I was looking up something else last night when I stumbled across it—the cover of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not only is the record—old timers will remember those—usually at the top of lists of the greatest albums of all time with its psychedelic orchestrations, segues, and themes, but he cover itself is iconic.
Maybe the most breathlessly anticipated release ever, record stores—remember those—were jammed on the June 1, 1967 release date. I hopped on the Skokie Swift and headed to the City where I obtained a copy at Rose Records on Wabash Avenue, then the Mecca for music loving teens.
I was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. I was spending my summer washing dishes at Howard Johnson’s, trying to struggle through Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a summer reading assignment before I started Shimer College that fall, and listening to that record in my basement room. I studied the lyrics printed on the back. I listened intently. I was in awe.
But the full power of the record did not hit me until I arrived on campus in Mt. Carroll. I quickly discovered it was on every turntable in every dorm room I visited. The same rooms also seemed to offer unlimited supplies of marijuana, hash pipes, and an assortment of the latest and most powerful hallucinogens. Within a couple of weeks I went from being a clean cut, if semi-radical kid in a cowboy hat to a dope fiend and hippy. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
A good deal of that first semester was spent listening to St. Pepper’s experimentally to different grades, combinations, and concoctions of illicit drugs and cheep beer. It also meant hours of staring intently at that cover trying to unravel its many deep mysteries. I studied it by candle light, flickering strobe, black light, dorm fluorescents, and even in the bright sunshine of the Quad when someone would turn their giant speakers to their room window and blast the album at full volume for the communal experience of the masses.
Try as I could, I could only identify some of the faces on that cover, although I knew they all must have cosmic significance. Others had the same quest. We swapped our knowledge or our guesses and passed around clippings from underground newspapers but still fell far short.
Eventually shiny new toys came out to divert our attention. The great old album would get pulled out sometimes for a play, but we would only glance again at the cover.
So when I saw the cover again I thought that after all of these years, experience, and a life as a history and pop culture geek, I should do far better at picking out those pictures than way back then. So I gave it a try.
This is what I could come up with.
In front surrounding the Beatles flower planting--Hindu Goddess front, unidentified Japanese figure, Disney Snow White figurine, bust of T. E. Lawrence, unidentified doll, Shirley Temple Doll dressed in “Welcome Rolling Stones” sweater.
Front row—Sonny Liston, the Fab Four from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, the Lads as Sgt. Pepper’s Band, Marlene Dietrich, the real Shirley Temple, obscured Turk, Dianna Doors.
Second row—Pin-up girl, Eddie Foy, Lucile Ball, Marlon Brando, Tom Mix, Oscar Wilde, unidentified, unidentified, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, six unidentified heads, Lewis Carroll.
Third Row—Former Beatle Stuart Sutcliff, an American GI, Dylan Thomas, seven unidentified heads, and the real T. E. Lawrence as Lawrence of Arabia.
Fourth Row—Four unidentified heads, Tony Curtis, two unidentified heads, Marilyn Monroe, Boris Pasternak, unidentified head, Stan Laurel, unidentified head, Oliver Hardy, Karl Marx. H. G. Welles, Paramahansa Yogananda, unidentified man, unidentified woman.
Top Row—Two unidentified men, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, unidentified man, W.C. Fields, unidentified man, Edgar Allen Poe, unidentified man, Fred Astaire, unidentified man, unidentified woman, two unidentified men, and Bob Dylan.
So how did I do? Clearly better than those long ago daze. But still a lot of missing pieces. So I checked a list on Wikipedia—not entirely easy to do, because their rows and mine do not exactly correspond. I learned that I made some mistakes. The two female figures in the second row left that I identified as a pin up and Lucile Ball both turned out to be illustrations “Petty Girls” by magazine artist George Petty. In between the man in the Derby hat who I identified as American vaudevillian Eddie Foy was in fact British Music Hall star Max Miller. On the other end of the row the partially obscured figure I thought to be a Turk was an American Legionnaire.
In the third row in the string of unidentified faces, I can’t believe I missed George Bernard Shaw directly above George Harrison’s hat. In my defense I never saw a color picture of him and most of his long beard was obscured.
In the fourth row to the right of Marilyn, the man I thought was Russian Boris Pasternak was really the American junkie/poet/playwright William Burroughs.
Wikipedia also identifies the bust down in front only as “a statue brought over from John Lennon’s house.” But I stand on my identification of it as Lawrence. Compare with the photo in at the end of row three.
Can you do better?
To check by Wikipedia’s list, click here.