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Author Topic: Butcher Cover story  (Read 3439 times)

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TomMo

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Butcher Cover story
« on: June 10, 2012, 12:02:40 AM »

Excuse me if I am reposting a previously threaded topic, but I haven't found it elsewhere.

I once got into a bit of a heated exchange on the alt.beatles board years ago. Can anybody back me up or set me straight on this:

I know the photo session where the Beatles posed for the butcher photos had nothing to do with the "Yesterday and Today" cover. I am familiar with it being a part of "A Somnambulant Adventure" conceptual art piece by photographer Robert Whitaker. No argument there.

But when the time came for "Yesterday and Today" to be prepared for release, someone needed to send Capitol Records a picture for the cover. But who? I do not believe the Beatles were in a power position to select the photo themselves without the approval of others. But I DO believe it was their choice originally. Someone in EMI had to go along with it. But why?

John said the photo was as "relevant as the Vietnam War" and Alan Livingston, then President of Capitol Records, said that Paul told him it was their comment on the war itself.

I find it hard to believe that EMI would want to involve itself in a political protest by the Beatles against an American war, in the year 1966, when the war was still supported by a majority of U.S. citizens.

Even though EMI was the parent company of Capitol Records, Capitol still had autonomy when it came to the U.S. market.

My opinion is that it was mainly a comment by EMI about Capitol's continued "butchering" of Beatle albums in the U.S., regardless of what the Beatles' intention happened to be.

My speculation: Did EMI think that Capitol Records would REALLY use that picture? Is it possible that EMI thought Capitol Records would say, "You've got to be kidding?" and insist on another picture?

In any case, that WAS the last time Capitol butchered a new release by the Fabs. So maybe the point was well taken.

So what's the most recent "official" account of the butcher cover story?

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7 of 13

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2012, 05:55:06 PM »

there is nothing to say. it does appear to be a strong anti-war statement from the beatles.

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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2012, 06:06:15 PM »

Yeah, if they wanted to make a comment on "butchering" albums, then why use the dolls babies heads?
They could have used the butcher coats and the meat and that would be that.
It would still have been an odd photo for an album cover, but I don't think it would have caused the same level of fuss.

But I think it's the dolls heads that takes the picture beyond what would be acceptable for a record company to use as a sleeve. I'm always very surprised that the picture even made it out of Whitaker's studio, never mind into an EMI UK magazine advert and also onto a Capitol album sleeve.
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Dcazz

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2012, 02:49:13 AM »

I had always heard that they considered the albums their "babies" and disliked Capitol chopping them up. If so they probably didn't figure on it being printed but used it to make their point. IMO
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TomMo

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2012, 04:41:02 PM »

I had always heard that they considered the albums their "babies" and disliked Capitol chopping them up. If so they probably didn't figure on it being printed but used it to make their point. IMO

I agree.

A few other thoughts:

John has been quoted as saying the the cover was as relevant as the Vietnam War. I believe he said it, but when did he say it? Was that his opinion at the time or did he say that in hindsight? Anybody know the source of that quote? John's memory was often suspect. In one interview, he said that "Eight Days A Week" was an attempt to write a song for the new movie, "Help". Was he thinking of "Eight Arms To Hold You", the original title of the film? Paul says that "Eight Days A Week" was inspired by his limo driver.

The Beatles had nothing to do with the photo shoot by Robert Whitaker, other than being photographed. It was his concept and, according to him, had nothing to do with Vietnam. The meat and baby doll parts were his idea, not theirs. The Beatles, especially John, agreed to go along with it because it was a welcomed break from the usual photo shoots they suffered through, plus the conceptual aspect (which appealed to John).

George has been quoted as saying, in retrospect, that he thought the whole thing was "gross".

Ringo Starr: "It was a commentary on how Capitol Records “butchered” our original albums." This quote appears here and there on the Internet. What's the original source? Was it in the "Anthology" transcript (not included in the documentary)?

I don't believe the Beatles had any message in mind when they sat for the photo. Whitaker had his own message/concept. Someone at EMI gave their approval before shipping the image off to Capitol, with or without the Beatles' consent, but even if they had chosen that shot, who at EMI would have approved it? I think it must have been someone in a position of authority who was frustrated with the way Capitol Records had treated the Beatles since 1963. I can't help believe that as conservative as EMI was at that time, it was an "extreme" measure to take, with an ulterior motive that had nothing to do with Vietnam.

We can rule out George Martin, who in 1965, become an independent producer, contracted by the Beatles and no longer employed by EMI. Did he give tacit approval? Quite likely, especially since he was among those who had done battle with Capitol from the beginning.

And again, please note that "Yesterday and Today" was the last "butchered" album Capitol released. Why? Did Capitol finally see the light and decide to stop the butchering practice? Or did they get the "message"?
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2012, 10:22:45 AM »

And again, please note that "Yesterday and Today" was the last "butchered" album Capitol released. Why? Did Capitol finally see the light and decide to stop the butchering practice? Or did they get the "message"?

Revolver came out later and the US version was "butchered" (but there was obviously no choice as by then Revolver tracks had already been "stolen" to include on Y&T).

It would have been very difficult for Capitol to "butcher" the album after Revolver - Sgt Pepper - because it was put together as something of a concept piece, and the track listing and running order were crucial to its overall feel.

But remember that Capitol went on to disregard the UK output once again after that by rehashing a few old singles to include on MMT rather than releasing it in the same format as the UK (in this case they actually improved on the UK release, but that's not the point - they still tinkered with the UK version and attempted to get more cash out of fans by re-selling product that had already been released on singles rather than releasing the double-EP set at a slightly lower price).

And let's not forget the Hey Jude compilation, which was another US-only release to fill a gap between Abbey Road and Let It Be.

So the "butchering" did continue after Yesterday and Today.

Actually one area where the US did fall in line with the UK output after mid-1966 was with the singles - after the February 1966 release of Nowhere Man/What Goes On (which didn't appear as a single in the UK), all the US singles matched the UK ones until after the break-up when Capitol put out Long And Winding Road.


But, away from whether or not Capitol actually got the message and stopped the "butchering" or not, you do ask a very good question on who actually made the decision to choose the photo as the cover for the Y&T album? Would Epstein have been involved? I assume he would have been since he was still in a strong enough position to dictate about Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane being put out as a single rather than being held back for the Sgt Pepper LP. Something important like an LP cover design would surely have had to have gone through Epstein first - even if it was for "butchered" product in the US.

Or maybe the decision wasn't even made in the UK - maybe the UK people just sent over all the latest promo photos and someone in the US chose that particular image.

With regard to the actual butcher cover picture, I assume Whitaker himself couldn't give a hoot about Capitol's "butchered" product, so he must have had another reason for setting up that shoot the way he did. In fact, when the shoot was done it wasn't specifically for the US album cover - it was first used in a UK print advert for the Paperback Writer single. So perhaps Whitaker was indeed making a comment on Vietnam, or perhaps it was just an attempt to shock, with no political overtones at all. Has Whitaker ever explained it since then?
« Last Edit: June 19, 2012, 10:34:58 AM by peterbell1 »
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2012, 10:43:36 AM »

Here's a cool page with a few alternate shots taken from the same photo shoot ...

http://www.feelnumb.com/2012/03/23/the-beatles-infamous-butcher-cover-photo-session-and-alternate-shots/

Interesting to see the ones without the butcher's white coats, where they are just playing with broken doll parts, and also the butcher ones with no doll parts in them. Perhaps these were two separate ideas and they were combined on a whim, just using the stuff Whitaker had in the studio that day.

And the "A Somnambulant Adventure" name for the whole shoot - is it meant to represent The Beatles in a sleep-walking, dream-like state?
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2012, 10:50:02 AM »

Just found this page ... https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/robert-whitaker-1939-2011/

which includes the following text as part of an obituary of Robert Whitaker ....


"In three short years he covered the band, from 1964 to 1966, he complied a remarkable dossier, shooting the band at home, in recording studio, during private moments and in formal photo-sessions, often involving unusual props. In one session, he had the group holding a car spring, a sun parasol, a broom, and an umbrella to represent spring, summer, autumn and winter. And the Fab Four enjoyed his company and his creative mind, mainly because they were fed up with taking market-friendly publicity pictures.

But the most notorious use of props came in March 1966. Inspired by the German surrealist Hans Bellmer, Whitaker created the infamous butcher cover, which featured the group  with slabs of raw meat and the dismembered body parts of children’s dolls. He called it “Somnambulant Adventure” and conceived it as a triptych in which he would present The Beatles as religious icons, adding halos to the picture and referencing the story of Moses and the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. He wanted it to be a cynical commentary on adulation and stardom:

    All over the world, I’d watched people worshipping them like idols, like gods. I was trying to show that The Beatles were flesh and blood”.

The photos were used in Britain without controversy, but when they were sent to America to be used at Capitol Records, the distributors refused to handle the record. While it was not the case, the fans viewed the cover as a commentary on Capitol Records’ periodic “butchering” and rearranging of The Beatles records. The retailers denounced the cover as “sick”. The band also was divided; Lennon and McCartney defended the cover, while vegetarian Harrison thought the whole idea was gross and stupid. Still concerned by the commercial backlash following John Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment, Capitol Records withdrew the cover and apologized. The rare original covers went on to become one of the most sought-after Beatles memorabilia.

Whitaker’s association with The Beatles ended soon afterwards. He never had the chance to finish his triptych, but he went on to become a key figure in London’s emerging counterculture, to create Cream’s seminal 1967 album Disraeli Gears, and to take a series of famous pictures of Salvador Dali, his lifelong idol."


So Whitaker was trying to show the Beatles as "flesh and blood" by covering them in ... flesh and blood - interesting. Looks like there was no Vietnam comment underneath the shoot - that was presumably added later by Lennon, or at least picked up by him after it was suggested by someone else.
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TomMo

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2012, 09:36:26 PM »

Revolver came out later and the US version was "butchered" (but there was obviously no choice as by then Revolver tracks had already been "stolen" to include on Y&T).


Yes, you are correct. Revolver WAS butchered for the reason you've given. Other Capitol releases (Love Songs, Rock and Roll, Hey Jude, etc.) were compilations, so I didn't count them as part of the usual "butchering". MMT didn't bother me (and probably not the Lads, either) because the U.S. was not a good market for EP's, and there was a demand for the songs from Side B to be released on an album, in stereo, etc.

I agree that Sgt. Pepper would be difficult for Capitol to butcher for "artistic" reasons, but wasn't that the first British album release by the Beatles that did not include more than 12 tracks? For that reason alone, maybe Capitol didn't see the need to butcher it. I seem to remember Capitol claiming that 13-14 tracks on vinyl reduced the sound quality, which I believe is nonsense.

I think Brian Epstein was told on several occasions that he had NO input on the Beatles' recordings, including the packaging. Remember, if it had been up to him, Sgt. Pepper would have been in a plain brown wrapper.

I can see the Beatles providing the photo to EMI for "Yesterday and Today", but someone in EMI must have made an "official" decision, and I don't see EMI sending it to Capitol without some "non-artistic" motive. The crazy thing, to me, is that Capitol actually printed that cover.
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2012, 10:45:04 PM »

The crazy thing, to me, is that Capitol actually printed that cover.

 ;D  Totally agree.
Why on earth would they have used such a photo?!?
There must have been other stills to use for an album cover - the Paperback Writer/Rain promo video stills, for example, one of which was used for the UK EP Nowhere Man in July 1966.
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Hello Goodbye

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2012, 11:54:47 PM »

Has anyone noticed anything odd about the photograph used on the Yesterday...And Today album?


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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2012, 08:11:01 AM »

Has anyone noticed anything odd about the photograph used on the Yesterday...And Today album?

Er .... Paul is dead?  ;D
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TomMo

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2012, 11:21:02 AM »

Has anyone noticed anything odd about the photograph used on the Yesterday...And Today album?


Seems to me that they reversed the negative before printing the photo. Unless John parted his hair differently that day.
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2012, 12:47:59 PM »

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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2012, 01:10:10 PM »

According to this site ...

http://www.friktech.com/btls/covers.htm

 ... the trunk cover was actually meant to be the original cover and several proof designs were made up.
But then the Beatles saw the butcher photos and chose one of those for the cover instead.
Later, when the butcher covers were recalled, a new trunk cover was hastily assembled.

Interestingly, all known cover designs have the trunk cover reversed. Perhaps it was because the original background of that photo has a light area in the top right (when reversed) which was ideal for placement of the Capitol logo at the top right of the sleeve. Had it not been reversed the photo would have had a darker area up at the top right corner which could have masked the Capitol logo. That's just my speculation, of course. I doubt we'll ever know for sure.
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2012, 01:20:38 PM »

Here's a picture of Brian Epstein with another alternate cover for Yesterday and Today - note the different font for the title and the lack of a song listing.
This was presumably taken on 19/20 May 1966 when the band were filming the Paperback Writer/Rain promo videos.
Yesterday and Today wasn't released until 20 June 1966, which proves that the original trunk cover pre-dated the butcher cover.

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Hello Goodbye

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #16 on: June 21, 2012, 12:29:37 AM »

Er .... Paul is dead?  ;D

 ;)


Nice research on the cover, Peter.  Thank you for posting it.

I looked at that cover for the longest time after I bought the LP it when it was released.  All their faces looked odd.  I finally noticed the buttons on their shirts.  They were on the left side, conventional for women's blouses.  Then I noticed Paul and John's hair parted differently, as TomMo mentioned.  I figured the picture was a mirror image.

It's funny seeing Brian Epstein examining that cover with the reversed picture.  I wonder if he noticed.


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TomMo

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #17 on: June 21, 2012, 01:21:37 AM »

Yes, Peter. Good work. And now we have another indication that "someone" made a hasty decision to send Capitol the butcher photo.

When I first saw the trunk picture, I thought they were wax dummies. Maybe they were stoned, judging the look in their eyes.
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Hello Goodbye

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #18 on: June 21, 2012, 02:40:16 AM »

When I first saw the trunk picture, I thought they were wax dummies.

No, only Paul was a wax dummy as he was dead.    ;D
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peterbell1

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Re: Butcher Cover story
« Reply #19 on: June 21, 2012, 08:30:03 AM »

No, only Paul was a wax dummy as he was dead.    ;D


Yep - and they even put him a "coffin" just to prove it ...

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