Helter Skelter > The Sgt. Pepper Story
The Sgt. Pepper Story
- The recording process
- The making of the cover (as told by Peter Blake)
- Complete list of celebrities identified on the cover
After five years of constant touring, recording, and massive media attention, the Beatles decided not to tour anymore and to become a studio band. With that, they entered the Abbey Road Studios in November of 1966 and spent the next 129 days making the most creative album in rock history. This kind of work put into an album was almost unheard of. One tally of the time spent creating Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band accounted for over 700 hours. By contrast, the group's first album, Please Please Me, was recorded in 585 minutes.
An interesting sidenote about the making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Brian Epstein, already stressed out because of an increasing distance growing between him and the Beatles, became even more anxious about the numerous drug references in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He had already faced criticism for John's 1966 "bigger than Jesus" remark and was worried what an album like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would do to further tarnish the band's clean-cut image he had worked so hard to establish. At one point, he had written himself a note about the possibility of the album in a brown paper bag.
The songs for the album were recorded in the following order:
- When I'm Sixty-Four (12/6/66)
- A Day In The Life (1/19/67)
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (2/1/67)
- Good Morning, Good Morning (2/8/67)
- Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! (2/17/67)
- Fixing A Hole (2/21/67)
- Lovely Rita (2/23/67)
- Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (3/1/67)
- Getting Better (3/9/67)
- She's Leaving Home (3/17/67)
- Within You, Without You (3/22/67)
- With A Little Help From My Friends (3/29/67)
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (4/1/67)
Also, the songs "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions and were released as a single in December of 1966. The song "Only A Northern Song" from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was also recorded at this time.
The Beatles already had a cover designed by a Dutch group called the Fool, but my gallery dealer, Robert Fraser, said to Paul, "Why don't you use a 'fine artist', a professional, to do the cover instead?" Paul rather liked the idea and I was asked to do it. The concept of the album had already evolved: it would be as though the Beatles were another band, performing a concert, perhaps in a park. I then thought that we could have a crowd standing behind them, and this developed into the collage idea.
I asked them to make lists of people they'd most like to have in the audience at this imaginary concert. John's was interesting because it included Jesus and Ghandi and, more cynically, Hitler. But this was just a few months after the US furor about his 'Jesus' statement, so they were all left out. George's list was all gurus. Ringo said, "Whatever the others say is fine by me", because he didn't really want to be bothered. Robert Fraser and I also made lists. We then got all the photographs together and had life-size cut-outs made onto hardboard.
EMI realized that because many of the people we were depicting were still alive, we might be sued for not seeking their permission. So the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, who was very wary of all the complications in the first place, had his assistant write to everyone. Mae West replied, "No, I won't be in it. What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?" So the Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.
Robert Fraser was a business partner of Micheal Cooper, an excellent photographer, so he was commissioned to do the shoot. I worked in his studio for a fortnight constructing the collage, fixing the top row to the back wall and putting the next about six inches in front and so on, so that we got a tiered effect. Then we put in the palm tree and the other little objects. I wanted to have the waxworks of the Beatles because I thought they might be looking at Sgt. Pepper's band too. The boy who delivered the floral display asked if he could contribute by making a guitar out of hyacinths, and the little girl wearing the 'Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys' sweatshirt was a cloth figure of Shirley Temple, the shirt coming from Michael Cooper's young son Adam. The Beatles arrived during the evening of March 30. We had a drink, they got dressed and we did the session. It took about three hours in all, including the shots for the center fold and back cover. I'm not sure how much it all cost. One reads exaggerated figures. I think Robert Fraser was paid 1500 pounds by EMI, and I got about 200 pounds. People say to me, "You must have made a lot of money on it" but I didn't because Robert signed away the copyright. But it has never mattered too much because it was such a wonderful thing to have done.
Sri Yukteswar Giri (guru) / Aleister Crowley (astrologist) / Mae West (actress) / Lenny Bruce (comedian) / Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer) / W.C. Fields (comedian) / Carl Gustav Jung (psychologist) / Edgar Allen Poe (writer) / Fred Astaire (actor) / Richard Merkin (artist) / The Varga Girl / Huntz Hall (actor) / Simon Rodia (creator of Watts Towers) / Bob Dylan (musician)
Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator) / Sir Robert Peel / Aldous Huxley (writer) / Dylan Thomas (poet) / Terry Southern (writer) / Dion (singer) / Tony Curtis (actor) / Wallace Berman (actor) / Tommy Handley (comedian) / Marilyn Monroe (actress) / William Burroughs (writer) / Sri Mahavatara Babaji (guru) / Stan Laurel (comedian) / Richard Lindner (artist) / Oliver Hardy (comedian) / Karl Marx (philosopher,socialist) / H.G. Wells (writer) / Sri Paramahansa Yagananda (guru) / wax hairdresser's dummy
Stuart Sutcliff (former Beatle) / wax hairdresser's dummy / Max Miller (comedian) / "The Petty Girl" / Marlon Brando (actor) / Tom Mix (actor) / Oscar Wilde (writer) / Tyrone Power (actor) / Larry Bell (artist) / Dr. David Livingstone (missionary,explorer) / Johnny Weismuller (swimmer,actor) / Stephen Crane (writer) / Issy Bonn (comedian) / George Bernard Shaw (writer) / H.C. Westermann (sculptor) / Albert Stubbins (soccer player) / Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru) / Lewis Carroll (writer) / T.E. Lawrence A.K.A. "Lawrence of Arabia" (actor)
Sonny Liston (boxer) / "The Petty Girl" / wax dummy of George Harrison / wax dummy of John Lennon / Shirley Temple (actress) / wax dummy of Ringo Starr / wax dummy of Paul McCartney / Albert Einstein (physicist) / John Lennon / Ringo Starr / Paul McCartney / George Harrison / Bobby Breen (singer) / Marlene Dietrich (actress) / Diana Dorrs (actress) / Shirley Temple (actress)