new theme concerned a mythical band, which led to it being called the
first ‘concept’ album. A Beatles associate, Tony Bramwell, said that
at one time the group were considering calling the album, ‘One Down,
Six To Go,’ in reference to the number of albums they had committed
themselves to record under a new contract. This is likely to have been
just an example of the Beatles humour.
The name ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was devised and the album took five months and almost 700 hours of studio time to record. It is said that Paul McCartney thought up the original idea. He’d suggested, “Why don’t we make the whole album as though the Pepper band really existed, as though Sgt Pepper was doing the record?’ Paul at one time also suggested that The Beatles wear Salvation Army type uniforms to promote Sgt Pepper, but the others talked him out of it and the costumes they wore for the promotion were made by Maurice Burman’s, the theatrical costumiers.
The music was so intricate, complex and innovative that it staggered other artists who had been seeking to outdo The Beatles. Even more remarkable is the fact that this tour de force was recorded entirely on a four-track machine. George Martin was to comment, “Technically, it was a bit of a nightmare. If I’d had eight or sixteen track recording facilities I could have done a much better job. I only had four tracks and I had to stretch it to the limits.”
cover of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is the most famous
cover of any music album and one of the most imitated images in the
world. The original idea of having a host of celebrities, living and
dead, featured on the cover was, once again, Paul McCartney’s.
He said, “We want our heroes together here. If we believe this is a very special album for us, we should have a lot of people who are special to us on the sleeve with us.”
Both EMI and Brian Epstein disagreed with Paul’s idea for the sleeve as they felt it didn’t give enough prominence to The Beatles themselves. In fact, Epstein hated the idea. When he was due to return to London from New York by plane, he suddenly had a premonition that the airplane would crash and he would be killed, so he wrote a note and gave it to his attorney Nat Weiss. The note read: “Brown paper jacket for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Robert Fraser, a prominent figure in the London arts scene was brought in to advise on the album package
together with sleeve designer, the artist Peter Blake, sent The Beatles
a sheet of paper recommending that they write down their twelve most
popular heroes from throughout history. A number of characters originally
chosen by The Beatles didn’t actually appear in the finished design.
They included Brigitte Bardot, Rene Magritte, Alfred Jarry, the Marquise
de Sade, Nietzsche, Lord Buckley, Richmael Crompton and Dick Barton.
Two of John Lennon’s suggestions, Adolph Hitler and Jesus Christ, were
vetoed as it was considered their appearance would offend people. When
Sir Joseph Lockwood, head of EMI, arrived on the set he asked for the
figure of Mahatma Gandhi to be removed as he thought it would offend
record buyers in India – and India was a big market for EMI.
In an early layout of the set, Gandhi had been placed behind the figure of Diana Dors, there was a figure of Bette Davis, in her Elizabeth 1 costume, behind Ringo and also an Albert Schweitzer.
Since there were so many living figures featured on the cover, EMI insisted that permission be obtained from each of the persons represented. This was an extremely complex and time-consuming job and Brian Epstein commissioned his former secretary Wendy Hanson to undertake the task.
set was assembled at photographer Michael Cooper’s studio in Flood Street,
Chelsea, and the tableau was created by artist Peter Blake and photographed
by Cooper. As it turned out, the full cast of figures probably does
not reflect the individual heroes of each member of The Beatles completely.
Ringo didn’t bother to make a list, a lot of John and Paul’s suggestions
were either vetoed or simply omitted and George chose mostly Indian
gurus. Fraser included numerous American painters who were clients of
his and there were a number of film stars who probably had no influence
on The Beatles whatsoever. There was certainly no representation of
their original musical influences – Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Chuck
Berry, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, for example. Even Paul McCartney
couldn’t figure out why his choice of Brigitte Bardot – the favourite
of each of The Beatles in the early 60s – wasn’t included, yet Diana
Not every figure on the album cover has been identified as some figures are almost obscured by other cut-outs. The ornate drumskin in the centre of the album cover was conceived by Peter Blake and The Beatles, who commissioned a genuine fairground artist, Joseph Ephgrave, to paint it. Madame Tussauds lent a total of nine waxworks for the cover photograph – all four Beatles, Diana Dors, Lawrence of Arabia, George Bernard Shaw and Sonny Liston. The likelihood is that because Tussauds had those waxworks not on display and available for use on the tableau, the Dors, Lawrence, Shaw and Liston were included on the cover and were unlikely to be part of The Beatles individual choices.
Other interesting features on the cover include some stone statues from the gardens of individual Beatles; a garden gnome; a flower display spelling ‘Beatles’; flowers in the shape of a guitar; a cloth figure of Shirley Temple and a doll with a knitted jumper with the words '‘Welcome Rolling Stones’ on it. Despite rumours, there are no marijuana plants on display – they are actually pepperonia plants.
‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was the first album to have a gatefold sleeve – was the first to include a full set of printed lyrics and it also came with a cardboard sheet of cut-outs of a moustache, a picture card, stripes and badges. The Beatles were photographed in front of the tableau in their Sgt Pepper uniforms with Paul holding a cor anglais, Ringo holding a trumpet, John holding a French horn and George holding a flute.
rumour sprang up in America in October 1969 that Paul McCartney had
died, that led to fans seeking ‘clues’ in The Beatles songs and on album
covers which could back up the theory. On the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sleeve it
is alleged that the hand raised above Paul’s head was an Indian symbol
of death and that the flowers represented a symbolic grave. In the centrefold
of the album, Paul is wearing a badge with the initials OPP, which fans
suggested meant ‘Officially Pronounced Dead.’ (A fold makes it appear
as OPD). The patch on Paul’s sleeve does sport such initials, but they
stand for Ontario Provincial Police. Paul was given the official patch
while The Beatles were appearing in Toronto on Tuesday 17th August 1965.
Incidentally, one of the members of the security force guarding The
Beatles at the time was called Sergeant Pepper.
The back cover has George, John and Ringo with a back view of Paul. Fans said that this was because someone substituted for the dead Paul. This wasn’t so, as other pictures from the same session reveal that it was Paul in the photograph.
first airing of the album on the radio took place at 5.00pm on the evening
of Friday 12th May 1967, when the pirate station Radio London broadcast
the tracks. Although American stations had broadcast tracks prior to
this time, Radio London claimed a ‘world exclusive’ because they said
they were the first to play the album in its entirety as ‘Album of the
Week.’ A special press launch for the album was held at Brian Epstein’s
house in Chapel Street, Mayfair, on Friday 19th May 1967.
When EMI released the album on Parlophone PCS 7027 on Thursday 1st June 1967 the reaction was staggering. It sold 250,000 copies in Britain during the first week and topped the half million mark within the month. It was issued in America on Capitol SMAS 2653 on Friday 2nd June 1967 with advance orders of over a million copies and it sold over two and a half million copies there within three months. It also topped the charts all over the world. The album was No.1 in Britain for 27 weeks and topped the charts for nineteen weeks in America, remaining in the charts there for a total of 113 weeks. The album received four Grammy Awards during the year of release: (1) Best Album. (2) Best Contemporary Album. (3) Best Album Cover. (4) Best Engineered Album
is on the cover? The identifiable figures
1. Sri Yukteswar Giri
One of four Indian gurus selected by George. Yukteswar was Sri Yogananda’s guru and author of the treatise ‘The Holy Science’, which deals with the underlying unity of the Bible and the Hindu scriptures.
2. Aleister Crowley
A British magician, specialising in the black arts, who was known as ‘The Great Beast.’ He was once the subject of a novel by W. Somerset Maugham called ‘The Magician.’ During his life he was involved in many scandals and was referred to in the press as ‘the most evil man in Britain.’ He was a practitioner of ‘sex magic’ and wrote many books on the occult.
3. Mae West
The legendary film star who, during the Second World War, had a life-saving device named after her – an inflatable rubber jacket. Her films included ‘My Little Chickadee’ in which she starred with W. C. Fields, who is also featured on the cover. Ringo Starr appeared with Mae in the film ‘Sextette’ and Beatles aide Derek Taylor was once employed to handle her publicity. When first approached for permission to use her image, Mae turned down the request, stating, ‘What would I be doing in a Lonely Hearts Club?’ The Beatles wrote to her, each signing the letter, and she then agreed.
4. Lenny Bruce
An American comedian who gained a cult following because of his abrasive comedy routine which shocked audiences with its liberal use of four-letter words. He died of drug abuse and was the subject of a film biopic, which starred Dustin Hoffman, and a book by Albert Goldman.
5. Karl Heinz Stockhausen
A contemporary German composer, born in 1928, who was noted for his use of electronic sounds.
A cloth grandmother figurine by Jann Haworth, an American pop artist and a pioneer of soft sculpture.
73. Shirley Temple
A cloth figurine by Jann Haworth, wearing a sweater that reads "Welcome The Rolling Stones".
74. Mexican ornament
A ceramic Mexican ornament known as a Tree of Life from Metepec
A 9-inch Sony television set
76. Stone figurine of a girl
77. Stone figure
From John Lennon's house, used by Peter Blake as the model for the cut-out of Sgt Pepper.
80. Indian doll
A four-armed doll of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi
Painted by Joe Ephgrave.
83. Velvet Snake
A Japanese Fukusuke china figure
85. Snow White
86. Garden gnome