It was 50 years ago today (March 30th, 1967) that the Beatles posed for their famous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. The Beatles, who were sporting psychedelic marching band outfits, had designed the album cover concept with then husband and wife team Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, explaining that they wanted the crowd behind them to include “people they liked.”
Blake created the scene of the group being flanked by their audience, using mainly cardboard cut-out photographs of famous people. The final shot, which was photographed by the late Michael Cooper, has gone on to be one of the most revered and imitated album covers in rock history. Among the famous figures that the group’s record company EMI flat out rejected were John Lennon‘s suggestions of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Adolph Hitler — although cardboard cutouts of Gandhi and Hitler were prepared.
The label made the Beatles write to each of the people appearing on the cover and ask them for permission. Prior to granting approval, Mae West responded by asking, “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” Only Bowery Boy star Leo Gorcey declined, after requesting $400. (He was eventually blacked out by a painted-on palm tree).
- Among the many 72 faces featured in the cover are Lenny Bruce, W.C. Fields, Edgar Allan Poe, psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Dion, Fred Astaire, Bob Dylan, Aldous Huxley, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Karl Marx, original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich, and Shirley Temple.
- Also featured on the cover were figures on loan from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, of former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and the Beatles themselves with their earlier “mop-top” look. A wax figure rumored to be the Beach Boys‘ Brian Wilson has cropped up on several photos from the session. A doll featured in the corner of the cover wore a sweater declaring “Welcome The Rolling Stones,” as a nod to the group’s good friends and friendly rivals.
- Ringo Starr recalls that although the “Fab Four” were known to party during their sessions during their “psychedelic” period, they always needed to keep it in check for the sake of the recording: “We actually learned that years ago in the Beatles. Because we weren’t saints and we would work late some nights and we’d make these (laughs) records — it was like ‘Oh wow! yeah, yeah, give me a cassette, let’s take that home!’ And every time we’d come in the next day to EMI (Studios) (and say), ‘Well we’d better re-do that.’ Because the next morning it was never so thrilling.”
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1st, 1967 and hit Number One on the Billboard 200 album charts exactly one month later — marking the first of its 15-week run at the top spot.
CHECK IT OUT: Sound effects found on the master tape of the Sgt. Pepper album: