibilities. Elvis Presley, is another notable absentee, which was explained by McCartney being deferential to his stature in popular music at the time.
The final cost for the cover art was reported to be nearly £3,000. A huge sum at the time where £50.00 was the usual budget!
The drum-skin featuring the title of the album was sold in July 2008 for $1,067,346.