Beatlefan #221 includes a special section devoted to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ “Revolver” album, including a look at how the cover, designed by the Fabs’ old pal Klaus Voormann, came to be. Here’s a companion piece by that article’s authors, Piet Schreuders and Ken Orth, looking at where the various parts of the cover collage originated …
The “Revolver” cover catches the eye with Klaus Voormann’s large individual corner portraits of The Beatles. Then we’re drawn to the swirl of over 20 small photos and a handful of drawings that flow down between Paul and John from the upper left and pool at about dead center atop Ringo’s and George’s hair. Here are brief descriptions of the parts that make the whole of “Revolver.” See the accompanying graphic for a numbered map of the images.
Photo sources. According to accounts by Voormann and Pete Shotton, Klaus was given a large collection of “private” and published photos which he then copied, enlarged and/or reduced, and cut out to fit into his collage. A study of the finished artwork, however, reveals that most of the photos were clipped from published sources and were used at same size, without any enlargement or reduction. The only exceptions are #13, which may have been cut from a contact sheet, and #21, for which no original was found. From this we may also conclude that the artwork itself was created at the same size as the printed album.
The cover pictures came from 26 source photos, including only two group shots but 20 pictures of individuals; four photos provided just eyes, an ear and lips. We can see 26 Beatle faces among the photos, including nine of John, six each of Paul and Ringo, and five of George. The photos were clipped from a limited number of published sources.
A majority of the photos on the “Revolver” collage originate from the 1964 and 1965 American tour books, in which all pictures were taken by Robert Freeman. It’s a bittersweet quirk of history, then, that even though Freeman’s earlier LP-shaped “Revolver” cover design was not used, his pictures have a significant presence in the final Voormann design. It was, in fact, Freeman’s last contribution to a long line of Beatles album covers.
Here’s a rundown of the collage elements and where they came from:
The 1964 American tour book. Beatles (U.S.A.) Ltd. Designed and photographed by Robert Freeman. New York: Souvenir Publishing, 1964. Originally produced in Great Britain.
[Page 1] #2 – Detail of a photo of Ringo taken at a wall beside the Stockholm Town Hall, October 1963.
[Page 2, top] #7 – John looking toward his left toward Paul (cropped out of the cover picture); a guitar strap is on John’s left shoulder and the tips of his right hand’s thumb and index finger are pinched together. Photo taken during rehearsals for the “Day by Day” show at Southern TV Studio, Aug. 22, 1963.
[Page 2, middle] #22 – Ringo, cropped from a photo of him sitting on the right side of a riser holding his drum kit, probably on the same day as photo #7.
[Page 8] #19 – Paul. The full photo shows him lying on the floor in Studio 2 at EMI Abbey Road Studios, during the late-1963 recording of the “With The Beatles” album, with John and George standing and in conversation behind him.
[Page 14] #6 – A mirror-image of Ringo buttoning the top button of his shirt in his room at the Hotel President, London, in 1963; in the uncropped picture, a television set is at the right.
[Page 18, third from top] #5 – Paul, in shirt and loosened tie in a Bournemouth dressing room, pretending to cry. (In his 1983 book “Yesterday,” Freeman commented “Paul shams the strain of signing autographs.”)
[Page 22, middle left] #16 – George in a pith helmet.
[Page 22, middle right] #18 –Paul wearing a large decorative hat with a large tassel on its left side; his coat collar is pulled up to cover his mouth and neck.
[Page 22, bottom] #20 –John with a false beard, taken in the makeup room of Southern Independent Television Centre, Southampton, Aug. 22, 1963.
[Page 22, right] #15 – Photo of John taken in Stockholm in October 1963. In the original photo John is standing on top of what look like large stone blocks, and shaking his right fist at the camera.
[Page 21] #14 – A right ear: detail of a photo by Paul singing onstage. Although the lyric “Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song” had not yet been written, here is an instance where Paul lent his ear to John. Finding this ear may have been a “lucky accident”: It is on the reverse side of the page containing the preceding four other photos used in Klaus’s collage.
The 1965 American tour book. Beatles (U.S.A.) Ltd. Photographed by Robert Freeman, designed by Herb Bleiweiss. New York: Souvenir Publishing, 1965.
[Page 6] #11 – Detail of a picture of John sitting on the grounds of his Kenwood home with a very large boot in the background.
[Page 3] #13 – John apparently standing behind a suit of armor which he named “Sidney” and kept in a hall at his Kenwood home. The full photo’s background features an enlarged drawing from “A Spaniard in the Works.” This picture was reduced in size and likely stems from a contact sheet.
Three photos had appeared on previous albums, which made “Revolver” the only LP with recycled images. The image sizes, coarseness of the screen and apparent damages indicate that Klaus copied these pictures directly from the albums rather than using original photos.
The Beatles, “Rubber Soul.” Parlophone 3075, 1965. Photography by Robert Freeman.
#1 – John peeking out from under a cypress tree at his Kenwood home.
#4 – George. Photo of George in a cowboy outfit, taken by a lake near his Esher home.
These two photos also appeared in the 1965 American tour book, but their sizes match the pictures on the LP cover.
“Beatles For Sale.” Parlophone 3062, 1964. Photography by Robert Freeman.
#8 – George. In April or May 1964, during the filming of “A Hard Day’s Night,” Freeman took a spontaneous photo in the lobby of the Twickenham Studios’ Viewing Theatre. Behind The Beatles was a montage of film stills of actors from various movies. This picture of George was clipped from the group portrait that first appeared at the right inside the gatefold cover on the “Beatles For Sale” LP, and later on the back cover of the 1965 tour book. In the full photo George is at the left, seemingly standing on something that elevates him at least a head over the others, and leaning onto Paul’s right shoulder.
Meet the Beatles. Star Special No. 12. Written and compiled by Tony Barrow, The Beatles’ press officer. Manchester: World Distributors, 1963; New York: Macfadden-Bartell Corp, 1963.
The booklet opens with biographies of George (pages 4-5), John (pages 6-7), Paul (pages 8-9) and Ringo (pages 10-11), illustrated with full-page close-up photos taken by Dezo Hoffmann in his Wardour Street studio in June 1963. These were the sources from which Klaus Voormann cut the eyes of Paul (#24) and Ringo (#26). Not content with the eyes in the two other photo portraits, he looked for John’s and George’s eyes elsewhere (see below).
[Page 27] #12 – Paul, his hand pointing to the right. Photo by Dezo Hoffmann on July 1, 1963 during the rehearsal of “She Loves You” / “I’ll Get You” at Abbey Road. In the original photo George Martin and music publisher Dick James listen to John and Paul running through one of the songs.
Stern magazine, No. 17, April 26, 1964. This issue, featuring The Beatles on the cover and on pages 36-48, was probably in Klaus’ own collection.
[Page 36-37] #25 and #27: John’s eyes, and George’s eyes and mouth, were clipped from the opening spread featuring a close-up of the four Beatles’ faces. This famous picture was taken by Norman Parkinson in a bedroom at the Hotel President, London, on Sept. 12, 1963. Seeing that the photo of George’s mouth was considerably larger than the mouth he had drawn, Klaus cut the mouth photo down to size.
[Page 40-41] #9 – This two-page spread has a photo taken by Max Scheler of Beatles fan Sandra Taylor (age 17) in her bedroom, which is covered floor to ceiling with Beatles pictures. On the ceiling is a poster, published by Reveille magazine, featuring a photo of Ringo dressed in a Victorian-era striped swimsuit. This photo was taken by Dezo Hoffmann on July 27, 1963 on the beach at Brean Down, near Weston-Super-Mare, where The Beatles played a week’s residency with Gerry and the Pacemakers and Tommy Quickly. In the Scheler photo, Ringo looks distorted due to the poster’s ceiling location and the angle of the shot.
[Page 48] #17 – Paul, George, Ringo, and John. This photo was taken with a fish-eye lens at a press conference in Miami, 1964. It was first published with the article “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Music’s Gold Bugs: The Beatles” by Alfred G. Aronowitz in the Saturday Evening Post of March 21, 1964. While the magazine does not include a credit for this particular photo, it lists “contributing photographers” in the front of the magazine: John Launois, John Bryson, Burt Glinn, Lawrence J. Schiller, John Zimmerman. Or perhaps the shot was by Lynn Pelham, listed as regional photographer in Miami. The Beatles disliked the fish-eye photos; during their June 5, 1964 press conference in Holland they complained about it.
#3 – The faces of Paul, George and John were cut from a rather hazy photo of the three Beatles with Gerry and the Pacemakers “in a lay-by on the road between Hamburg and the Ostsee.” The photo may have been taken by Pete Best; it is reproduced in the “Anthology” book on Page 70. Its original size is not known.
#10 – Ringo in what could be the outdoors, in bright light and with tussled hair. The shot’s photographer, date and location are as yet unknown. We believe it must be a private snap; it has not been found from a published source.
#21 – John looking into the camera with his right hand holding a cigarette and touching his chin. It’s the only other cover photo where the photographer, date and location are all unknown, although it’s most likely an outtake cut from a contact sheet from Freeman’s session at John’s home, as featured in the 1965 tour book; it is very similar to the picture on Page 7.
#23 – Klaus Voormann. The picture was taken by Astrid Kirchherr, from the Paddy, Klaus and Gibson period. Klaus recalled, “She took nice pictures of us.”
Drawings. Images A (Paul), B (John), C (Ringo) and D (George). More than photos, these are collages of pen-and-ink facial portraits by Klaus, overlain with selected facial features cut from photos.
Mixed among the photos are Klaus’ eight small drawn faces in three groups. According to Klaus, “They’re just faces, no particular person was meant.” However, several can easily be seen to resemble a Beatle.
E – The three drawn faces “E” look more like women’s faces rather than men’s; John’s likeness can be seen in the middle face. Or perhaps they represent Beatle fans; The Beatles were generally associated with hair and with fans.
F – A face in Paul’s left ear bears a strong likeness to Klaus himself.
G – Just above the cover’s center are, from top to bottom, faces that strongly resemble George, Ringo, John and Paul asminiatures of the large drawn faces A, B, C and D, even down to the “creepy eyes” in George’s face. With the exception of Paul, the eyes have the same direction.
In addition to the faces, several drawn disembodied body parts are scattered about:
- A hand extending from John’s left arm, and possibly a left leg in image #7. The hand seems to grasp Ringo’s left leg.
- A right hand holding a flute-like instrument near Paul’s mouth in image #18; and what could be Paul’s left arm also extending from the image and pointing to John in image #27.
- An upper chest and left arm of Paul in image #19.
- A hand extending from George’s hair (image D) to just below John’s beard in image #20.
Rejected photos. During the meeting when Klaus presented his final design to The Beatles, Brian Epstein and George Martin, some of his cover photos were rejected. Over the years, Klaus has pegged the number of rejects at two, three, or four photos. He recalled that one showed Paul sitting on a toilet. George Martin raised an objection to it, and after some debate Paul agreed. Included here is a photo that matches that description, but it may not be the one Klaus had used. Then, again, how many Paul-on-toilet photos could there be? Klaus described another reject as “John with a toilet ring ’round his neck.” While John admitted to wearing such attire on stage during the Hamburg days there are no known photos of it. It is a matter of speculation where the rejected photos may have been in the collage. Perhaps one of them was in the spot between photos #5 and #8; the area left open may then have been filled in by drawing “fantasy figures” (E).
At first sight, the “Revolver” collage may look like a churning stew of random artistic pieces: large and small, old and new, real and imagined. Yet the complex whole is a thoughtful and inspired tapestry of simple photos and drawings woven by the talents of Klaus Voormann.
— Piet Schreuders and Ken Orth
Thanks to: Keith Badman, Harry Klaassen, Thorsten Knublauch, Mark Lewisohn, Andy Neill, Carol Sanders and Adam Smith.