This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. The first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. Yet, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually becoming the cultural stamp on the music of the time. Catching the eyes of potential record-buyers and later their ears and minds. Melding the musical experience with the artist into a unique visual form.
Why Compact Disc versions of album art don’t exactly raise the same reaction these days was looked at in this post. Although, music label artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today. The bits and bytes are looking over their shoulder, though, because vinyl hasn’t entirely gone the way of the dinosaur. Online or at the record shops still out there. Cover art hasn’t lost purpose, either for old and new. Mostly, it’s my contention while digital reigns supreme, its vigor among fans lacks the tactile passion of the past LPs.
Hence the reason for this series. Some register more with me musically than others, though. Yet, the artwork will always take center stage, at least here. Let’s continue shall we?
Since this particular and singular album turned fifty last month, might as well celebrate it in this series. Allmusic‘s Stephen Thomas Erlewine once again summarized what might be the iconic album of the Psychedelic Sixties:
“With Revolver, the Beatles made the Great Leap Forward, reaching a previously unheard-of level of sophistication and fearless experimentation. Sgt. Pepper, in many ways, refines that breakthrough, as the Beatles consciously synthesized such disparate influences as psychedelia, art-song, classical music, rock & roll, and music hall, often in the course of one song. Not once does the diversity seem forced — the genius of the record is how the vaudevillian “When I’m 64” seems like a logical extension of “Within You Without You” and how it provides a gateway to the chiming guitars of “Lovely Rita.” There’s no discounting the individual contributions of each member or their producer, George Martin, but the preponderance of whimsy and self-conscious art gives the impression that Paul McCartney is the leader of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. He dominates the album in terms of compositions, setting the tone for the album with his unabashed melodicism and deviously clever arrangements.”
Having spent the summer of ’67 either playing this LP on my neighbor’s stereo console or over at my cousin’s listening on her portable player, this filled the season like no other had ever done. Arguing our favorite song or lyric1, or even Beatle became the pastime that distracted from everything else going on then. Eighth grade, civil unrest, and wondering if getting drafted for Viet Nam in my immediate future. This retains the distinct quality of bringing all that back once the needle hits the groove.
Their Revolver cover had already blown the foursome album art concept2 to smithereens with Klaus Voormann’s pioneering line art and photos, so what could be next? Seems like the whole band would have something to say about it to designers Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. Based on a sketch by Paul McCartney, art director Robert Fraser somehow married it all into a Grammy winning sleeve with dozens of the artists, writers, and important figures influential to The Lads right there with ’em3.
Rush Evans for Goldmine Magazine said it all:
“The care and creativity that went into the making of the “Sgt. Pepper” album by The Beatles (along with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick) resulted in the most important album ever recorded. They knew that the accompanying cover should reflect the colorful, multilayered imagery evoked by the music itself. They were, after all, the biggest musical act in the world at the time, and their previous two albums, “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” and their respective covers had been similarly innovative. But this one needed to be extraordinary, bigger than life. And so it was.”
Must be noted that the song Strawberry Fields Forever and the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover, with clues in lyrics and artwork, began the”Paul is Dead” hoax, culminating with the Abbey Road album years later.
- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
- “With a Little Help from My Friends”
- “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
- “Getting Better”
- “Fixing a Hole”
- “She’s Leaving Home”
- “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
- “Within You Without You”
- “When I’m Sixty-Four”
- “Lovely Rita”
- “Good Morning Good Morning”
- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
- “A Day in the Life”
The entire series can be found here.
- “Sgt. Pepper was the first record to feature printed lyrics in the packaging – which helped spark the “Paul is dead” rumors.” ~ Rolling Stone ↩
- Designer Robert Freeman would photograph the group uniquely for five of their British album covers: With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul. ↩
- “Those who were still alive were approached and asked for permission for inclusion, though the comedic bawdy sex symbol, actress Mae West, wondered why she would ever need to be associated with a lonely hearts club. She was OK with it in the end, though, after receiving a personal plea signed by all four Beatles.” ~ Goldmine Magazine ↩
- The number of cover parodies continue to this day; Sgt. Pepper’s remains that influential. ↩