KOKO Rewind

KOKO Asia will be profiling bands on a regular basis, this may include local bands, international bands, blast from the past bands, obscure bands (KOKO rewinds), bands that have gone through KOKO and literally anything that we feel is worthy of a review...

Butchering the Beatles

By KOKO Asia Team

When photographer Robert Whittaker invited The Beatles round for a conceptual art shoot entitled ‘A Somnambulant Adventure’ on March 26th 1966, little did he know that he was about to create one of the most talked about and collectable album covers in music history.

When ‘Yesterday and Today’ was released to a storm of controversy for its over the top album cover the rumour mill soon went into overdrive. The sleeve featured the fab four dressed in butchers' smocks, adorned with slabs of raw red meat, glass eyeballs, false teeth, and nude, decapitated dolls, posing with creepy, sadistic leers plastered on their faces. When disk jockeys and industry insiders received advance copies of the album, they began to complain about its grotesque sleeve and question the reasons why the band would do something so drastic and out of character.

The most popular theory was that the album sleeve was a protest against Capitol Records ‘butchery’ of their US releases, with the band tired of the way their US record company had been cutting up and rearranging their albums for the American market. Another theory was developed thanks to an off the cuff remark by Paul McCartney who said that the album sleeve was a protest against the Vietnam War, however we now know that this was Paul taking the piss.

The mystery surrounding the shoot wasn’t helped by the bands silence and indifference on the subject, John said only that the cover was "as relevant as Vietnam" and Paul merely added that it was "very tasty meat", leading fans and antagonists around the world to develop their own theories on how the photo adorned the cover.

The original idea for the photo session came about because the band "were all really fed up at taking what one had hoped would be designer-friendly publicity pictures". Lennon, in an interview shortly before his death in 1980, repeated this sentiment: "It was inspired by our boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatles thing. We were sick to death of it."

The shoot where the iconic photo was taken also included a photo of George Harrison hammering nails into John’s head, intended to demonstrate that the Beatles were not an illusion, not something to be worshipped, but people as real and substantial as "a piece of wood". Another shot showed John framing Ringo’s head in a cardboard box with the number 2,000,000 scrawled on it. Of that photo Whittaker commented that "I wanted to illustrate that, in a way, there was nothing more amazing about Ringo than anyone else on this earth. In this life he was just one of two million members of the human race. The idolization of fans reminded me of the story of the worship of the golden calf."

In fact, the actual reason and sentiment behind the notorious ‘butcher’ photograph was to present a stark contrast, something shocking and completely out of line with the angelic Beatles' public image that had been conjured up by the US and UK press alike. The final version used on the album sleeve was actually unfinished, as Whittaker explained "If you could imagine, the background of that picture should've all been gold. Around the heads would have gone silver halos."

When Capital got wind of the storm of hysteria that was being created by the album sleeve they quickly recalled all 750,000 prints and replaced them with a more generic picture of the fab four gloomily adorning a steamer trunk. The new album cover also had its talking points leading many to believe that the look of disgust on the bands faces - most notably Paul’s - was another form of indirect protest of the previous album cover being rejected (however the new sleeve cover was actually taken at the same photo shoot as the previous).

The newly released sleeve went back into record stores with the new cover simply (and somewhat crudely) pasted over the old one, and thousands of unwitting record buyers ended up purchasing albums whose covers could be peeled or steamed off to create what would become one of most sought-after pieces of Beatles memorabilia.

‘Yesterday and Today’ was the only Beatles record to lose money for Capital Records.


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