No matter how forward-thinking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came to be, it was also proudly the culmination of all that came before it. Pop culture had reached a fever-pitch by 1967, and The Beatles decided to pour all of this frenzied liberation, progression and discontent with the stilted status quo into an album that paired the depths of culture’s expanding pool with the new horizons made capable by blossoming studio technology.
It was a kitchen-sink album: avant-garde yet commercial, revolutionary yet classical, a comic farce with deadly serious intent, a thousand instruments yet only four folks still firmly at its heart. It needed a cover to match this vast scope. And so, Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, the duo tasked with bringing the visual side of the album to life, got to work. “I suggested that they had just played a concert in the park. They were posing for a photograph, and the crowd behind them was a crowd of fans who had been at the concert,” Peter Blake told Spencer Leigh.
Tasked with creating a mob of fans, The Beatles figured that there was little point choosing any old buffoon from the proletariat. So, Blake asked the band for a list of their fantasy crowd. He made one, too, along with the art dealer Robert ‘Groovy Bob’ Fraser. “The way that worked out was fascinating. John gave me a list, and so did Paul. George suggested only Indian gurus, about six of them, and Ringo said, ‘Whatever the others say is fine by me’ and didn’t suggest anyone.”
This offers a nuanced insight into their characters, and in many ways, the constitution of the cover is reflective of the constitution of the band. You had the antagonistic anti-heroes and figures of bold profundity reflective of Lennon’s radicalism; you had McCartney’s earnest folk heroes, stars of the people, beloved and endearing; then you had the spiritual focus and discipline of Harrison, staying in his lane and yet steadfastly present; while Ringo was happy to simply support the others and relinquish egoism. And finally, there is the influence of others in the mix that The Beatles were always happy to accept, symbolic of the contributions made by the likes of George Martin.
While this might be an oversimplified way of looking at The Beatles and perpetuates tropes that didn’t necessarily always play out, there is an underlying grain of truth to it that makes the cover a fascinating artefact in a multitude of ways; somehow not merely a cornucopia of influences, but a mark of the interplay that made the Fab Four a uniquely tessellated force.
The jigsaw of the faces emblematic of all the magic that went into the make-up of the humble four-piece, now fully realised in maturity and remoulded as the make-believe Lonely Hearts Club Band, a literal facade of what The Beatles had become: the centrepiece of pop culture, standing on the shoulders of giants, adorned in the brightest regalia reserved for heroes of old, but in their own way, self-aware of the preposterousness of this position, and mocking satirising it in a manner indicative of the inherent mirth which, ironically, made them so damn adored and culturally transcendent in the first place.
Jesus, Gandhi, Sophia Loren, and Hitler might have found themselves nixed from the line-up following their inclusion in the original plans, and The Rolling Stones might be consigned to a mere message on a T-shirt on a Shirley Temple doll (who technically, therefore, makes three appearances), leaving Bob Dylan, suggested by Lennon, as their only true contemporaries, but aside from that, the cover offers a collection of the culture that shaped the environment from which The Beatles arose. In truth, even the lack of peers perhaps betrays the underlying competitiveness of the era.
Finally, finished with hookah pipes, TV sets, and flower power arrangements, this procession not only encapsulated the band and the zeitgeist but the bulk of pivotal cultural contributors from the first half of the 20th century, befitting of an album that can truly be ascribed as a moment of diegesis in culture: there’s everything that came before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and then there’s everything that it foisted upon the future.
Who features on the Sgt. Pepper album cover?
Every person included on Sgt. Pepper album cover:
The First Row:
Sri Yukteswar Giri – A Hindi Guru who died in 1936 age 80. He was noted for his pioneering of Kriya yoga and welcoming people from all walks of life to his Ashrams.
Aleister Crowley – The occultist writer famed for his mantra of “Do What Thou Wilt”. It is theorised that Crowley may well be Sgt Pepper himself after John Lennon dropped the quote as a hint when citing the inspiration for the record.
Mae West – An American actor, singer, comedian, writer, and sex symbol noted for her liberated outlook on life and refusal of conservative lady-like ideals as she rose to fame in the 1910s.
Lenny Bruce – A liberated comedian whose style of stand-up was so critical of the status quo that he was actually found guilty in an obscenity trial, only to be pardoned in 2003. He died aged 40 in 1966.
Karlheinz Stockenhausen – A German composer widely credited as one of the first to controversially welcome electronic instrumentation into the world of classical music.
W.C. Fields – An American comic actor who crafted the persona of a lovable yet crude drunk in films like The Drunkard. He died in 1964, aged 66.
Carl Jung – A renowned Swiss psychologist who famously said: “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” He also developed the notion of the ‘shadow self’ which became a counterculture obsession for many.
Edgar Allan Poe – An American writer known as the inventor of the detective novel. He is renowned for his gothic prose and dark themes, romantically remembered as an outsider.
Fred Astaire – An American performer who earned himself the tagline of the “greatest popular-music dancer of all time”.
Richard Merkin – An American painter as famous for being a dandy as he was for his art. He became a celebrity figure with a very public life and an equally public vintage porn collection.
The Vargas Girl – A work by the artist Alberto Vargas, who defined the style of pin-up girl paintings in the 1940s.
Huntz Hall – An American actor known as Huntz ‘Dreamboat’ Hall who starred as a buffoon in the Bowery Boys films. He was also famously arrested for marijuana possession in the 1940s, long before it was ‘cool’.
Simon Rodia – The Italian designer behind the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, 17 interconnect works that are now cited as “perhaps the nation’s best-known work of folk art sculpture”.
Bob Dylan – The folk music icon and Beatles contemporary whom the Fab Four described as their own personal hero.
The Beatles – SGT Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967
(Credits: Far Out / Apple Corps)
The Second Row:
Aubrey Beardsley – An English artist whose works drew attention because of their profound eroticism. He famously said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque, I am nothing”. He tragically died in 1898, aged only 25.
Sir Robert Peel – Sir Robert Peel served as Britain’s Prime Minister from 1834 to 1835 and from 1841 to 1846 and formed the modern Conservative Party. He is also credited as the forefather of modern policing.
Aldous Huxley – A British-American writer who helped to popularise philosophical fiction. His dystopian novel Brave New World is known as a modern classic.
Dylan Thomas – A Welsh poet whose famed poems include ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’. He died drunk in St. Vincent’s hospital aged only 39 in 1953.
Terry Southern – An American beat-era novelist and writer known for his satirical style. His artistry became central to the Greenwich Village movement after he holed up in the boho suburb in 1953.
Dion DiMucci – The leader of the doo-wop group Dion and the Belmonts, who later transitioned towards a more baroque style of pop, proving to be one of the few artists who successfully transcended the 1950s.
Tony Curtis – A prolific American actor who rose to fame in the 1950s and starred in classics like Some Like It Hot and Spartacus.
Wallace Berman – An American experimental filmmaker, also pivotal to Greenwich Village, as Andy Brumer wrote: “His art embodied the kind of interdisciplinary leanings and interests that, in time, would come to help characterize the Beat movement as a whole.”
Tommy Handley – A Liverpudlian comedian known for his classic radio show It’s That Man Again that ran from 1939 to 1949.
Marilyn Monroe – The iconic ‘Blonde Bombshell’ of cinema who rose from humble beginnings to become Hollywood’s biggest star after her 1947 debut in Dangerous Years.
William S. Burroughs – An American beat writer and visual artist whose prose openly talked about sex and hard drugs, drawing censorship in a conservative era.
Sri Mahavatar Babaji – A Himalayan yogi known for teaching kriya yoga and self-realisation. He is believed to have lived between 1828 and 1895.
Stan Laurel – An English comic actor known as being the smaller half of the duo Laurel & Hardy.
Richard Lindner – A German artist known for his “weird eroticism” who fought with the French Army in World War II before moving to America in 1941, where he worked as an illustrator.
Oliver Hardy – An American comic actor known as being the larger half of the duo Laurel & Hardy.
Karl Marx – A German-born philosopher known for producing The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. He died in London in 1883, aged 64.
H.G. Wells – An English science fiction writer whose works include The Time Machine and The Invisible Man.
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda – An Indian Hindu monk who introduced millions to meditation by organising the Self Realisation Fellowship.
James Joyce – An Irish writer considered the founder of post-modernist literature owing to his 1922 novel Ulysses. He died in 1941, aged 58.
Anonymous – This is simply a nondescript wax dummy.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Third Row:
Stuart Sutcliffe – A Scottish musician who was the original bassist in The Beatles before leaving the band before leaving in July 1961 to pursue a career as a painter.
Max Miller – An English comedian who became known as the eponymous ‘Cheeky Chappie’. He died in 1963, aged 68.
A Petty Girl – A pin-up painting by the artist George Petty, whose work first appeared in Esquire in 1933 up until 1956.
Marlon Brando – An American actor and activist widely regarded as one of the greatest performers of his generation thanks to starring roles in A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront.
Tom Mix – A prolific American actor who made 291 films in his career, all but nine were silent, and the vast majority of them were westerns. His work spanned from 1909 to 1935.
Oscar Wilde – An eccentric Irish poet and playwright known for his decadence. He was also one of the first celebrities tried for homosexuality and later imprisoned. He died aged 46 in 1900.
Tyrone Power – An American film actor who often took the role of the romantic lead in a string of pictures primarily between 1932 and 1950. He died while filming in Madrid aged 44 in 1958.
Larry Bell – An American contemporary artist and sculptor. His abstract expressionism drew controversy, with many people calling his empty glass boxes simply ’empty glass boxes’. He is still alive and is believed to be living in Taos, New Mexico.
David Livingstone – A Scottish physician who travelled to Africa as a Christian missionary and set about abolishing slavery therein. He died in Zambia aged 60 in 1873 and was recognised posthumously as a national hero for his egalitarian work.
Johnny Weissmuller – An Olympic swimmer and water polo player who entered acting after his sporting career and landed the role of Tarzan.
Stephen Crane – A writer known as the pioneer of American naturalism. His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, from 1893, rejected the ideals of romanticism and is considered one of the first examples of realism.
Issy Bonn – An English comedian whose work focussed on the life of a Jewish lad in London. His comic style helped to popularise modern sketch comedy.
George Bernard Shaw – An Irish socialist playwright who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 thanks to works such as Arms and the Man.
H. C. Westermann – An American sculptor whose works presented traditional folk crafts in an abstract new manner.
Albert Stubbins – An English footballer from Wallsend, Newcastle, who went on to win the 1947 League Championship with Liverpool. Away from the pitch, the centre-forward became a cult hero at the club. His career was sadly curtailed by injury, but he went on to work as a sportswriter.
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya – Yet another Indian guru, he was a disciple of Mahavatar Babaji.
Lewis Carroll – The English writer and mathematician responsible for the iconic Alice in Wonderland works. He died aged 65 in 1898.
T. E. Lawrence – The man on whom Lawrence of Arabia was based. The Welsh archaeologist became embroiled in several conflicts in the Middle East while serving as an army officer.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sonny Liston – An American boxer who won the heavyweight championship in 1962. He was regarded as unbeatable upon Muhammad Ali dethroned him in 1964. Throughout his career, the enigmatic figure was said to have underworld connections.
A Petty Girl – Another pin-up artwork inspired by George Petty.
George Harrison – A wax model of George Harrison in the guise of an earlier era of The Beatles.
John Lennon – A wax model of John Lennon in the guise of an earlier era of The Beatles.
Shirley Temple – An American actor who rose to fame as a child and became the world’s biggest box office draw at the tender age of six. In later life, she transitioned more towards politics and activism.
Ringo Starr – A wax model of Ringo Starr in the guise of an earlier era of The Beatles.
Paul McCartney – A wax model of Paul McCartney in the guise of an earlier era of The Beatles.
Albert Einstein – The most preeminent physicist of all time. The German was known for his work on the theory of relativity. Away from science, he also staunchly took an early stance against the Nazi regime.
The Beatles – The Fab Four align in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band regalia. Noel Howard designed the costumes to reflect traditional Edwardian and military dress. This was crafted the mock the ideals of heroism while the Vietnam War waged on.
Bette Davis – An American film actor who often starred as the blunt, sardonic foil in films such as Marked Woman and Dark Victory.
Bobby Breen – A Canadian singer who became a child star after moving to Hollywood in 1935 and making appearances on RKO Radio. However, he retired from acting in 1939 when puberty hit and dramatically impacted his voice.
Marlene Dietrich – A trailblazing German actor who was as iconic for her work in entertainment as she was for her liberated lifestyle and open bisexuality.
An American legionnaire – An unnamed American serviceman.
Diana Dors – An English actor considered Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. She represented a new level of sexual awakening as liberation blossomed.
Shirley Temple – Shirley Temple appears for the second time, perhaps because on the first occasion, she is barely visible behind The Beatles.
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