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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Creating the Cover

The "Sgt. Pepper" album cover is one of the most iconic designs ever. Behind the cardboard lies many stories about its production. Some are fact, some are myth – but all have made their way into rock legend.

The overall packaging was created by art director Robert Fraser, designed by pop artist Peter Blake and photographed by Michael Cooper at Chelsea Manor Photographic Studios on March 30, 1967. 

The idea for the cover was simple – to make cut-outs of all the people the Beatles admired and would like to have in an imaginary audience. The artwork is sometimes called "People We Like". 


The reality of the assembly was probably a bit more of an undertaking. The montage includes 57 life-sized cardboard photographs of celebrities, nine waxwork models loaned from Madame Tussaud’s, a stone bust, a portable TV, four statuettes, a doll wearing a jumper with “Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys” written across it, a specially made Sgt. Pepper drumskin, a gold award, and a variety of flower arrangements (one spelling “Beatles”, and another of a guitar). The fact that John Lennon and George Harrison were apparently tripping on LSD during the three-hour photo shoot must only have added to the already surreal set-up.

The collage shows likenesses of more than 60 famous people, including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Mae West, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Sir Robert Peel and (at George Harrison’s request) a number of Indian gurus. Also included is the Beatles’ first bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, who died in 1962.

Controversy

There were a few people who were intended to be on the cover but never made it, including Hitler and Jesus, both of whom John Lennon wanted to feature. The cut-out for Hitler was made, but Lennon was talked out of including it for fear of the controversy it would cause. It can be seen leaning against the wall in some production stills of the cover shoot.

Similarly, two people’s images were actually used in the cover photograph but removed before the album’s release. The actor Leo Gorcey was taken out because he requested a fee, and Ghandi because EMI felt his inclusion might offend record buyers in India. There are some alternate shots of the cover where they can still be seen.   

An album of firsts

The final bill for the artwork has been estimated at £2,868 5s/3d, a huge amount for the time. This would have been 100 times the average cost for an album’s packaging in those days.

As well as being the first big budget cover, the album was the first pop LP to have its lyrics printed on the reverse (perhaps testament to the interest the Beatles’ songs now aroused), the first to have a gatefold sleeve and the first to have a decorated inner sleeve. The album also came with a set of Sgt. Pepper cut-outs - including a moustache, a picture card, some sergeant stripes, two badges and a stand-up picture of the band. 


The McCartney Code

As well as the obvious signs and symbols within the cover, some were less apparent and did a lot to fuel the bizarre “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory. Some people believed Paul McCartney was killed in a car crash in 1966, and replaced by a look-alike in a cover-up to save the distress of fans. 

Believers thought the Sgt. Pepper cover was rife with cryptic clues, added to reveal the secret to more observant lovers of the band. These included, among many, the fact that Paul was the only one with a black instrument, the hand over his head as if being blessed, the doll holding a bloody driving glove, the grave-like flowerbed, and countless lyrics including “He blew his mind out in a car” from "A Day In The Life".


Spoofs and satire

The very distinctive cover has been parodied several times. Quick off the mark were Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention with their 1968 album We’re Only In It For The Money, a comment on the pretensions of the late 1960s hippie movement. However, this ran into legal trouble, and the Sgt. Pepper takeoff was removed from the front cover and used on the inside instead. 

The LP from Beatles parody band the Rutles came with a booklet that included spoofs of many of the fab four’s covers, including Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, or as it was known in the Rutles' story, Sergeant Rutter's Only Darts Club Band.

Japanese artist Jun Fukamachi released a now very rare electronic version of Sgt. Pepper in 1977. The cover is a reproduction of the original photo, except everyone is facing backwards.

The title sequence of every episode of The Simpsons ends slightly differently and on one occasion they all gather in a recreation of the Sgt. Pepper cover to a sustained chord reminiscent of the end of the song "A Day In The Life" from the album.  

To mark Liverpool being European Capital of Culture 2008, the Sgt. Pepper cover was reworked by the original artist Sir Peter Blake. This time the collage features famous Merseysiders, including Elvis Costello, Jimmy Tarbuck, Anne Robinson and Cilla Black.