On this day in 1967, a British pop artist gathered [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Beatles[/lastfm] and others to shoot what would become the most iconic cover in the history of rock music, the unmistakable Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
As The Beatles worked hard on crafting the seminal concept album in late 1967, they enlisted the help of Dutch art group The Fool to create a painting for the Sgt. Pepper’s cover.
The group eventually returned with a swirly mosaic of red blobs that proved to be much more abstract than the band ever planned.
Thankfully, British art dealer Robert Fraser declared that it just wasn’t good enough for The Beatles.
Fraser brought in pop artist Peter Blake and his wife Jann to meet with The Beatles and manager Brian Epstein on what to do for the finalized album cover. The brainstorming began with an idea from Paul McCartney in which the fictional “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” would play together in a park.
Eventually, it turned into The Beatles dressing up as the fictional band themselves, surrounded by an eclectic list of cultural icons that they personally selected. Some of their selections turned out to be too controversial to make the cover…
True to his progressive, envelope-pushing ways at the time, John Lennon originally requested that Jesus, Hitler, and Gandhi be included in the guests surrounding the band on the cover.
For obvious political and religious reasons, all three of them did not make the final cover.
The eventual collage of pictures that made the final cover included figures spanning multiple centuries. They range from Edgar Allen Poe and Karl Marx to Marilyn Monroe and Bob Dylan.
That’s not where the trouble ended for The Beatles. The band’s legal team also had to gain permission to use the likenesses of all the people on the cover who were still alive. Actress Mae West was one of the people who initially refused to allow it, famously asking “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?”
Despite this and other trouble from people about their likeness on the album cover, the band and the artists moved forward with the now-legendary photo shoot.
Paul’s park idea earned something of a place on the cover, with the floral arrangement spelling the band’s name gracing the foreground. The photo shoot lasted about three hours, and by the end of the day they had created an image that would become more legendary than any of them could have ever imagined.
Although the cover photo was sold for about $4,600- equal to about $60,000 today, around ten times the average cost for an album photo at the time- it can still be safely said that the cover was worth the money.
It’s hard to think of a more iconic and recognizable album cover than Sgt. Pepper’s. The picture would go on to be synonymous with the album’s classic tracks, and only increase its status as a singular masterpiece of rock & roll.
In today’s era of music, where albums are declining, so go the covers along with them. There may never be another album cover as distinctly recognizable as the one The Beatles created on this day 44 years ago.
Paul McCartney & U2, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” @ Live 8 2005: