nowhere men on the block

by Art Chantry (

THIS is the single strangest record cover in the history of popular music. it is (of course) the beatles original cover design released on the “yesterday, today and tomorrow’ capitol records Lp in the US back in 1966. it’s popularly referred to as “the butcher block cover”. the public reaction to it was so utterly outraged and negative that it was IMMEDIATELY pulled from the market within a few days of it’s appearance. very few even got distributed (mostly to radio stations and promo people). after it was pulled back, a new cover was printed on adhesive paper stock and literally STUCK on top of the old cover, then re-released. it took about a week. the result is that there were maybe about 75,000 copies of this record set loose with this cover – but it was UNDERNEATH the officially released ‘new’ cover. you had to carefully peel off the ‘new’ cover to find this ‘old’ cover below. it’s become one of the ‘holy grails’ of pop culture collecting.

Read More:

Up until ten years ago, the only copies outside of those extreme few sent to the promo list were all copies that had the ‘new’ covers soaked off or ripped off of them. the result was a lot of really beat up badly tattered samples of this record were in collector’s hands and exchanging for as much as 3 grand.

The man who initially refused to sign the beatles to capitol (and then later actually did sign them) was named alan livingston. when this record was released (with the original butcher block cover), he was automatically sent a box full of brand new shrink wrapped copies for his use. when they were recalled, he simply stuffed the box into his storage room and forgot about them. eventually he gave them to his son, peter,and said, “here. do what you want with these.” peter held onto them for decades and eventually showed up at a record show with them to see if they were worth anything. the record collector world totally freaked out. now those incredibly rare, never opened pristine copies (in both mono and stereo versions!) are now selling for over $10,000 (i think one recently went for just over $20,000.). they are among the rarest and most highly prized collectors items in the record world.

How did this thing ever come to exist in the first place? who in their right mind would ever depict the international mop top heart throbs covered with gore and dead babies on their newest record? i mean, this was 1966! they still had a cute cartoon show on saturday mornings and were gracing every teenage girl’s bedroom wall in the world. they were the staples of tiger beat and and teeny bop mayhem called ‘beatlemania and it had become utterly impossible for them to walk on the streets with out being eaten alive out of sheer love and devotion. even the monkees couldn’t compete at this level of wholesomeness! and yet, here they are looking like a rejects from a modern splatter film, “the texas chainsaw beatles”. what the hell was this?

The beatles were at the very pinnacle of their amazing popularity and this record was yet another collection of singles and out takes cobbled together by capitol records to keep a beatles record on the charts. if they didn’t release this record, it would have meant SEVEN months without a new beatles record! the beatles themselves were switching over to becoming serious studio magicians and were deeply buried in the ‘revolver’ recordings (and then immediately the ‘sgt. pepper’ sessions). their pop culture status was peaking on their first phase and their final godhead status was just a few months around the corner. so, who decided to put out a record of these cute moptops covered in bloody entrails and dead babies? “who was the marketing genius behind THAT one?”

Brian epstein (the beatles’ erstwhile manager) met an australian photographer by the name of Robert whitaker. he was so impressed with both the handsome young man and his photos that he immediately scheduled a publicity photo session, since they were overdue for up-to-date pics to send out. whitaker was one of those hot young turks in the british ‘swingin london’ scene and his work was quite ‘out there’ for that moment in time. john lennon referred to him as a ‘surrealist’.

At this point the beatles were somewhat unhappy about the way their british recordings were chopped up and packaged and then sold in america. one mythology was that this butcher block image was a protest by the band against the ‘butchering’ of their work for commercial purposes. but, that wasn’t really the truth. sure, they weren’t happy with that process, but as long as they sold records, they didn’t care all that much. the fact that this image was also used in print ads for earlier records (other than the LP it’s know for) and as a magazine cover long before the release of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow”, really ruins the idea of it being any sort of surprise protest. i mean, the record label approved all of it long before it was even noticed by anybody else.

The story behind this photo was actually that it was part of a SERIES of conceptual images being made during that fateful promo photo session (with the full consent and participation of the otherwise bored band.) it was supposed to depicted the brief history of the beatles as a surreal triptych. one image had george harrison pounding nails into john lennon’s skull. another one one seems to have ringo’s head in a box all ready to be sold at market. this series was basically reflecting how the beatles themselves felt about what had happened to them in their lives and careers and how they were turned into sheer unadulterated PRODUCT by the business forces engulfing them. the metaphor of dead babies and raw meat seems obvious in this context (and not that shocking.) in fact, it was sort of dull-witted and corny.

Context is everything in graphic design. so, when the band was tossing around ideas for the cover of this new hodge-podge american release, they were so bored with all of it that they just wanted something DIFFERENT out of sheer shell shock. i guess john lennon remembered this image and really began to push for it. as to who finally said “YES” to this image and then actually who

the art director who designed this nightmare, well, it goes unrecorded. lucky for them.

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Marketing/Advertising/Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>