Sunday, 21 December 2014

Album covers: Help!


Help! - Robert Freeman
Again Robert Freeman is asked to make the design of the next album cover.
The photo was taken in the Twickenham Film Studio near London, where the Beatles were finishing the last scenes from their second movie Help!. Freeman had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP, with every Beatle another letter. He got the inspiration from a scene he witnessed shooting in the Austrian Alps, with the Beatles, all dressed in black, fooling around in the snow. They were waving their arms in the air, while the music played. Freeman took publicity pictures while these scenes were shot in mid march 1965 in Obertauern.

Publicity pictures like this inspired the Help! album cover

In the studio a specially constructed platform was erected, with a white painted background. The four young men wore the black hats, coats and capes from the film wardrobe. "But when we came to do the shot the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn't look good," remembers Freeman, "So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms."

Ringo poses for the album cover while Victor Spinetti looks at him.

Within half an hour the pictures were taken.
Afterward, Freeman reversed some of the images, to get a more satisfying composition. For proof of this: look at John, George and Ringo’s jackets: they have the buttons on the wrong side.

John, George and Ringo reversed back again

Different poses for John and Ringo - session outtakes
The Beatles actually spell out "NUJV"
This is how "HELP" would have looked like with real semaphore.
In Holland, another version of the Help! sleeve was manufactured, with a giant Shell logo in the background. Most of the vinyl and all of the sleeves that make up this legendary item were manufactured in Holland but a few copies of the vinyl were also pressed in Sweden. This LP with its alternate picture sleeve was only ever issued to Shell employees and was never available to purchase in the shops.

The famous Dutch / Swedish Shell Help! LP cover, 1979.

During the years, there has been some discussion whether or not the Beatles' hand positions spell anything. It didn’t help that, in the US, the photos on the front cover were rearranged, from George-John-Paul-Ringo to George-Ringo-John-Paul (so that Paul appeared to be pointing to the Capitol logo?). And the image of George is reversed again. By all accounts, the semaphore remains gibberish: the various semaphore messages and their interpretations which have been ascribed to the HELP! cover, over the years are unfounded. The intention behind the arm positions was good "graphic positioning", not good semaphore.

USA Help! album

To accommodate lettering advertising the songs, the pictures of the Beatles were shrunk on the cover of the Capitol version of Help!.

There are no sleeve notes , but like on the back cover of A Hard Day’s Night, there are again four head shots taken by Freeman.

Help! back cover - Robert Freeman

This article was written by Patrick Roefflaer and you can find it in it's older incarnation here.
Captions by me
Books: 'Yesterday' by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, 'Many Years From Now' by Miles, 'In My Life' by Pete Shotton, 'The complete EMI Recording Sessions' by Mark Lewisohn and 'The Beatles London' by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder. And countless websites.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Album covers: Beatles For Sale


Beatles For Sale - Robert Freeman
The Beatles For Sale photo - uncropped and slightly different
In the fall of 1964, Brian, Robert Freeman and the Beatles have a meeting to discuss the cover of their next album, due for Christmas. They decide it has to be a gatefold sleeve, in colour and taken on an outside location. This was probably the first time ever a gatefold sleeve was used.

On a wintry day at the end of 1964 Robert Freeman took the four to London’s Hyde Park, near the Albert memorial. The guys didn’t have to dress up. They wore their usual black outfits, white shirts and black shawls. Because it was already seven p.m. and getting dark fast, it all had to happen quick. The photographs for the front and the back cover were taken within an hour and a half.

For the front cover, an assistant held up a branch with some leaves, which resulted in some colored spots on the picture.

For the back cover - the favorite Beatles picture of Freeman – he climbed in a tree to take a photograph from there, with a background of autumn leaves.

Beatles For Sale back cover - Robert Freeman
The uncropped photo
The rich autumnal colors and facial expressions of the covers of Beatles For Sale seemed to express the Beatles' weariness as their fame and hectic touring schedules became overwhelming.

Another photo from the session - Robert Freeman
For the inside of the gate fold sleeve, two black-and-white pictures were chosen to reflect the highlights of their busy year:
a scene from their American tour: the Beatles in concert at the Coliseum in Washington DC, on 11 February, 1964. It is a great photo, of which the photographer himself, is rightly proud;
a reflection of their first movie: the Beatles in the Twickenham Film Studios. This picture was taken in the Viewing Theatre, where they watched the ‘rushes’ of A Hard Day’s Night with the director, Richard Lester. They posed before a collage of film stills on the wall by a staircase in the lobby.

Beatles For Sale - fold out cover
The sleeve notes were by Derek Taylor.

This article was written by Patrick Roefflaer and you can find it in it's older incarnation here.

Books: 'Yesterday' by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, 'Many Years From Now' by Miles, 'In My Life' by Pete Shotton, 'The complete EMI Recording Sessions' by Mark Lewisohn and 'The Beatles London' by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder. And countless websites.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Album covers - A Hard Day's Night


A Hard Day's Night - Robert Freeman
For the cover of the third Beatles album, Robert Freeman was asked again. He wanted to suggest the idea of movement, by expressing a flow of a pictures: four rows of four head shots, set up as though they were frames from a movie. The pictures of the four individual Beatles were taken in Freeman’s studio, in London. He asked them to make another facial expression for each new photo.

This UK movie poster had even more images
The photos were also used at the end of the movie.

While there was a blue frame for the British albums, in some countries they used a red frame. For example for the Brazilian and the American album. The US counterpart of A Hard Day's Night had only four large frames instead of sixteen small ones, thus ruining the original idea.

The US album, ruining the original idea but still a cool design

The Brazilian album

The german film programme was also designed with a red frame. Note Wilfred Brambell as one of the heads.

For the last time, the back cover notes are written by Tony Barrow. There are also four head shots of the Beatles, taken from the movie.

A Hard Day's Night back cover - Robert Freeman
This article was written by Patrick Roefflaer and you can find it in it's older incarnation here.

Books: 'Yesterday' by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, 'Many Years From Now' by Miles, 'In My Life' by Pete Shotton, 'The complete EMI Recording Sessions' by Mark Lewisohn and 'The Beatles London' by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder. And countless websites.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Album covers: With The Beatles


With The Beatles - Robert Freeman
In August 1963, during the Summer tour in the coast towns, the Beatles stayed a week in a Bournemouth hotel. At the invitation of Brian Epstein, the young jazz-photographer Robert Freeman (27), hung around with them for a few days, to take some pictures. When George Martin phoned that he needed a photo for the cover of the second Beatles album, Brian asked him for a few ideas. Robert suggested something in half-shadow, to reflect the image of the Beatles in black. Something similar to his black-and-white jazz photographs.

Freeman remembers that the next noon a set up was prepared in the dining room of the Palace Hotel: with a maroon velvet curtain as a solid dark background and the natural bright sidelight coming through the large windows.

Robert Freeman's book - The Beatles: A Private View
Paul McCartney on the other hand, is sure the session took place in a corridor: "He pulled out four chairs and arranged us in a hotel corridor; it was very un-studio-like. The corridor was rather dark and there was a window at the end, and by using this heavy source of natural light coming from the right, he got that photo."

Freeman put Ringo a little lower not to have four heads in a row. Ringo was a bit smaller anyway and he was the last to join the group. Freeman doesn’t remember consciously arranging the Beatles in any particular order, but noticed later that they ended up in the reverse order of their grouping on the cover of Please Please Me.

Outtake from the photo session - Robert Freeman
Freeman used a very sensitive film, with big grain and a 180 mm telelens. Within half an hour one of the most famous sleeves in rock history was conceived. Paul: "He got this moody picture which people think he must have worked at for ever and ever in great technical detail. But it was an hour. He sat down, took a couple of rolls and he had it... Robert was good. I liked his photography a lot."
While the Beatles were pleased with the results – it remembered them of the pictures Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Volmer took of them in Hamburg in 1960 – that was not the case for everybody else. Beatles’ publicist Tony Barrow noted in Beatles Monthly that "Brian Epstein was very disappointed with the photograph and the Beatles put tremendous pressure on him to support them and take the picture to EMI."

The marketing executives at EMI thought that the picture was "shockingly humorless". "Where is the fun? Why are they looking so grim? We want to project happy Beatles for happy fans."

Happy Beatles for happy fans - unused outtake from photo session, Robert Freeman
Moreover that kind of black-and-white photographs had only been used for jazz album covers, whose standards of design were constantly high, but for popular musicians it was simply not done.
In the end the Beatles won and the sleeve went on to become another iconic Beatles image.
For the second time, the tasks to write the notes on the back cover, came to Tony Barrow.
In the United States, the same picture was used for the first Capitol album Meet the Beatles!. However, the US copies were tinted blue.
Meet The Beatles - USA album
Freeman was not designated the Beatles' official photographer, but he did frequently take pictures of them in the next three years. Paul McCartney described his photographs later as "amongst the best ever taken of the Beatles".

This article was written by Patrick Roefflaer and you can find it in it's older incarnation here.

Books: 'Yesterday' by Robert Freeman, The Beatles Anthology book, 'Many Years From Now' by Miles, 'In My Life' by Pete Shotton, 'The complete EMI Recording Sessions' by Mark Lewisohn and 'The Beatles London' by Mark Lewisohn and Peter Schreuder. And countless websites.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Album covers: Please Please Me


Please Please Me - Angus McBean

When the matter came up of the album cover for the first album of the Beatles, their producer George Martin proposed to call the album Off The Beatle Track. A picture could be taken at the nearby London Zoo, he reckoned, in front of the home of the insects. Paul doodled a few sketches for a design with that title. George Martin advised the use of the theatrical photographer Angus McBean, a man he worked with in the past.

Please Please Me - Paul McCartney's illustration. Even though it was John Lennon that had attended Art school, it was usually Paul McCartney who took an interest in the design for the Beatles record covers.
However the direction of the zoo made objections. George Martin clearly liked the title, and when it wasn't used for the album, he used it for his own LP with instrumental Beatles covers in 1964.

George Martin's album
Around the third week of January 1963 a first session took place, at the studio of Angus McBean, in his London house. The Beatles wore their new, mole-colored velveteen performing suits. One of these pictures was used in September 1963 for the cover of the EP The Beatles’ Hits and later, in America, for the Vee Jay album Introducing The Beatles. For this album, however, Vee Jay mirrored the image.

UK EP-cover

USA - Introducing The Beatles album
This first photo session was not satisfactory and a second was arranged. McBean agreed to meet them at the EMI house in Manchester Square, London around mid-February 1963. The photographer recalled later: "As I went into the door I was in the staircase well. Someone looked over the banister - I asked if the boys were in the building, and the answer was yes. "Well", I said, "get them to look over, and I will take them from here."
I only had my ordinary portrait lens, so to get the picture, I had to lie flat on my back in the entrance. I took some shots and I said, "That’ll do."

Please Please Me - Photo session. Apple no longer has all the originals of these photos, as they were accidentally binned in 2003 by someone who was cleaning the offices at Apple.
A number of pictures were taken with the four boys looking down over the railing of the first floor to the entrance of the building.

But not everybody was convinced. On March 5th, EMI staff photographer John Dove took publicity pictures of the Beatles in and round the EMI-house. On some of these also Dick James, George Martin and Brian Epstein can be spotted. Afterward he tried to make a suitable picture for the album-cover, with the Beatles fooling around with a parking meter at the nearby Montague Place and jumping of the steps of the EMI studio in Abbey Road.

Unused idea for the first Beatles album
Fooling around with a parking meter at Montague Place
At last it was decided that the Angus McBean picture in the staircase was the best option.

When The Beatles were on tour with Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, an advertisement for the Please Please Me album was featured in the tour programme. The cover is a mock up, as final typefaces had not been decided upon yet.
Detail from the programme page (above).
The cover made the staircase so famous that when, at the end of the ‘90s EMI vacated the premises at Manchester Square and moved to alternative office accommodation, the staircase was dissembled and painstakingly rebuild on the new premises.
Besides for the cover of the first album, different variations of the session are used for these covers:
  • the EP The Beatles (N°1)
  • the two compilations The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970
UK Beatles EP
Red album (1962-1966)

The sleeve notes on the back of the album sleeve are written by Tony Barrow.
The cover of the first pressings was a laminated sleeve with a polythene lined inner sleeve on which an advert for "Emitex" cleaning cloths was printed.

As proud as can be, the boys are showing off their fresh first album.
An equally proud record store owner/manager.
This article was written by Patrick Roefflaer and you can find it in it's older incarnation here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ringo to be inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Ringo got a phone call from Paul, who told him he was about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Ringo Starr is finally going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Previously, The Beatles as a band was inducted in 1988, John Lennon posthumously in 1994, Paul McCartney in 1999 and George Harrison posthumously in 2004.

Rolling Stone has an interview with Ringo about this, where he also says that his new album is finished and talks a bit about the upcoming tour.

The induction ceremony will be held on April 18th, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio, and the drummer will be inducted by his bassman, Paul McCartney, who said he was looking for something to do that night.

Source: Rolling Stone
Ringo's page at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website

Hope For The Future - Promo CD

Paul McCartney's new release is also out as a promotional CD.
Good news if you're a McCartney CD collector: The new "download-only" release from the Beatle is available on a promotional CD, featuring six tracks.

1. Hope For The Future (Edit) 3:08
2. Hope For The Future (Main) 4:06
3. Hope For The Future (Trash) 2:56
4. Hope For The Future (Beatsession Mix) 6:00
5. Hope For The Future (Jaded Mix) 5:33
6. Hope For The Future (Mirwais Mix) 4:24

The EP will also be made available on a 12" vinyl disc on January 12th (Jan. 13th in the USA), but if you don't own a turntable and you prefer physical, factory made discs to downloads, the promotional CD is what you'll need to hunt down.

In an interview with Digital Spy, McCartney was asked if he thought more and more acts will turn to video games as an option to get their music out there?

"I think it's a possibility, yeah. It really depends on whether the people making the games think it's appropriate. I mean Prodigy did that thing years ago, 'Firestarter', and that was for a video game. It was for a very early Playstation thing, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, that's cool,' because that's how I would hear that song. People have done it since, so I'm not the first to do it. But what I've done is a straight forward song rather than a digital one, which you can do for computer games. With this game being big and epic, it was more like writing a film soundtrack. I wonder that it well might happen that people start to ring up the video game developers... 'Hey, I've got a song!'"

Of course, McCartney is known to have been fascinated by video games early on. Back in the 8-bit era, a video game was created around his "Give My Regards To Broad Street" film in 1984, and his 1989 music video for Ou est le Soleil was inspired by the video games of the day.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 on sale

The price just went down a notch on the album The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963. It went down from £34.99 to £19.99 in the UK, and a similar reduction is also in effect across the iTunes Stores in other countries.