It was 20 years ago today… Well, 52 actually. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Cover 52 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… And more than half a century after its release, The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely…
It was 20 years ago today… Well, 52 actually.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Cover
52 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… And more than half a century after its release, The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), is still hailed as one of the world’s best – both musically and because of that iconic album cover. Debatably, the most celebrated ever created.
In a similar way to Abbey Road (1969), the concept of the cover began life with a series of sketches by Paul McCartney. The inspiration was his dad’s 1920’s band, the ‘Jim Mac’s Jazz Band’ (google the band name, you’ll see what I mean), who were surrounded by their fans. He was also inspired by the northern brass bands of his youth. The sketch was then given to English pop artist Sir Peter Blake to work his magic – who subsequently made his name through the Sgt. Pepper collage-style sleeve.
The result, as everyone knows, was a gathering of over 50 famous and obscure faces (58 in total), which Blake described as a ‘magical crowd’ – with the band at its heart (or rather bottom left of picture). It was unlike any album cover that had here been seen before.
The Sgt. Pepper sleeve was a nod to 20th century culture to date (ie up until ’67) – although couldn’t have depicted a more eclectic bunch of faces. A motley crew that included celebrities, movie stars, comedians, writers, obscure people, plants and various artefacts. Blake also came up with an ingenious solution to feature every celebrity or ‘thing’ without actually photographing or illustrating them – by “using cardboard cut-outs, it could be whomever they wanted.”
The cover went on to win a Grammy, and just like Abbey Road, it was parodied many times over. Everyone from Frank Zappa to the Muppets, Star Wars and Sesame Street, as well as other musical genres, tribute bands, and myriad of just plain bizarre acts imitated the eternally-iconic sleeve. A sleeve that captures both the eye and the imagination with its vibrant colours and styling. And the crowd concept went down well with Peter Blake:
“The appeal of a crowd goes back to being a young kid as a football fan,” Blake said. “I’d worked in crowds, with a series of circus collages, made up of bits of engraving or photos. I’d painted a scene of a battle, where there was a balcony at the top and famous people looking over it, such as W.C. Fields. These were Sgt. Pepper’s antecedents.”
Before the album’s artwork could be unleashed to the world, each and every (living) person featured would need to be contacted for their approval. In theory, this shouldn’t have been a difficult task – these were the Beatles after all. Yet you’d be surprised.
Paul McCartney had assured the record company ‘EMI’ and the artist Peter Blake, that everyone on the album cover would love to be involved and their permission wouldn’t pose a problem.
However, ‘it was a headache for manager Brian Epstein’s office, but their PR efforts paid off; the only holdout, ‘Bowery Boy’ Leo Gorcey, insisted on a $400 fee and was promptly airbrushed out of history.’
So everyone (still living at the time) from Fred Astaire to Mae West and Tony Curtis were happy to be on the cover, except for Leo Gorcey. Leo who? Some American movie actor supposedly. And ironically, his infamy is probably now greater purely due to this airbrush story. But personally, I’d have preferred to be one of those 58 faces. What a privilege it would have been to be a Lonely Hearts Club member, and be remembered forever.
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