Designing the “Revolver” cover

June 1966 ?

About

Photographer Robert Freeman had created all of The Beatles’ UK LP covers since “With The Beatles” in 1963. For the new album, he came up with a proposal – a montage of black-and-white images – which was rejected. There is little or no information on whether or not this work was actually commissioned or why this design wasn’t used but the band apparently wanted something different. This was the last time The Beatles used his services.

I think we all felt that his stuff somehow summed up our own feelings. The photographs were artistic, without being pretentious.

Paul McCartney – From “Revolver” Super Deluxe edition book (2022)

There was another cover design proposal by photographer Robert Freeman, with [a photo montage in] a circle. Do you know that?

Really? Didn’t know that. Well, it’s strange that when I met Robert Freeman he didn’t address that, since it was the first time that The Beatles made a cover without some of his photos on the front. Maybe he was a little pissed about that. I don’t know. But I have here many Robert Freeman pictures on the back [cover], so he has no reason to complain.

Klaus Voormann – Designer of the “Revolver” cover – Interview with Beatlefan #148, May-June 2004

Robert Freeman’s design was included in the Beatles Anthology book, published in 2000, and was used to illustrate the “Sessions” discs including in the 2022 Super Deluxe editions of “Revolver”.

Robert Freeman’s proposal for the cover of the new album – From The Beatles, Proposed Revolver Album Cover Montage, 1966 (sfae.com) – © Apple Corps LTD

The Beatles, through John Lennon, then asked Klaus Voormann – a German artist whom The Beatles had met and became friends with during their 1960 stay in Hambourg – to design the cover of the new album. Klaus went to EMI Studios at Abbey Road to listen to some tracks that had already been mixed, including “Tomorrow Never Knows“. He was impressed by what he heard and accepted the challenge to produce a design that would match the innovation of the music.

For the Revolver sleeve we moved away from Robert Freeman, who prepared the original artwork, to Klaus Voormann. Klaus was a good artist and a really good friend of ours. I can’t remember how we arrived at Klaus, but he did a good job and it became quite a classic album cover.

George Harrison – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

Klaus had been a great friend since Hamburg days – he’d been one of the ‘exi’s’, the existentialists whom we’d got to know then. We knew he drew and he’d been involved in graphic design,- I must admit we didn’t really know what he did, but he’d been to college. We knew he must be all right and so we said, ‘Why don’t you come up with something for the album cover?’

He did, and we were all very pleased with it. We liked the way there were little things coming out of people’s ears, and how he’d collaged things on a small scale while the drawings were on a big scale. He also knew us well enough to capture us rather beautifully in the drawings. We were flattered.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

I got a phone call from John. He just said: ‘Got any ideas for our new album cover?’ I thought: ‘Shit! Doing a cover for the most famous band in the world!’ At moments like that you could suddenly forget that they had once been scruffy little Liverpool boys. I thought, ‘My God, I can’t do that!’

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

What were you doing when you got the commission to design the cover?

My group Paddy, Klaus And Gibson was coming to an end and I was just about to join the Manfred Mann band, when John’s phone call came. He asked me, “Do you have any ideas for a cover?” I had drawn The Beatles a little in Hamburg, but not professionally. I nearly said no, because I hadn’t had a pen or pencil in my hand for years. But I accepted and went down to the studio, where they played me some tracks.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with MOJO, July 2006

So the band all asked me to come down to Abbey Road Studios. This was when they had recorded about two-thirds of the tracks for that album. When I heard the music, I was just shocked, it was so great. So amazing. But it was frightening because the last song that they played to me was Tomorrow Never Knows. […] Tomorrow Never Knows was so far away from the early Beatles stuff that even I myself thought, well, the normal kind of Beatles fan won’t want to buy this record. But they did.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

I thought, ‘Oh Christ, it’s going to be hard to do a cover for that.’ It didn’t help that there was still no title.

Klaus Voormann – From MOJO November 2022

They didn’t tell me anything I should do. They said, ‘Klaus, come on down to the studio and listen to the music and let’s see what you come up with.’ […] Rubber Soul was already a really fantastic LP. And I like that photo on there, too. But now you suddenly had ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ with cymbals splashing and sped-up tracks and backwards guitar and birds fluttering. Really crazy. I was overwhelmed when I heard the tracks and I thought, ‘Oh, God, how can I do a cover for that? This is such a giant step into a completely new direction.’ […] I said, ‘Come on, boys, go home and look in your drawers and find any photos you have. Good quality, bad quality — just get me those’.

Klaus Voormann – From Beatles’ Unheard ‘Revolver’: Exclusive Preview – Rolling Stone, September 7, 2022

Did the music inspire you as an artist?

Yes, because they were being so avant-garde, I thought the cover has to do the same thing. How far can I go? How surreal and strange can it be? I wanted to push the design further than normal.

How did you show them your idea to?

I did a scribble piece on a big A2 layout sheet of paper, with lots of different sketches of the little heads, in felt pen. I didn’t do the big presentation, I just went to see them with that piece of paper folded up in my pocket and that was enough!

Klaus Voormann – Interview with MOJO, July 2006

[John Lennon] had the idea that he wanted The Beatles’ hair to be a focus, and in contrast to what was being done by everyone else, he wanted to do a black and white cover.

Klaus Voormann – From Dummy Mag, 2012
Sketch for the cover of Revolver. Source: Dummy

Klaus then asked The Beatles to compile some images of themselves that he could use for his design. John and Paul, along with childhood friend Pete Shotton, searched through newspapers, magazines and shots by photographer Robert Freeman, to supply Klaus with photos he could place over his sketches.

John, Paul, and I devoted an evening to sifting through an enormous pile of newspapers and magazines for pictures of the Beatles after which we cut out the faces and glued them all together. Our handiwork was later superimposed onto a line drawing by Klaus Voormann, their old friend from Hamburg.

Pete Shotton – From “The Beatles, Lennon And Me“, 1984

Klaus created the “Revolver” cover over the course of three weeks on a kitchen table in an attic flat, selecting and arranging fragments of photographs within line drawings of the band members.

I remember, where I created the “Revolver” cover. It was on the third floor of a house, in a little attic apartment, it was in the kitchen. Parliament Hill, Hampstead. I was staying there.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

It took me about three weeks to create the cover, but in terms of concentrated work, about a week.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

In choosing to work in black and white, I wanted not only to shock, but I wanted also for the work to stand out in a muddle of colour. But a psychedelic influence in the Revolver cover? Well, what is psychedelic? Look at Bruegel, or Hieronymus Bosch. Those guys were far out! I don’t know if they ate mushrooms, or whatever. But I know that whatever is inside of you doesn’t have to come out through drugs.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

How did you choose the photos?

The photo of Ringo with the funny striped shirt on, that was cut out of a magazine, from a picture of a girl who had that poster on her wall. That’s why the picture is at a funny angle. I had a few strange ones where John was pulling a face, or Paul was laughing, but in general, the photos show their sweet side. There was one picture where Paul was sitting on a toilet. I think that photo was taken in Hamburg.

Did you do the drawing first?

I did the drawing, then I stuck the pictures on. I drew the faces from memory. George’s face was very difficult to draw. It was easier with John, Paul and Ringo, but George was always the problem. I could not get his face right, so eventually I took a newspaper and cut those eyes and mouth out.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with MOJO, July 2006
From Drawn Album Cover Beatles Revolution Album – Klaus Voormann Revolver Book | Full Size PNG Download | SeekPNG
From THE BEATLES’ REVOLVER ALBUM ART | “Yer doin’ great.” (a muzak clickclack) (wordpress.com) – Klaus Voorman’s evolving Revolver sketches
From Origins of the ‘Revolver’ Cover Art | Beatles Blog (beatlesblogger.com) – Those pictures with yellow circles are still being sought after. If you know, contact us in the comments section below.
From Furore 22 – Furore Magazine

Once the design was done, Klaus went back to EMI Studios to present it to The Beatles and their management.

What was The Beatles’ reaction?

I went to the EMI house, up to George Martin’s office and I stood the artwork up on a filing cabinet. There was Brian Epstein, George Martin, his secretary and the four lads. I was scared, because nobody said anything. They were just looking at it. I thought, Shit, they hate it. Then Paul looked closer and said, “Hey that’s me sitting on a toilet!” George Martin took a look and said, “You can’t show that!” Paul said, “No, it’s great!” But then he gave it some thought and said, “Well, maybe we should take that one off..” So that broke the ice. Then they started talking about it. Everybody loved it, George loved it, John loved it, Ringo loved it. I looked at Brian, who was standing in the corner and he was crying… I thought, Oh no… what is he doing? He came up to me and said, “Klaus, this is exactly what we needed. I was worried that this whole thing might not work, but I know now that this the cover. This LP, will work – thank you.”

Klaus Voormann – Interview with MOJO, July 2006

When I had finished my work for the cover, [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein was really moved by my design. He said to me: ‘Klaus, what you did is what we really needed. I was scared that the band’s new material wasn’t going to be accepted by their audience, but your cover built that bridge.’

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

I wanted people to get a sense of the boys’ funny side, which I didn’t think previous covers had. […] The record company, the publisher Dick James, George Martin – they all had to see the cover and give their nod to it. They all stood in one corner and I was on the other side. Nobody said a thing. And finally, Paul came forward and pointed to a photograph of himself and said: ‘That’s me on the toilet!’ And then everyone else came to look – and that’s what broke the ice.

Klaus Voormann – From Revolver: the inside story of The Beatles’ greatest album | Culture | The Sunday Times (thetimes.co.uk), October 2022

I got £50, or £40, for it. I would have done it for nothing – and I didn’t feel I was in a position to make it hard for them, by saying, ‘You have to pay me this or that much.’ They [EMI] said £50 is the absolute limit for a record sleeve. That’s what I got. Of course, I could have thought, ‘Well, Brian, if you think that cover is so good, come up [in money].’ Brian just left it to EMI, and EMI paid me £50, or £40.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with The Guardian, July 23, 2016

The back cover of the LP used a photograph taken by Robert Whitaker, but the layout was also designed by Klaus Voormann.

The back cover of the album “Revolver” is also by you. It seems to have been taken in Abbey Road, maybe while they were working. Were The Beatles reluctant to be photographed at work?

As a matter of fact, I would never upset them. I would never say: “Hey, boys, let’s get together. We’re going to make some fantastic pictures.” I only recorded what I would see and this picture was taken while they were making “Paperback Writer”

Robert Whitaker – Photographer – From Beatlefan #108, Sept-Oct 1997

For “Revolver”, why didn’t you design a back cover?

Well … it’s also good for a band to have their photo on a record. [That wasn’ t up for] debate. But I designed the layout. Well, it’s not the most awesome layout, but here the “Revolver’, and the script [points to the “Revolver” LP back sleeve], that was my layout. But the copyrights and label [information] looked a bit different then.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with Beatlefan #148, May-June 2004
From Revolver Back Cover – Robert Whitaker Photography – The LP’s back cover included a photograph of the Beatles,”shaded by the hip modesty of sunglasses and cigarette smoke”. The photo was part of a series taken by Robert Whitaker during the filming at Abbey Road on 19 May and demonstrated the Beatles’ adoption of fashions from boutiques that had recently opened in Chelsea, rather than the Carnaby Street designers they had favoured previously. From these Chelsea boutiques, Lennon wore a long-collared paisley shirt from Granny Takes a Trip, while Harrison was dressed in a wide-lapelled velvet jacket designed by Hung on You.

In addition to the cover of “Revolver“, Klaus Voormann also designed the covers of the sheet music for all “Revolver” songs.

Unlike to the album cover artwork I was commissioned by Northern Songs LTD to design the covers of the complete Revolver sheet music. I limited it to 4 different cover motifs each motif in 3 different colours.

Klaus Voormann – From Revolver Cover Artwork – Klaus Voormann
From Klaus Voormann’s “Revolver” sheet music (theglassonionbeatlesjournal.com)

In March 1967, Klaus Voormann won the Grammy for “Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts” for his work on “Revolver“.

In January 2017, he published the book “Birth Of An Icon REVOLVER 50” which offers a fascinating insight into the making of the legendary cover artwork.


What happened to the original version of the “Revolver” cover remained a mystery for some years, even for Klaus Voormann.

The original draft for the “Revolver” cover, was it [LP] size or was it larger?

Not much larger, it was about 40 [centimeters] by 40 [centimers,16″ x 16″].

Do you still have it, your draft?

No, I don’t have that anymore. That would be then also the original. I don’t have that. It’s somewhere far away. I’ve heard that it might be somewhere with George Martin, in his house. But for that I do not have any proofs. That is unfortunately gone away. […]

Klaus Voormann – Interview with Beatlefan #148, May-June 2004

Does the original artwork still exist?

Yes, it does, but I’m not going to tell you where! I was always trying to find out where the original was, just to know it was safe. Someone said it was hanging at George Martin’s house, so I asked Paul, but he said, “No I’ve never seen it.” Later on I found out that it still exists. It’s well kept and looked after and I’m happy about that.

Klaus Voormann – Interview with MOJO, July 2006

In 2005, as related by Rock And Roll Detective, it was found out that the original artwork by Klaus Voormann was owned by guitarist Joe Walsh:

Flash forward roughly 40 years, Voormann began to wonder about whether the original Revolver artwork had survived the decades. He inquired discreetly if Apple Corps still had the artwork. They did not have it and had no idea where it might be. In fact, for all anyone knew, perhaps the most famous album-cover art work in the world might have been thrown in the trash years ago… or did it somehow survive?

In October of 2005, I was invited to attend the kick-off celebration of the new Concert for Bangladesh exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. […] At the party after the film, we toured the exhibit and later Apple’s Jonathan Clyde introduced us formally to Klaus. […] Then Klaus brought up the missing Revolver artwork. At this point Jonathan Clyde said to Klaus, “You should ask Jim to look for Revolver. He has found many rare items and things over the years. He can find anything.” […]

So, I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a shot and try to locate it for you.” This was on a Thursday night. On Saturday, we returned home and I started working the network of rock and roll memorabilia experts, dealers, auction houses and musician friends. At first, I was coming up empty. None of the major auction houses or memorabilia dealers had ever seen the original Revolver artwork come up for sale. This led me to worry that it might not have survived the Sixties. But then I called my friend Roy Elkins, founder of BroadjamBroadjam provides web-based promotional tools and services for independent musicians, the music industry and fans around the world.

In a prior career, Roy had worked with a quite a few musicians and managers. On a hunch, Roy put me in touch with Joe Walsh’s former manager. Elkins thought he had heard mention of the original art work in an old discussion with the manager. Roy’s hunch was right on the money. After a brief phone call with Walsh’s friend and former manager, he told me what I thought I would never hear: “Yeah, its hanging in his library, framed. I saw the original Revolver cover there just last week.”

I could not wait to tell Klaus that something he had been looking for almost 40 years had been found in about 4 days. Needless to say, Klaus was very happy to know his “baby” was safe and in good hands.

Last year [in 2010], the Smithsonian Channel broadcast a program about the career of Klaus Voormann called, “All You Need Is Klaus.” In it, Klaus has Ringo Starr playing on one of his sessions for Voormann’s Grammy Nominated album, A Sideman’s Journey. Also at the session was Starr’s friend and newly minted brother-in-law Joe Walsh. Klaus finally got the chance to ask Walsh about this most famous piece of art… on camera.

Klaus: “Joe?”
Walsh: “Yes”.
Klaus: “They just asked me to ask you where the original Revolver cover is? That’s a question I get all the time.”
Walsh: “It’s hanging in my library. Wanna borrow it?”
Klaus (smiling): “Yes I do… Joe, did you work on it a little or change it?”
Walsh: “Oh yes, it’s in color now. I digitized it… (laughs) No, it’s just like it was.”

The two musicians have a laugh and get back to their recording session. […]

From Rock And Roll Detective, February 2011
From Klaus Voormann on Facebook, February 24, 2011 – Joe Walsh with the original ‘Revolver’ cover art. Photo credit: Robert Kinsler

Last updated on November 5, 2022

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