Revolver turns 50 today. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped most Greatest Album Ever™ lists when I was a kid. But, with less and less rock writers around who were there when Pepper revolutionized ears, less-biased rock fans have declared Revolver the band’s best LP in MUCH bigger numbers for 20 or 30 years. I’m on that team. As a small child, I was obsessed with my Dad’s copy, listening to side one ENDLESSLY before ever turning it over. It wasn’t until high school that a mod kid at school told me that some of the best songs were left off of the US version of the album. He was right. “Doctor Robert”. “I’m Only Sleeping”. “And Your Bird Can Sing”!
There’s just something magical about 1966. Rock had a few post-Beatlemania years to evolve and it was just before things got a little too flowery and mustache-heavy there. Things were raw and arty and rocking and stylish all over. The Beatles pushed the boundaries of the studio so far that they went out for their farewell tour that year without being able to perform a single song from their new album. They went from “She Loves You” to “Tomorrow Never Knows” in just three years, dragging all of pop culture along with them.
Robert Freedman, who had photographed the band’s last five album covers and took many famous pictures of the band creating Revolver at Abbey Road (collected in the 1991 book Revolver Sessions), came up with a fantastic circular photo collage that was fitting for the times and the album title. There’s little or no information on whether or not it was actually commissioned or why it wasn’t used but the band apparently wanted something different. As Freeman’s interests turned to film around this time, he never did another Beatles album cover. His proposed design did appear in the band’s 2000 Anthology book. A fan created a white background for what the album might’ve looked like as an actual Capitol LP.
Their old Hamburg friend, Beatle haircut innovator and fellow ex-art college student Klaus Voormann had recently moved to London and John Lennon invited him to listen to the Revolver tracks in progress and come up with something for the album’s visual. John and Paul searched through a huge stack of newspapers, magazines and Robert Freeman shots with childhood friend Pete Shotton to supply Voormann with actual photos to place over his sketches. He drew the classic lines over the course of three weeks on a kitchen table in an attic flat for the whopping fee of £50. The main large portraits were done from memory but since he was never happy with how he drew George’s eyes, he used cut outs of a newspaper photograph’s eyeballs instead. He also inserted himself, peeking out of George’s hair under John’s chin.
Before John, Paul and Shotton had their photo party at John’s house, Voormann must’ve done his own archive scrapbooking for his earlier mock-up because he recalls Paul being surprised when he spotted a picture of himself on the toilet taken in Paris when he first presented it to the powers that be at George Martin’s office at EMI in Manchester Square. Paul was shocked at first then loved it but George Martin and Brian Epstein wouldn’t allow it to stay.
According to Voormann, “Then they started talking about it. Everybody loved it, George loved it, John loved it, Ringo loved it. I looked at Brian, who was standing in the corner and he was crying… I thought, Oh no… what is he doing? He came up to me and said, ‘Klaus, this is exactly what we needed. I was worried that this whole thing might not work, but I know now that this the cover. This LP, will work – thank you.'”
The album was famously almost named “Abracadabra” but they supposedly caught wind that someone else was using it as an album title…or perhaps they predicted the Steve Miller Band heating up by about 15 years. Ringo apparently suggested “After Geography” as a play on the Rolling Stones’ Aftermath. Of course, someone online mocked it up. Thanks, Ear Candy Magazine.
The back of the LP used a photograph taken by Robert Whitaker from the set of their “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” studio promo films. Several pictures from the session appeared on albums and bootlegs including this stunning color shot with Paul covering his still cracked tooth from a motor scooter accident. It’s an interesting reminder that their first real psychedelic album had purely black and white album artwork. Just add LSD and wear sunglasses so George looks like Keef and no one knows that’s happening. Wink.
Voormann won the Grammy that year for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. A talented bass player in his own right, he offered to replace Stu Sutcliffe before Paul switched to bass. After turning down joining the Moody Blues and the Hollies, he played with Manfred Mann, George Harrison, John Lennon, Lou Reed, BB King, Randy Newman, Jerry Lewis and dozens more. There was even a rumor after the Beatles split that they would reform as the Ladders with Klaus replacing Paul on bass. He designed album covers for artists as varied as the Bee Gees and Turbonegro and produced Trio’s Trio & Error album, a HUGE Yer Doin’ Great fave. He also designed the Beatles’ Anthology artwork. In 2008, for a Berlin art exhibition, he decorated a Volkswagen Beetle with wind-blown Revolver Beatles Check out the great pictures of him taking pen to car at IHeartKlaus.com. Info on his new book, Birth Of An Icon REVOLVER 50, can be found at Voormann.com.
For more info and great quotes from Voormann and the band about the album cover, check out the always great Norwegian Wood album cover page, a recent Guardian interview with Klaus and today’s Ulitmate Classic Rock piece.
Also, BUY THIS SHIRT from Go Ape Shirts (pictured below) and check out CCC’s incredible mashup album Revolved, most of which you can hear on this Youtube channel. Genius and geniuser.
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