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The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Album Steals The Show

Mar 4, 2008
As we continue our discussion with Gary Freiberg (www.RockArtPictureShow.com and www.VinylRecordDay.org), let's pick up where we left off and continue detailing the poll that was conducted at the Vinyl Record Day web site and specifically, the album that was voted to be the number one album cover of all time, the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album.

The album was groundbreaking because up until then album covers were pretty standard, a picture of the artist (usually a head shot) or group or a specific setting, for example, maybe a jukebox surrounded by teens. This was a very careful and easy way of doing things. But, the Beatles added new elements to album cover art, as Gary details:

"The Beatles did something with the Sgt. Pepper album that had never been done before, this was the first packaged vinyl and it came complete with inserts and a specially designed album cover. And, who and why were these pictures of other famous people included on the cover, it just didn't make sense. The Beatles also included cardboard cut-outs. Up until then it was logical, here's the music, here's the artist. It also started the idea that Paul was dead because there is a hand that seems to be coming out of nowhere, it is above Paul's head; and Paul is also wearing a black carnation. So there were elements about the entire album package that gave people a purpose to sit down with it. That is one of the unique features of album cover art and why people have such a bond with albums, because it is something tactile; we put it in our hands and we sat down and looked at it. The Beatles broke all ground and Sgt. Pepper is by far, in the history of album cover art, the most pivotal album cover of all time."

Now an interesting note for record collectors is that the value of this classic album is directly influenced by whether or not the package includes the aforementioned cut-outs as well as a custom sleeve. Of course, the condition of the vinyl record itself is paramount and is the single most deciding factor when ascertaining the price for, not only this album, but for any vinyl record.

After the Sgt. Pepper album, record labels and the musicians themselves were much more liberal when creating album cover art. They started to market to specific demographics and groups. Graphics were improved and famous artists were also commissioned to add their expertise to the evolving world of album cover art. Bands started to include more lyrics, band pictures and production notes. Many controversial, provocative and famous album covers were produced. But, even before Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles were at the forefront with regards to controversial album cover art. In fact, the Beatles' album "Yesterday...& Today" (also known as the "butcher block" album) gained critical attention and controversy.

"The story behind this is that it portrays the Beatles wearing white butcher smocks with various severed baby doll parts. Paul is sitting with a severed head in his lap and the rest of the torso on his shoulder and they mixed this all in with bloody beef ribs," details Gary. "The reason the Beatles did this cover was that they did not like what the record company did with their album "Help." That is the cover where the Beatles' intent was to purposely try to spell out "help" with the pictures of themselves with outstretched arms and everyone is considered in a different way. But when the album cover was released in the states, the executives at Capitol records didn't get it and they just randomly arranged the Beatles on the cover and the Beatles thought that the record company had "butchered" the cover."

"As soon as it (the butcher cover) got over here, it got recalled and in fact, I spoke with a record store owner in Los Angles who recently sold a copy of the record, still in shrink wrap, stereo version, along with the original letter from Capitol Records stating that they were recalling the album and he sold this copy for $80,000. Now this is a very rare record because the mono version of the album out numbered the stereo version eight to one and is much more common."

The album has been out of print for years. It was replaced by the "trunk cover", a picture of the Fab Four around a large trunk (with Paul McCartney sitting inside the trunk). After the recall, this picture was either pasted over the "butcher block" picture or the "butcher block" cover was removed all together, with the "trunk cover" then pasted on the front of the album (incidentally, the pictures of both covers were taken by the same photographer, Robert Whitaker). Now, is there a way to ascertain exactly what kind of cover you have if you happen to own a copy of the Beatles' "Yesterday...& Today" album? Yes, there is as Gary informs us:

"With the paste over there is a way to know if you have a paste over cover or not. On the right hand side, a couple of inches above the bottom and a couple of inches over (there is a lot of white filler space on this particular cover and it is very plain again was a purposeful comment from the Beatles) there is a "V". You see, Ringo was wearing a turtle-neck on the butcher cover and if you have a paste over copy you can see that black triangle that bleeds through. If you have a pasted over cover, there is value to those as well."

So with the Beatles' vision and creativeness, other artist joined the crowd. For instance, the Jimi Hendrix LP called "Electric Ladyland" was released in the U.K. with pictures of nude women. But, the album cover was censored in the sates, as Gary explains:

"It's a fold out and a continuous front and back image of topless women, some of which are holding copies of the album. That's (the censorship) typical of American morality, same thing with the Blind Faith album, taking off the bare-chested adolescent girl and putting on a picture of the band and I think is pretty consistent with our society of having a face of being puritan, but when you scratch the surface, there's a lot more there than perhaps how we like to present things."

In our last article, we will continue our discussion about album cover art and see what lies ahead, not only for vinyl records, but the digital world as well.
About the Author
Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates http://www.collectingvinylrecords.com, where you can pick up a copy of his ebook called "The Fascinating Hobby Of Vinyl Record Collecting."
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