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?
Jordan Runtagh in his wonderful behind-the-scenes accounting of this LP for Rolling Stone, put what became The Lads most notorious album cover in context. In other words, a perfect series entry for All Hallows Eve:
“It was common practice by Capitol to shave a few tracks off the Beatles’ British albums to create “new” LPs unique to the U.S. market. Both the Beatles and Capitol made serious money off of these bonus records, but the band resented the artistic interference.
The track list for Yesterday and Today consisted of songs elbowed from the abridged American versions of Help! and Rubber Soul, padded out with recent hit singles and three new Lennon compositions recorded for the Revolver sessions.”
It would end up costing Capitol Records, for the short-term, at the very least. But even the resulting turmoil, the distinctly Beatles-variety, couldn’t result in a total disaster1, as Bruce Eder noted in his Allmusic appraisal:
“Despite being thrown together in a blender, the album could stand next to almost any of the competition in the summer of 1966, though it became clear with the release of Revolver, two months later, that the band had left most of the sounds represented here far behind them.”
Music aside, perhaps this LP cover was not artistic in the stylish mod of the Sixties, nor even as playful as contemporaries like The Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds, but it was impactful. For all one knows, this was the Fab Four2 lashing out to what Capitol Records had done to their releases for years. Mashing their own British label’s albums and singles into Frankenstein-like creations for the U.S. market. Yesterday and Today‘s glum replacement sleeve being the same photograph used for the “Paperback Writer” single.
Compare the band’s facial expressions on this ninth for Capitol Records between the original art, the now rare and valuable, “Butcher cover” to its eventual stand-in to see where their sentiments lay.
Why impactful, you ask? Best answered by Alternative Press in their 2014 “scary album covers” piece:
“The scariest thing about the raw meat and decapitated doll scene on the cover of the Beatles’ infamous LP Yesterday And Today (often called the “butcher cover”) isn’t the photo itself; we’ve seen plenty of more gruesome and edgy art in modern times. It’s the context. In 1966, the Beatles were as much a boy band as they were a rock band, maintaining a mostly clean-cut and radio-friendly image. So, when this cover arrived out of nowhere and with no official explanation, it was especially disturbing and ahead of its time in the shock department (so much so that it was quickly banned).”
- “Drive My Car”
- “I’m Only Sleeping”
- “Nowhere Man”
- “Doctor Robert”
- “Act Naturally”
- “And Your Bird Can Sing”
- “If I Needed Someone”
- “We Can Work It Out”
- “What Goes On?”
- “Day Tripper”
The entire series can be found here.
- “The total cost to Capitol to replace the cover and promotional materials was $250,000, wiping out their initial profit. Nevertheless, the album reached #1 on the US Billboard charts by 30 July 1966 and certified gold soon after. It stayed at number one for five weeks.” ~ Wikipedia ↩
- Specifically, Paul McCartney’s, “…who pushed strongly for the photo’s inclusion as the album cover”. Worth noting who is dead [pun] center in the scandalous original photo. ↩