Beatles Butcher Cover

In May of 1966 The Beatles did something “horrendous.” No, it wasn’t comparing themselves with Jesus Christ (though that was equally as tempestuous). They created an album cover that turned their American label, Capitol Records, into a censor.

The album was Yesterday and Today. It wasn’t a concept album, but rather a compilation so that the record company would have some product to sell.

Only six tracks were completed by the Beatles for their next record. Capitol had six American single sides (including the hit “Yesterday”), plus two songs that were left out of the American “Rubber Soul” release. (Back in 60s, European and American releases did not include the same tracks, and also not in the same order, as each market supposed that met different interests.)

Capitol records asked their British parent company, EMI, for three additional tracks. Beatles producer George Martin offered three newly recorded songs, “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Dr. Robert”- among my favorite pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles songs.

In March of 1966 the Beatles shot some cover photographs that is now called “The Butcher” cover, where they maniacally posed in white smocks with  sausages, raw beef, a hammer, nails, false teeth, and dismembered baby dolls. The photographer’s message was that The Beatles “were flesh and blood humans like everyone else by posing them amongst the un-glamorous props while being pop-art satirical at the same time.” Brian Epstein, Beatles manager, had reservations but the cover was designed and printed to the dismay of Alan Livingston, then president of Capitol. He suggested the company only press a few hundred advance copies, but 750,000 copies of the new album with the “Butcher” cover were released.

Capitol immediately received complaints from distributors and store mangers so Livingston was forced to pull the cover from production.

A more benign, mundane cover was released. But since in those days the lads could do no wrong (as long as they stayed away from butchering), the album, with its exceptional soulful songs, did well.

Here is some of the documentation from that event via Mirko Ilic, DH’s tireless sleuth.

5 thoughts on “Beatles Butcher Cover

  1. Robert Rusk

    I always understood the “butcher cover” to be an anti-Vietnam War gesture by the Beatles
    and I think some research into the conception & reception of the photograph would validate my memory and sense of those times. Thanks.

  2. Neil

    The revised cover also has an interesting meaning: with the Beatles in a shipping trunk, it suggests that they are being commodified, as the album was mainly old songs in a new package.

  3. Bryan

    Great post as usual, but a few nitpicks: Capitol Records, not Capitolday; Yesterday and Today, not Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. (I’d like to see a Venn diagram of huge Beatles nerds and graphic designers.)

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