Cover shoot for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Thursday, March 30, 1967
Timeline More from year 1967
Michael Cooper’s Photographic Studios, 4 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, London, UK

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PAUL MCCARTNEY Robert used to come round to my house in Cavendish Avenue, which was my bachelor pad in the sixties. It was bit more of a salon really — everyone just came round, anyone stuck for somewhere to stay. And Robert would ring and say, ‘Do you want to go out to dinner?’ His day revolved around dinner. Once he’d got dinner set, everything else fell into place. So he’d come round and Id play him all the new stuff we were making. He was interested to hear all the demos, then he’d move to a visual on it, which eventually came true on the Sgt Pepper cover. By that time we were firm friends.

So Robert and I would just sit around, chatting late into the night, and I’d come back from America one time with this idea for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the concept was we’d pretend that the Beatles were this band. That would liberate us from our egos, so we’d be able to approach a microphone and think, ‘This is not me doing a vocal, this is someone else.’ That was very liberating and I think the album echoes that. So Robert would get all this.

Robert represented to me freedom, freedom of speech, of view. Mainly he was the art eye that I most respected. He turned me on to a lot of good art, and he turned me off a lot of not so good art, which was very helpful. Robert was very instrumental in getting the Sgt Pepper cover together. He really became the art director on Sgt Pepper.

PAUL McCARTNEY There was a group called the Fool who made clothes for everyone — Simone and Mareika, from Holland, who came over to join the hippie London crowd. They were quite loose, very nice people. They started an art thing called the Fool. They designed clothes for Apple, did murals for us on the Baker Street building. And they were going to do the inside cover of Sgt Pepper.

Robert started getting into the visuals and he said, ‘I think you should get Peter Blake involved.’ Because I came back with this idea of having the Beatles being presented by a Lord Mayor or something with a municipal award — very Northern — and I wanted it to be by a floral clock, which is very British.

JANN HAWORTH The cover that the Fool had done looked quite groovyand I don’t think George was too happy about abandoning it. I thought it wasfun, quite entertaining, and if you’d heard the music, which I hadn’t, probablyapt, in terms of the psychedelia. I don’t think the final Sgt Pepper cover is at all psychedelic. Neither Peter nor I had anything to do with drugs and it was very much a continuum of both his work and mine.

We didn’t know until quite late on whether they would actually use our cover or not. We went over to EMI and were shown this cover and the three of us were discussing what might be possible, rather briefly. Then Paul came over to the Chiswick flat one evening and discussed it further and really progressed it.

PAUL McCARTNEY The other part of my concept was to get everyone in the group to mention their heroes. You’d have a portrait of someone and around him would be all the little portraits of Brando, James Dean, an Indian guru, whoever you were into. Or rather the alter ego’s heroes. There’d be H. G. Wells and Johnny Weissmuller, Issy Bonn and all those people, and Burroughs would have been a suggestion probably from Robert, and there were a few kind of LA guys that Robert had slipped in. He’d slip in people that we didn’t even know but we didn’t mind, it was the spirit of the thing. Those ideas developed and combined, so that instead of a mayoral presentation it became that famous cover.

PETER BLAKE They [Paul and Robert] happened to come to the studio one night and were just on a trip, you know, they were seeing things that weren’t there — seeing colours and seeing things that simply weren’t there and persuading me that I had to do it! You know, saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to, you’re not living a full life unless you experience these things.’ I don’t know how I ever insisted on not doing it, because the pressure to participate was enormous, but I just never did, you know. Which I am not particularly proud of. I mean, I am glad I didn’t, but it would have been a great deal easier to. The idea of that amount of responsibility being taken away from you. I never mind getting drunk and I never mind losing that sense, but LSD did frighten me. That was probably a good thing.

JANN HAWORTH A very strange scene met us the first time we went over to the studio. The Beatles were recording, and their ‘court’ of Marianne Faithfull and all these weird spaced-out people sat around the walls. Peter and I were probably the only people who were stone-cold sober. It was really funny, two very upright people doing this psychedelia.

Paul played us the tape of Sgt Pepper, which was still being worked on, and Peter thought the idea of making a Lonely Hearts Club would be interesting, a group of people with the Beatles in front. Early in the sixties Peter had done some things, cutting out Victorian heads, engravings, sticking them down, then doing a circus act in front of that. He maintained at that time that Paolozzi nicked that idea from him, the collage effect of people and things, dissimilar but in the same environment.

The part that’s very much my own was that I always hated lettering on things. I loved the idea that lettering could be an integral part, and I was into fairground lettering at the time. So I thought it would be nice to have a real object with lettering on it, instead of lettering the cover. So I thought about the drum, then about the civic lettering that was around at that time. We pointed out to Paul the Hammersmith lettering: You could do it like that.

What I wanted was that very tight, little ice plants, a very tight floral near-tothe-ground thing. I discussed all this on the phone with the florists. Then they turned up with all these dumb plants — hyacinths. And then only a quarter of what we needed to cover the whole thing. After all these instructions. At least when they set it out you could read the word ‘Beatles’, but it was very much a failure in terms of the original concept.

The other part I felt very strongly about was that when you went from the front, you wanted to have that connecting point of 3-D things that bled into the 2-D things, as we were not doing it as artwork. This bothered Peter a lot later, because it was so retouched, so messed about, the photograph, it ended up looking like artwork, a collage done on paper, rather than a set that was built. Madame Tussaud’s were very generous, lending us some figures, and then the Beatles were going to be in front of the crowd, and I put some of my figures in, and that blended the 3-D world into the 2-D world.

PAUL McCARTNEY Right up until the end we knew the cover was going to be Michael Cooper/Peter Blake, but we wanted this inside cover to be the Fool’s drawing. Robert kept saying, ‘I don’t think you should use it.’ I’d say, “Well, Robert, it’s our album and we’re gonna use it.’ And the other Beatles were quite adamant too. A week would go by, then Robert would say, ‘I really don’t think you should use it. It’s just not well drawn. It’s not right. It’s bad art.’ We said, ‘Let us be the judge of that. It’s our album cover, not yours. You’re just the art director. We don’t have to listen to you.’ In the end he came round with the cover as it exists now, with the four of us gleaming hopefully out. Give everyone a love vibe. He’d come round, saying, ‘I say, I think, this should be theinside cover. It’s much better. Works with the front, works with the back.’ Andhe put the package together as it eventually was and persuaded us finally not to use the Fool’s artwork. And he was right. I’ve seen it since and he was really right. With things like that he was pretty right. He had an opinion and stuck to it. He could be a little bit too arrogant — luckily not to me. I would just say, piss off or whatever. I had a little way of deflating him, which was all right. I can see what my kids didn’t like about him. It was just Eton overbearing, I’m just superior to you, which is what you’re taught at Eton.

JANN HAWORTH They did use ours, of course; but in the end it was totally mucked up, because the plates were wrong. The photograph was beautiful but the reproduction was absolutely lousy. It would be lovely to see it done properly.

PETER BLAKE I have very mixed feelings, because it’s sometimes given an over-importance. I mean, I’ve been painting now for forty-five years — and as Chrissie, my wife, says when I get upset about it, it was just a record cover. But, on another level, on any kind of list of record-cover designs it’s usually the number one. So I’m very proud to have done it, but also very bitter that because ofRobert signing away any rights I had to it, we were paid only £200. I think the people who delivered the flowers were paid £250. I’ve never had any more money from it.

So although it stills sells constantly, and everybody else is still making moneyfrom it, we never did. So I’m thrilled to have done it, but bitter about it.

Paul McCartney – From “Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser” by Harriet Vyner, 1999

The Beatles already had a cover designed by a Dutch group called The Fool, but my gallery dealer, Robert Fraser, said to Paul, ‘Why don’t you use a “fine artist”, a professional, to do the cover?’ Paul rather liked the idea and I was asked to do it.”

Peter Blake – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Originally, the cover was going to be us dressed as this other band in crazy gear. It was going to be stuff that we had always wanted to wear. All the stuff that we had secretly really liked and we were going to have photos on the wall, which were all our heroes, like Marlon Brando in his leather jacket. Anybody who we have thought, ‘Oh! He’s good!’ It was going to be this band and all their cult heroes and we kind of put this other identity on them. The cover got changed a lot in the process. But that was the basic idea behind it, a kind of fantasy show.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

What I offered to it was the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover could be a photograph of the group just after the concert with the crowd, who had just watched the concert, watching them. If we did this by using large cardboard cutouts, it could be a magical crowd of whomever they wanted. So, I then said to each of The Beatles, ‘Make a list of the people who you would like most.’ It was a kind of opportunity to show off and then have the audience that you’d choose to be your favourite audience. This was the idea. I also made a list; Robert Fraser made a list, so there were six lists. George’s list was all gurus, and Ringo said, ‘Whatever the others say is fine by me,’ because he didn’t really want to be bothered. But, it was John’s that I remember the most. Amongst a great number of people, he chose Hitler and Jesus. Neither of which made the final sleeve.

Peter Blake – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Jesus and Hitler were on John’s favourites list, but they had to be taken off. John was that kind of guy, but you couldn’t very well have Hitler and so he had to go. Gandhi also had to go, because the head of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood, said, ‘In India, they won’t allow the record to be printed.’ There were a few people who just went by the wayside.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

There’s one or two on there that a lot of people would not even know. There’s the obvious ones, like Marilyn Monroe, and there’s an old singer on there called Izzy Bon …

Alistair Taylor – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

There is a hand above Paul’s head, which is a symbol of death. But, in fact, this hand belongs to Izzy Bon, and, in the photograph, he is waving to his fans. It was just pure coincidence that his hand was above Paul’s head. We got all the photographs together and had life-size cutouts made onto cardboard. EMI realised that, because many of the people we were depicting were still alive, we might be sued for not seeking their permission. So, The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who was very wary of all the complications in the first place, has his assistant write to everyone.

Peter Blake – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

We had to get permission and pay a royalty to everyone on the sleeve. In fact, a lovely lady, called Wendy Hanson, Brian’s PA, had to find all these people and pay them a half penny.

Alistair Taylor – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Brian asked me to try and get legal clearances from everybody within a week. EMI wasn’t keen on the cover, but Paul wanted to do it. It was an incredible job. I spent many hours and pounds on calls to the States. Some people agreed to it, but others wouldn’t. Fred Astaire was very sweet and Shirley Temple wanted to hear the record first. I got on famously with Marlon Brando, but Mae West wanted to know what she would be doing in a lonely hearts club.

Wendy Hanson, Brian Epstein’s personal assistant – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Mae West replied, ‘No, I won’t be in it. What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?’ So, The Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.

Peter Blake – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Why did you put all those people on the cover, like a school photograph gone wrong?

These were all just cult heroes. George chose a few of his schoolmates he liked; and the rest of us said names we liked the sound of: like Aldous Huxley, H. G. Wells, Johnny Weissmuller.

Those Indian people have amazing stories. There’s one called Yogananda Para Manza, who died in 1953 and left his body in an incredibly perfect state. Medical reports in Los Angeles three or four months after he died were saying this is incredible; this man hasn’t decomposed yet. He was sitting there glowing because he did this sort of transcendental bit, transcended his body by planes of consciousness. He was taught by another person on the cover and he was taught by another, and it all goes back to the one called Babujee who’s just a little drawing looking upwards.

You can’t photograph him – he’s an agent. He puts a curse on the film. He’s the all-time governor, he’s been at it a long time and he’s still around doing the transcending bit.

These are all George’s heroes?

Yes. George says the great thing about people like Babujee and Christ and all the governors who have transcended is that they’ve got out of the reincarnation cycle: they’ve reached the bit where they are just there; they don’t have to zoom back.

So they’re there planning the spiritual thing for us. So, if they are planning it, what a groove that he’s got himself on our cover, night in the middle of the Beatles’ LP cover! Normal ideas of God wouldn’t have him interested in Beatles music or any pop – it’s a bit infra dig – but obviously, if we’re all here doing it, and someone’s interested in us, then it’s all to do with it. There’s not one bit worse than another bit. So that’s great, that’s beautiful that he’s right on the cover with all his mates.

Paul McCartney – Interview with The Observer, November 1967

From The Beatles Monthly Book, May 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book, June 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book, June 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book, June 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book, June 1967
From Detroit Free Press – July 22, 1967

Last updated on October 4, 2023

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