By 1966, Beatlemania was in full swing. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were internationally adored for their contributions to music, and they were feeling the weight of that adoration immensely. Together, they had set records for concert attendance and revenue, and ultimately, had to travel by armored car to ensure their safety when en route to different destinations.
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This popularity was draining for the quartet, and they retired from touring in August of 1966. Despite taking a step back from the spotlight, The Beatles still wanted to make music. So, escaping to the studio, The Beatles created Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1966 and 1967.
Sgt. Pepper is psychedelic and bizarre. But this theme is evident upfront. Right on the album’s cover, you can tell this record is something different. Keep reading to find out the story behind that album cover.
What is the story behind the album cover?
If you think that the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover is a smidge overwhelming, you’re not alone. The good thing is, though, that we’re here to break it down for you.
Pop artists Jann Haworth and Peter Blake designed the album cover. (Fun fact: Haworth and Blake were married to each other when they were working on the album cover.)
“I suggested that they had just played a concert in the park,” Blake said of the album cover as documented by author Spencer Leigh. “They were posing for a photograph and the crowd behind them was a crowd of fans who had been at the concert. Having decided on this, then, by making cut-outs, the fans could be anybody, dead or alive, real or fictitious. If we wanted Hansel and Gretel, I could paint them and they could be photographed and blown up.
“I asked the four Beatles for a list and I did one myself. Robert Fraser did a list and I can’t remember whether Brian Epstein did one or not. The way that worked out was fascinating. John gave me a list and so did Paul. George suggested only Indian gurus, about six of them, and Ringo said, ‘Whatever the others say is fine by me’ and didn’t suggest anyone. It’s an insight into their characters. All kinds of people were suggested. Hitler was there; he is actually in the set-up, but he is covered by the Beatles themselves as we felt he was too controversial. The same applied to Jesus. There were only two of their contemporaries on the cover. Bob Dylan was suggested by John and I put on Dion because he is a great favorite of mine.”
Who is on the album cover?
There are dozens of people represented on the album cover. Over 50 images and wax figures of celebrities and notable people are present, including the four Beatles. There are writers, musicians, actors, comedians, and political and religious figures.
More specifically, you might recognize W. C. Fields, Edgar Allan Poe, Bob Dylan, Aldous Huxley, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Shirley Temple, Albert Einstein, and James Joyce on the cover.
There are also several notable props on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. There’s a hookah pipe, a figure of Snow White, a baritone horn, an idol of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, and other objects. It’s truly a Where’s Waldo from the ’60s.
Who is Sgt. Pepper?
There have been several theories as to who exactly Sgt. Pepper is—is he real? Is he fictional? The authority on the matter, Paul McCartney, explained who the figure is in an interview with author Barry Miles.
“Me and Mal [Evans, the Beatles’ road manager, and personal assistant] often bantered words about, which led to the rumor that he thought of the name Sergeant Pepper,” McCartney explained.
“But I think it would be much more likely that it was me saying, ‘Think of names.’ We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked ‘S’ and ‘P.’ Mal said, ‘What’s that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.’ We had a joke about that. So I said, ‘Sergeant Pepper,’ just to vary it, ‘Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,’ an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words.”
McCartney later added “Lonely Hearts Club” to the end of the album title, “because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band?”