The Beatles Butcher Cover

On June 15, 1966, Capitol Records released a Beatles album without the Beatles’ consent entitled Yesterday and Today. This featured an image that has become known as the Butcher Cover . . .

Butcher cover

(Photograph conceived and executed by Bob Whitaker)

“The original cover, created in England, was intended as a ‘pop art’ satire. However a sampling of public opinion in the United States indicates that the cover design is subject to misinterpretation. For this reason, and to avoid any possible controversy or undeserved harm to the Beatles’ image or reputation, Capitol has chosen to withdraw the LP and substitute a more generally acceptable design.” – Alan W. Livingston, President of Capitol Records (USA), Tuesday, June 14, 1966.

“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. Bob was into Dali and making surreal pictures.” – John Lennon, in the interview conducted just before his death in 1980.

This now-legendary image, probably the single most famous image of the group, was originally conceived as one of a triptych of photographs, and intended as a surreal, satirical pop art observation on The Beatles’ fame. Whitaker’s inspirations for the images included the work of German surrealist Hans Bellmer, notably his 1937 book Die Puppe (La Poupée). Bellmer’s images of dismembered doll and mannequin parts were first published in the French Surrealist journal Minotaure in 1934.

“It’s an apparent switch-around of how you think. Can you imagine actually drinking out of a fur tea cup? . . . Putting meat, dolls and false teeth with The Beatles is essentially part of the same thing, the breakdown of what is regarded as normal. The actual conception for what I still call “Somnambulant Adventure” was Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. He comes across people worshipping a golden calf. All over the world I’d watched people worshiping like idols, like gods, four Beatles. To me they were just stock standard normal people.” – Whitaker, session photographer

The albums with the butcher cover were withdrawn and returned, and a new cover was hastily prepared. . . . The offending photo was replaced by an unremarkable Whitaker shot of the Beatles gathered around a large steamer trunk, taken in Brian Epstein’s office. It was rushed to America, where Capitol staff spent the following weekend taking the discs from the returned “butcher” sleeves and putting them in the new sleeve.

Several thousand copies of the original cover were destroyed and replaced by the “cabin trunk” sleeve, but Capitol eventually decided that it would be more economical to simply paste the new cover photo over the old one. After the album was released, news of the paste-over operation leaked out, and Beatles fans across America began steaming the cabin trunk photos off of their copies of Yesterday And Today in the hope of finding the “butcher” cover underneath.

The butcher cover is now one of the most valuable and sought-after pieces of Beatles memorabilia. George Harrison himself called it “the definitive Beatles collectible” . . . .

[All text in this entry is from nine nine one]