What John Lennon Wasn’t Allowed to Do With the Beatles’ Best Album
Certain album covers are iconic. Everyone remembers Michael Jackson posing on the cover of Thriller and a baby reaching for a dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana‘s Nevermind. The cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arguably stands as the most famous album cover of all time. What might shock fans is that John Lennon wasn’t allowed to realize his vision for the cover.
What would have been John Lennon’s worst artistic mistake
In an interview with GQ, Sir Paul McCartney remembered how “I mean, on the Sgt. Pepper cover he wanted Jesus Christ and Hitler on there. That was, ‘Okay, that’s John.’ You’d have to talk him down a bit — ‘No, probably not Hitler…’ I could say to him, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’ He was a good enough guy to know when he was being told.”
When asked why John wanted Hitler on the cover, Paul replied “It’s a laugh. We’re putting famous people on the cover: ‘Hitler! He’s famous!’ And it was like, ‘Yeah, but John, we’re trying to put heroes on the cover, and he’s not your hero.’”
Neither Christ nor Hitler appears on the album’s final cover. Christ’s visage on the cover may have upset religious people, but the use of Hitler’s image on a rock album cover would definitely have upset everyone. The Independent reports when the photo for the album cover was taken, the Beatles stood in front of the image of Hitler so it wouldn’t be seen. The maniacal dictator can be seen in outtakes for the album cover.
Why the Beatles couldn’t put Mahatma Gandhi on the cover
History reports John also wanted another major figure on the cover whom didn’t appear on the final product: Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was going to appear on the album until EMI’s chairman, Sir Joseph Lockwood, objected. Lockwood said “Take Gandhi out.”
He continued “We need the Indian market. If we show Gandhi standing around with Sonny Liston and Diana Dors [two of the celebrities on the cover], they’ll never forgive us in India.” Lockwood seem to be concerned that Gandhi’s inclusion on the Beatles’ album would make him seem like just another celebrity, rather than a seminal political and religious leader.
Although Mahatma Gandhi is not depicted on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the cover does feature some Hindu imagery. According to The Philippine Star, a doll of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi is on the cover. The Observer reports Hindu gurus Paramahansa Yogananda, Mahavatar Babaji, Yukteswar Giri are visible on the album as well. It’s not clear why Lockwood objected to Gandi appearing on the cover, but not other Hindu figures.
Someone asked for $500 for use of his image on the cover
Finally the Sgt. Pepper cover was originally going to include an image of B movie actor Leo Gorcey, reports History. The Beatles obtained written permission from all the living celebrities on the album cover for use of their image. Gorcey would only consent to the use of his image if the band paid him $500. Paul recalled that, after hearing Gorcey’s demand, “We thought, ‘You know what, we’ve got enough people on here!’”
John was the definition of a rock star. However, he occasionally had abysmal ideas. It’s for the best that the most evil man in history never appeared on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.