March 25th 1966. The Beatles have a photo session with Robert Whitaker that produces the infamous ‘Butcher Cover’.
In 2004, in this exclusive interview, Robert told me how it came out:
“I wanted to ask about the infamous ‘Butcher Cover’. The picture was your idea, to show they were human….
To show they were flesh and blood – which is what they are. Some people would saw them as saints, which they weren’t. I also found that every time we got off the stage girls would have ripped them to bits, had they got the chance, torn them to pieces – that was something to do with the meat. The dolls are really little girls screaming away. There are a lot of false things there like false teeth, false dolls eyes. It was never meant to be the cover.
What is John’s idea to have it as the cover?
No, the images were snatched as soon as I had finished them and sent to America without asking me how I wanted to see it. The sausages are meant to be an umbilical chord coming out of a woman and the whole thing would be put inside the womb of a woman. All you would have had on the record cover was a breast, nipple and big tummy. Inside the tummy is The Beatles holding the umbilical chord. Around all of that would have been transfers of little people blowing trumpets, as they do in frescos. There is another picture of George banging nails into John’s head – he would have had wood grain put over his head so he would be a piece of wood – George would be banging nails into a piece of wood. Another of Ringo being unpacked from a box. Written on the box is ‘2 million’. He would have been a piece of alabaster plaster. The whole thing would have been falseness, dummies, unreality. The back cover would have been the butcher picture, about 2 inches square and the rest of it would have been gold, like a Russian icon that canonises them. I was thinking of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and finding people worshiping the golden calves – like people did to The Beatles, treating them like gods, but they are not.
What was your reaction to the furore around the sleeve?
I thought it was not my fault! If they had asked me what the artwork was I don’t think it would have been that frightening. I don’t blame people for being upset about it. But as it turns out it actually released John to say that they were pissed off looking like pretty little boys all the time and that they were human beings. It gave them a release.
There is a lot written about the ‘butcher’ sleeve and very little I’ve said about it. I’ve never written anything by hand. It’s nearly 40 years ago since I did it and it’s hard to recreate the train of thought when I did it.