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The John Lennon Series
by Jude Southerland Kessler

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Reference Library: The Beatles Butcher Cover

From: (saki)
Subject: Re: point of butcher cover
Date: 5 May 1995 18:22:27 GMT

Aaron Gangross ( wrote:

Does anyone know what the story behind the butcher cover? Lennon once said it was as relevant as Vietnam. Others say it was symbolically criticizing Capitol for "chopping up" their albums. Or was it just a strange joke?
Noel Tarnoff ( wrote:

I am pretty sure it isn't about Capitol...if I am not mistaken, the Butcher cover went to Italy and other European countries as well under the EMI label...someone want to either correct me or support me on this?

Some time ago Euan MacKenzie posted a very detailed precis of the photo session involving this picture; I'm indebted to him for his information.

The photo itself was part of a grouping of photos all intended to express various surreal communication about modern life---you might be inclined to call it photographic conceptual art. Its original title was to be "A Somnambulant Adventure".

Bob Whitaker, who had worked with the Fabs on general publicity photo gigs, was in charge of the session but was open to suggestion from John, whose idea the project was. The session also included ideas for other shots as well; I'm not clear whether these were actually posed and photographed, but they included George hammering nails into John's head; Paul and George wearing birdcages over their heads; and various other odd poses.

I don't believe that any of these photos were intended for album or promotional use, but rather for artistic expression in some nebulous fashion. There's some feeling that the butcher photo might have been used for an advert promoting "Paperback Writer" and for the "Yesterday... and Today" LP cover *without* Whitaker's permission; but Whitaker's contract (with which I'm not familiar) may have permitted such an application.

The butcher photo itself apparently was influenced by a German photographic artist of the early 20th century called Hans Belmer; this particular inspiration was reportedly known by Whitaker and communicated to Lennon, who voiced enthusiasm for replicating Belmer's work.

The photo seems not to have any connection to a protest on the part of the Fabs about Capitol's repackaging of their work, but a legend developed that this was its purpose. When Lennon said that it was "as relevant as Vietnam", it appears he was speaking artistically. He was not referring to any inherent anti-war protest in the substance of the photo.

The cover of "Yesterday...and Today" seems to have horrified journalists and promoters of the LP, which was intended only for an American market, and Capitol was persuaded rather quickly to recall the LP they'd just shipped (about 400,000 copies, though that number is only an estimate) and re-cover the sleeve with the pasted-over "trunk" cover. After the initial run of the LP had been salvaged, new pressings of the record included the "trunk" cover with no hidden butcher picture not all copies of "Yesterday... and Today" have the hidden treasure.

"First State" covers are those that somehow escaped re-covering altogether and were retained by their recipients in hopes of someday realizing its collectible value.

"I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked the Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary, but
he couldn't help me either."

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