LOL- challenging everyone named John Johnson. And Fabio!
My Dad bought his copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the summer of 1967. I was 7 months old. It was kept pristine in a sleeve, but played often and loud at home. As a kid I was fascinated with the album cover and would pour over it. Who were all these faces? What did all this colourful wonder mean? To me, Sgt. Pepper was art.
By 1966 the Beatles had grown weary of live performance. John Lennon’s opinion was “they could send out four waxworks, and that would satisfy the crowds”.
In May 1966 the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was released. It was a big influence on the Beatles and producer George Martin who set out to equal Brian Wilson’s masterpiece.
In August 1966 the Beatles retired from touring and began a three-month holiday. During a return flight to London from Kenya on 9th November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian military band that would eventually form the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. This was apparently inspired by Mal Evans the Beatles’ road manger and McCartney’s travelling companion who had remarked on the letters “S” and “P” of the salt and pepper pots on their meal trays.
In February 1967, after recording the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, McCartney suggested that the Beatles should release an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically.
Knowing they wouldn’t have to perform the tracks live, the Beatles adopted an experimental approach to composition and together with producer George Martin they endeavoured to innovate with arrangements and recording techniques, using signal processing, a 40-piece orchestra and diverse musical influences.
Between November 1966 and April 1967 they spent over 400 hours in the studio. It’s incredible to me what was achieved with only four-track equipment. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released June 1 1967 to universal acclaim.
The album cover was designed by the British pop artists Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth, based on a sketch by McCartney.
It was art directed by Robert Fraser and photographed by Michael Cooper on March 30 1967 in London.
The concept centred on the band performing an imaginary concert in a park. Blake thought the crowd could stand behind them, and this developed into the collage idea.
Blake asked the Beatles to make lists of people they’d most like to have in the audience. John’s list included Jesus, Ghandi and Hitler but they were all left out. George’s list was all gurus. Ringo said, “Whatever the others say is fine by me”. Photographs of the famous were gathered and 57 life-size cut-outs were mounted onto hardboard.
EMI realised that many of the depicted people were still alive. So the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had his assistant write to everyone to seek permission for their inclusion. Mae West declined ” What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?!” So the Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.
Blake worked in Cooper’s studio for a fortnight constructing the collage, fixing the rows of figures to create a tiered effect and adding the other objects. Amongst the eccentric props and various musical instruments are 9 waxwork models, a 9-inch Sony TV owned by Paul McCartney and a statue brought over from John Lennon’s house. The boy who delivered the floral display asked if he could contribute by making a guitar out of hyacinths. The drum skin was painted with the album’s title by the fairground artist Joe Ephgrave and the Beatles’ vibrant satin military uniforms were manufactured by the theatrical costumer M. Berman Ltd.
The Beatles arrived during the evening of March 30. They had a drink, got dressed and did the complete session in about three hours, including the shots for the center fold and back cover.
The final cost for the cover art was nearly £3,000, extravagant for a time when £50 would have been typical. Fraser, Blake’s art dealer, signed a contract without his knowledge handing over all image rights to Apple Corps. Blake was paid just £200 for his design.
Most of the show seemed very dis-jointed and it was hard to feel anything for the characters. The only time I connected was near the end, when Clara finally accepted the “new” Doctor for who he was.