Fifty Years Ago Today Design Inspiration
Fifty Years Ago Today Design Inspiration
The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album came out fifty years ago this March. The album was incredibly well-received at the time—it won Grammy Awards for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical, Best Contemporary Album and Album of the Year—the first rock LP to receive this honor.
Half a century later, the accolades continue: in 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, as a work that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and was voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as the greatest rock album of all time.
There is, besides the music, another element of Sgt. Pepper’s that continues to fascinate: the cover of the album. It, too won a Grammy Award, for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. And while the cover is well-known to many, some of the thought and design elements that were involved in making it are less famous.
According to Peter Blake, the artist who designed the iconic piece, his goal was to create something more than just an album cover:
The famous figures assembled around the band were driven by lists compiled by each of the four Beatles, depicting people they admired. But not everyone listed made it; John Lennon’s choice of Mohandas Gandhi was axed by label executives, believing it would hurt album sales in the subcontinent and Far East. His choice of his literary muse Lewis Carroll ( whose work inspired ‘I Am the Walrus’) however, did make it on… George Harrison’s choice of four Indian gurus also made the cut, as did Fred Astaire– chosen by Paul McCartney. Ringo Starr said “Whoever the others choose is okay with me,” though he agreed with the other three Beatles that Bob Dylan must be pictured. Shirley Temple agreed, but only if she could hear the album first.
Mae West almost didn’t make the cover, because of her apprehensiveness regarding the album title: “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club band?” she asked. But after all four Beatles wrote a letter to the famous sex symbol, she finally agreed. And there were more—lots more. Below is a guide to all of the faces adorning Sgt. Pepper’s:
The album covers shooting session was scheduled in the afternoon prior to a late night recording session at Abbey Road. Michael Cooper had been selected as the photographer, and The Beatles visited his photographic studio at 4 Chelsea Manor Studios, 1-11 Flood Street.
The collage of famous persons—shortly to become famous on its own—had been put together over the prior week or so. Below are some pictures of the session itself from “The Beatles Bible:”
In addition to the front cover shot, The Beatles also posed for the images to be used on the back cover & gatefold sleeve:
The Day-Glo military-style outfits were custom designed in satin; George and Paul are both seen wearing their recently-awarded MBE medals (John did not wear his—instead electing to borrow some medals from former drummer Pete Best’s mother) and the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom adorns John’s right sleeve. Paul wears a black Ontario Provincial Police armband.
Oft questioned is the reason for the four wax dummies of The Beatles which stand alongside the live members. These mop top-sporting effigies reportedly symbolize the ‘old Beatles,’ versus the ‘new Beatles’ on Sgt. Pepper’s:
“With characteristic self-mockery, the Beatles are proclaiming that they have snuffed out their old selves to make room for the new Beatles incarnate, and there is some truth to it, ” TIME magazine stated in its September 22nd, 1967 cover story about the band. “They have moved on to a higher artistic plateau.”
And, as the Beatles said in the opening track of the album, “We hope you will enjoy the show!”
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