In Part 3 of my series, Best Photographed Albums, we address the elephant in the room, The Beatles “Yesterday and Today” (Capitol, US album in ‘butcher’ sleeve, Released June 20, 1966).
Photographed by Robert Whitaker. “Yesterday and Today" is considered as one of the MOST sought after albums. And here’s why. This gets a little in-depth, so stay with me.
“Yesterday and Today” was a compilation of The Beatles UK albums, “Help!”, “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”. And the last time Capitol Records would “butcher” a Beatles album. The controversial cover marked the first time the Beatles' judgement was criticized by the media and distributors. After advance copies were sent to disc jockeys and record reviewers, negative reaction to the cover photo was so strong, Capitol Records recalled 750,000 copies from distributors to replace the cover. The total cost to Capitol to replace the cover and promotional materials was $250,000, wiping out their initial profit. Nevertheless, the album reached #1 on the US Billboard charts by 30 July 1966 and certified gold soon after. It stayed at number one for five weeks.
"The Butcher Cover"
The so-called “butcher” cover vaulted an otherwise unremarkable record into rock infamy and spawned what George Harrison once called “the definitive Beatles collectible” worth tens – and sometimes hundreds – of thousands of dollars. Still, the cover remains one of the most misunderstood chapters in the band’s chronicle. Was it their comment on the Vietnam War? A protest against their record company? A publicity stunt? A sophomoric prank by bored rock stars? The truth is more complex. The image was the brainchild of Robert Whitaker, a 26-year-old Australian photographer whose dark humor and love of the surreal made him one of the band’s favorite cameramen. Responsible for some of the most striking images of the group, Whitaker won particular praise for his whimsical 1965 portrait of John Lennon posed with a dandelion over one eye. Drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus and a quote from Euripides, the image beautifully captured the Beatles’ idiosyncratic sensibilities.
When the group arrived at his studio in London’s hip Chelsea neighborhood on March 25th, 1966, Whitaker had a more ambitious concept in mind, a conceptual art piece titled "A Somnambulant Adventure". For the shoot, Whitaker took a series of pictures of the group dressed in butcher smocks and draped with pieces of meat and body parts from plastic baby dolls. The group played along as they were tired of the usual photo shoots—Lennon recalled the band having "boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatles thing".
Although not originally intended as an album cover, the Beatles submitted photographs from the session for their promotional materials. According to a 2002 interview published in Mojo, former Capitol president Alan W. Livingston stated that it was Paul McCartney who pushed strongly for the photo's inclusion as the album cover, and that McCartney reportedly described it as "our comment on the [Vietnam] war". A photograph of the band smiling amid the mock carnage was used as promotional advertisements for the British release of the "Paperback Writer" single. A similar photograph from this shoot was used for the cover of the 11 June 1966 edition of the British music magazine "Disc".
A SELLER'S MARKET
An extremely rare original "first state" stereo copy that was not from the Livingston collection was presented for appraisal at a 2003 Chicago taping of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. It was still in the possession of the original owner, who had bought it at Sears & Roebuck on the day of release in 1966, the only day that the original Butcher cover versions were on sale before being recalled by Capitol. Although not in its original shrink-wrap, it had rarely been played and was still in excellent condition, and Roadshow appraiser Gary Sohmers valued it at US$10,000–$12,000.
In 2016, an original mint condition stereo copy of Yesterday and Today in shrink wrap was sold for a record $125,000.
Capitol Records of Canada vice president and A&R head at the time, Paul White, kept a mono cover and a stereo cover slick for his collection.
There were no music tape versions of the Yesterday and Today "Butcher Cover". Eight-track and reel-to-reel tapes were issued approximately one month after the vinyl album was released in 1966 and cassette tapes were not issued by Capitol Records until 1968.
1. Drive My Car
2. I'm Only Sleeping
3. Nowhere Man
4. Doctor Robert
6. Act Naturally
7. And Your Bird Can Sing
8. If I Needed Someone
9. We Can Work It Out
10. What Goes On
11. Day Tripper