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The Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover: Faces in the Crowd

| March 29, 2014 | 11 Comments

sgt-pepper

As the definitive snapshot of ‘60s pop culture (taken on March 30, 1967 by Michael Cooper at Chelsea manor Photo Studios), artist Peter Blake’s Sgt. Pepper cover was unlike anything the world had ever seen. The result was a collage bursting with color, texture, intellectual diversity, comedy, tragedy and time compressed. Even today, shrunk down to jewel case dimensions, the iconic design captures the eye and the imagination. And it came with a free cardboard mustache.

“In my mind I was making a piece of art rather than an album cover,” Blake said. “It was almost a piece of theater design.”

It was Blake’s concept to assemble what he called “a magical crowd” around the band. “I offered the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover could be a photograph of them with the group who had watched the concert,” he said. “If we did this by using cardboard cut-outs, it could be whomever they wanted.”

Fred Astaire was pleased. Mae West was aghast that she would be a member of a lonely hearts club. Shirley Temple asked to hear the finished album before she agreed.

Despite Paul McCartney’s assurance to Blake and EMI that the cover stars of Sgt. Pepper would “love it and do anything to please us,” permissions had to be obtained for the most famous class photo of all time.

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.

Each Beatle—excepting the go-along-to-get-along Ringo Starr—offered suggestions on who should be pictured in the crowd behind them. Some of the inclusions are whimsical or tongue-in-cheek, and a few actually came from art director Robert Fraser and Blake. However, several of the “Club” members were very important to the Beatles’ lives and art.

LEWIS CARROLL

Carroll’s surreal wordplay is echoed in the Beatles’ stream-of-consciousness verse during the Sgt. Pepper period, particularly that of John Lennon. His “I Am the Walrus” was a direct reference to Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

SRI PARAMAHANSA YOGANANDA

George Harrison’s cover subject choices were mostly Indian holy men, including this yogi and guru who was instrumental in bringing meditation and yoga to the West. Friend and sitar teacher Ravi Shankar had given Harrison a copy of Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi in 1966, and its influence on the spiritually searching Beatle was profound.

BOB DYLAN

Although his debut album had been released only five years previous, Dylan was already a giant figure in the minds of his fans—including the Beatles. Everything they had written since the Rubber Soul era carried a touch of Dylan’s influence, if only in the way he opened up the possibilities of rock lyrics to subjects other than boy-meets-girl.

STUART SUTCLIFFE

The original “fifth Beatle,” Sutcliffe was a talented painter who played bass for the group before leaving to pursue a promising career as a visual artist—one that came to a premature end when he died from a brain hemorrhage in 1962 at age 21. Lennon, his closest friend in the band, asked to include him on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover. Yoko Ono has said that hardly a day went by when her husband did not mention Sutcliffe’s name.

KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN

The 20th-century German modern composer’s pioneering electronic work led McCartney (who chose him for the cover) to begin conducting his own experiments, which produced innovative sounds like the eerie looped effects on 1966’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

MARLON BRANDO

The legendary actor’s turn as a rebellious biker in 1953’s The Wild One was a touchstone for ‘50s teenagers like the Beatles, perhaps even more than they consciously knew. The group named itself in honor of Buddy Holly’s Crickets—but in the Beatles Anthology documentary, McCartney recounts seeing The Wild One again several years ago and noticing for the first time that one of the movie’s motorcycle gangs is called “The Beetles.”

—By Bill DeMain

From “40 Years in the Life of Sgt. Pepper”

Performing Songwriter Issue 103, July/August 2007

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Category: Best of PS

Comments (11)

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  1. dj eure says:

    Je suis fasciné de constater avec qu’elle simplicité ce distinguo The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Photo Shoot: Faces in the Crowd sur un thème déjà particulièrement traité sur le web. Merci !

  2. I loved your article celebrating the Sgt. Peppers cover.

    I’d like to share my newly recreated version of the same cover (I swear it took 5 years off my life) featuring the legends of folk & roots music.

    http://www.wrycraft.com/fa2013large.html

    My name is Michael Wrycraft.

    I am an art director/graphic designer who specializes in music. For the last twenty years under the name “A Man Called Wrycraft” I’ve designed around 460 albums, hundreds of posters and other musical ephemera — occasionally winning awards, all the time playing like a small boy in art class. lt’s been a real treat doing graphic design for Folk Alliance International (A non-profit organization that fosters and promotes Folk, Roots, Blues & World Musics) over the last 16 years. Creating something different each year for their annual conference without repeating visual themes has been a challenge and a lot of fun.

    In 2013 the Folk Alliance makes a brief stop in Toronto for it’s 25th Conference.

    I wanted to come up with something special for the 25th. A design that would stand-out and make people talk, look at it repeatedly and see something different every time, even get an emotional reaction.

    To my mind, one of the holy grails of album design has always been The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s cover (by celebrated artist Sir Peter Blake) and for a long time i’ve wanted to pay homage to it in an appropriate fashion and voila… I found it. A celebration of Folk/Roots royalty from artists to managers and everyone in between. This might be considered Sgt. Pepper’s on steroids. The original cover had about 88 people featured. This version has 188.

    It was a monumental task but I loved it every step of the way. Many deserving people, living and dead, in the spotlight or behind the scenes, some friends, some aquaintances, some clients, some strangers, legends and near-legends, all worthy of being honoured made their way into the mix.

    Obviously it would be impossible to include everyone that should be so honoured and i did my best to cover a large demographic but everyone is going to notice deserving people who are NOT THERE.

    My hope would be that everyone gets a kick out of who IS THERE.

    Enjoy. Michael

    PS: The garden gnome smoking something questionable on the right side of the garden is me.

    PPS: There is a numbered/silhouette legend being created to identify everyone but my deadline for that is towards the end of this year so i’m taking my time… it’s a crazy undertaking.

    Click the link below to see it in greater detail.

    http://www.wrycraft.com/fa2013large.html

  3. Rick Eli says:

    Gee Tom Siler, maybe Brian Epstein knew what he was doing since he promised all of the other artists that no one was being compensated. This way he was not LYING! FYI Leo Gorcey was also Jewish as were 10% of the people on the Pepper cover.

  4. tom siler says:

    maybe EMI can re-release with the “original Leo Gorcey cover” by Christmas to satisfy the shareholders?? I heard a couple of Lennon’s suggestions were cut from the final as well. . .Let’s restore them all with the magic of digital technology! HEY 3-D SGT. PEPPER COVER (a’la stones) ! Surely there must be another way to sell this thing to us Beatlemaniacs yet another time!!!!!

  5. tom siler says:

    ‎”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.” what a cheap **** that Epstein was!!!!

    they shoulda fired Peter Blake and done the whole thing in airbrush! I don’t think the Kids today would give a rat’s ass one way or the other!

  6. Aurelio says:

    I have a 1st pressing with Ghandi on the cover. But I cant find any references. Anybody have any insight on this?

  7. Lydia says:

    Gretchen, from what I’ve found, #34 was labeled as “anonymous” or a wax dummy, and #36 was labeled as “a Petty girl” by artist George Petty who did a series of pin-up paintings of women for Esquire from 1933-1956.

  8. gretchen schulz says:

    Who is # 34. It’s not listed.

  9. Lydia says:

    Ohhh, good catch! It’s Albert Einstein, who was mostly obscured in the final album art.

  10. Ferdie says:

    who’s no. 56?

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