Covered with Pepper

It is the most famous rock album cover of all time.  It’s been praised and parodied by…almost everybody.

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. One of the many things that still fascinates about this groundbreaking album IS the cover of the album itself.  

Shot on March the 30th, 1967 before a late night recording session at about 6 pm.  The concept  seemed to be “people we like.”

According to artist Peter Blake, the designer of the iconic Sgt. Pepper cover: “In my mind I was making a piece of art rather than an album cover. It was almost a piece of theater design. I offered the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover would be a photograph of them with the group who had watched the concert. If we did this by using cardboard cutouts, it could be whomever they wanted.”

Each of the four Beatles was told to compile a list of people they admired, and their choices would all be featured on the album’s cover. Ringo, always the least pretentious of the four, declined right off the bat. Whoever the others wanted was okay with Ringo.

John Lennon’s off-kilter mind immediately came up with Adolf Hitler and Mohandas Gandhi. Hitler was immediately nixed for obvious reasons. But, incredibly, a paper cutout of Adolf Hitler was actually made and was there at the photo session on March 30, 1967.

Gandhi got the axe by EMI executives, believing it would hurt album sales in the region.

George, of course, chose four Indian gurus. Bob Dylan was a clear choice by all the Beatles, who admired Dylan.

Fred Astaire was definitely a Paul choice. The legendary dancer was an easy sell and was reportedly delighted to be featured. However, several of the chosen figures gave EMI more than a bit of difficulty. Shirley Temple asked to hear the finished product produced before giving her consent.

The Beatles all wanted Mae West to be on the cover, but she was apprehensive. “What would I be doing in a lonely heart’s club band?” Mae asked. To placate the legendary sex symbol, all four Beatles wrote and signed a letter to Mae, and she finally agreed.  

Leo Gorcey of The Bowery Boys was chosen to be featured along with his comic partner Huntz Hall. But Gorcey demanded the sum of $400.00 to appear so he got the axe. It is still easy to see where Gorcey was airbrushed out on the final cover. Gorcey’s Bowery Boys buddy, Huntz Hall, proved more cooperative, and can be found hovering in the top row.

Other no-shows include Bette Davis (in full Queen Elizabeth getup), whose cutout was there, but got blocked out by George’s left shoulder. Albert Einstein, also, is mainly blocked out by John’s right shoulder, and can barely be perceived.

Lewis Carroll, John’s literary idol, is there.

Paul was to say they chose some of the figures because they liked their “groovy-sounding names” and gave Aldous Huxley and Karlheinz Stockhausen as examples.  So sixties.

The oddest choice? Well, maybe it was Sonny Liston, the boxer who was twice defeated by Muhammad Ali, who The Beatles had met in person a few years previously. Liston had attended a Beatles concert that same year (1964), hated the boys, and said, “My dog drums better than that guy” (Ringo). 

Most curious omission? Definitely Elvis Presley.   Why no Elvis?  There is  answer to this question in all the Beatles books and interviews you can find.  Elvis was one of all four Beatles’ supreme hero, especially in their early, formative years.

There are rumors that Jesus Christ was an original candidate chosen by John Lennon. But The Beatles were still stinging from John’s famous “We’re bigger than Jesus” remark of less than a year earlier and the repercussions from that statement. John suffered greatly from the huge backlash of his controversial comment during this period. Nonetheless, it is possible that the never-back-down Lennon still tried to opt for Jesus to be featured.

The most touching featured tribute was to the Beatles’ former bandmate, bass player Stuart Sutcliffe. Stu died tragically in 1962, at the age of 21, from an aneurism. Poor Stuart never lived to see all the band’s future success. John always considered Stuart his best friend (besides Paul) and John was probably behind choosing Stuart to appear.

 Among several dozen male figures, just five females are present: besides the aforementioned Mae West and little Shirley Temple, actresses Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, and Diana Dors are included. Jann Hayworth, the wife of Peter Blake who helped her husband with the album cover’s original design, was to always regret the fact that more women weren’t featured.

The Sgt. Pepper cover was to win a 1967 Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Design.


It should win every year.


One response


    If anybody wants the complete list and ‘location’ of the people represented on the cover the article at Wikipedia is good.

    May 27, 2012 at 2:04 am

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