If you like dissecting Beatles album covers, you have plenty to work with. You might as well start with the cover of Sgt. Pepper, which features everyone from Marlon Brando to Edgar Allan Poe and Bob Dylan. It also featured what appeared to be a graveyard scene, which got conversations going.
After years of trying to shoot down bizarre interpretations of songs (and other rumors), the band decided to have some fun with it. That exactly what John Lennon was doing when he wrote “Glass Onion” and declared “The walrus was Paul” in 1968.
But the band’s Abbey Road cover really got the rumor mill churning. When someone interpreted it as (again) a lineup appropriate for a funeral in late ’69, the Paul McCartney-is-dead fan theory kicked into high gear.
Still, the only time The Beatles truly sparked outrage came when the band had photos of butchered meet and dismembered baby dolls on their U.S. release, Yesterday and Today. Looking back at the controversy in the ’70s, John said his original idea was to feature a beheaded Paul on the cover.
‘Yesterday and Today’ got pulled shortly after its release
The Yesterday and Today “butcher cover” was the brainchild of photographer Robert Whitaker, who wanted to do something different with the album. So he had a bunch of bloody meat parts, chopped-up baby dolls, and the Fab Four right in butchers’ coats in the middle of the mess.
After projecting a clean-cut image for years, The Beatles went with it. “I don’t like being locked into one game all the time, and [in the U.S.] we were supposed to be sort of angels,” John said in Anthology. “I wanted to show that we were aware of life, and I was really pushing for that album cover.”
Capitol reluctantly agreed to release the album cover but officials at the company soon realized they’d made a mistake. So they began recalling the covers that went out in the early pressing.
Naturally, they didn’t get all of them, and smart collectors held onto them. John was among them, and sent a copy he knew would be valuable to a friend in the ’70s. And he said he had a better idea for the cover.
John joked that his original idea was ‘decapitate Paul’ for the cover
Imagine getting a copy of a rare Beatles album cover in the mail from John Lennon in the ’70s. Obviously, every bit of the correspondence would be instantly valuable. But John’s note made that copy of Yesterday and Today even more of a keeper.
“My original idea for the cover was better — decapitate Paul — but he wouldn’t go along with it,” John wrote. (This quote appeared in the Anthology book.) By then, John was likely looking back on the entire wild Beatles saga.
Originally, the Paul-is-dead theory involved him getting decapitated in a car-crash. So John tied that in with the Fab Four’s most bizarre album cover and delivered another of his funniest lines. He may have stopped releasing records for a while in the late ’70s, but he never stopped writing.