Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Sgt. Pepper Photo Shoot - March 30, 1967

On March 30, 1967 before a late-night recording session at Abbey Road, The Beatles visited Michael Cooper's London photographic studio at Nos. 1-11 Flood Street in Chelsea where the cover photographs for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were taken. The Beatles arrived in the late afternoon. The soon-to-be-famous collage, designed by Peter Blake and wife, Jann Haworth, had been assembled in the studio during the preceding eight days. A contract dated April 1967 described the various fees for the session, including an erroneous album title that omits "Club": "Hire and use of Michael Cooper Studios for 8 days including personnel (3 fulltime assistants) plus overtime and expenses to staff for additional work during Easter weekend: £625.0.0 [at the time, about $1100]; 54 copy negatives @ 10/6 each: 28.7.0; 54 20"x16" prints @ 17/6 each: 47.5.0; Photography fee (SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS BAND set and centre spread, closeup): 250.0.0; Art direction fee (Layout and co-ordination of sleeve and inserts, cutouts, song sheets, production of mechanical rough and artwork by Al Vandenberg for Michael Cooper Studios, including co-ordination and supervision of all aspects of design and artwork from Peter Blake and Simon & Marekka; supervision and co-ordination of printing, retouching and blockmaking): £350.0.0; Special fee to Peter Blake: £200.0.0" (If you can imagine Peter Blake’s fee of less than $500!)

In addition to the front cover shot, The Beatles also posed for the images used on the back cover and the gatefold sleeve. McCartney's initial idea was to stage a presentation featuring a mayor and a corporation, with a floral clock and a selection of photographs of famous faces on the wall behind The Beatles. Peter Blake asked The Beatles to list their choices for the photographs. The original list, complete with misspellings, was given to Fraser and Blake: Yoga's; Marquis de Sade; Hitler; Neitch; Lenny Bruce; Lord Buckley; Alistair Crowley; Dylan Thomas; James Joyce; Oscar Wilde; William Burroughs; Robert Peel; Stockhausen; Auldus Huxley; H.G. Wells; Izis Bon; Einstein; Carl Jung; Beardsley; Alfred Jarry; Tom Mix; Johnny Weissmuller; Magritte; Tyrone Power; Carl Marx; Richard Crompton; Tommy Hanley; Albert Stubbins; Fred Astaire.

Jesus and Hitler were among John Lennon's choices, but they were left off the final list. Gandhi, meanwhile, was disallowed by Sir Joseph Lockwood, the head of EMI, after he told them they would have problems having the sleeve printed in India.

By 7pm, The Beatles were at Abbey Road where they'd record until 3am. On March 29, the recording sessions began for "With a Little Help From My Friends." On April 1 (early in the morning March 31), the sessions were devoted to the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise. It’s likely, therefore, that on the night of the photo shoot, The Beatles were finishing up with "Friends," Ringo’s vocal (as Billy Shears) already completed.

On Sgt. Pepper, as on Revolver, Lennon and Harrison played their Epiphone Casinos, Sonic Blue Fender Strats and Gibson J-160E acoustic guitars; Harrison also played his Gibson SG. McCartney’s Rickenbacker 4001S was his main bass, and he used his Casino and Fender Esquire for rhythm and lead work, and yet, despite the similarities in studio gear and equipment, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper sound distinctly different. Whereas Revolver sounds like a rock 'n' roll album, with its crunchy guitars and warm, fuzzy ambiance, Sgt. Pepper is decidedly refined, lacking the low-midrange tones that gave Revolver much of its propulsive power. Studio engineer Geoff Emerick puts the difference down to the choice of studio. "Revolver was done in Number Three studio, which is a smaller room. It was a dirtier-sounding studio acoustically. Sgt. Pepper’s was recorded in Abbey Road’s fabled Studio Two, a large room well suited to handling the volume and frequencies produced by pop and rock bands. Number Two is a brighter studio, and you can get cleaner tones." And yet it wasn’t really a "choice;" The Pink Floyd Sound was in Studio Three recording The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

The Byrd’s cover of "My Back Pages" peaked at No. 30 the week The Beatles recorded "With a Little Help From My Friends," and for the past year or so, David Crosby and the Byrds were running neck and neck with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones commercially. Earlier that month, the Fab Four did something that blew him away: "I was in London, at that time, when they were making Sgt. Pepper. When I got there, they didn’t really talk to me that much. They just dragged me out to the middle of the studio and sat me down on a stool. In Abbey Road, they had these speakers that looked like coffins. They were about eight feet tall, and they were on rollers. They rolled two of these things up, one on either side of me, and then they all left the room."

Crosby, had become one of the first outsiders to experience the episodic wonder of "A Day in the Life." "They had just finished it. By the time they got to that last piano chord, I was just a dish rag. I was completely, absolutely stumped. I didn't know you could do that."

On reflection many years later, Crosby stated, "You couldn't help but have it [Sgt. Pepper] change your whole world. Think about where we were coming from, man – the kind of things you expected from bands before was...you know...Paul Revere And The Raiders. It was dim. And then here was this blazing, glorious panoply of color and sounds – it was fantastic. No one had done an album where the songs felt so right together. They were way ahead of us. When I was a kid, we'd be standing around in some burger joint and somebody would put 'Day Tripper' on, and I would get competitive about it. I would feel we were almost nipping at their heels. But by the time they got Sgt Pepper – man, they were so far ahead of everybody ... they hadn't stretched the envelope, they'd thrown the envelope away. But it was inspiring, all I wanted to do was approach my music with the same freedom."