This isn't news, and most of you probably know all about it. But I was looking through some Beatles stuff and started thinking about the legendary Butcher cover and so here we are...
In 1966 The Beatles were right in the middle of their change from boy band pop stars into something more mature and serious. They had just released Rubber Soul, which featured songs like Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) and In My Life, and were preparing Revolver, the album which really propelled them to the next level of songcraft*. At the time US releases of Beatles albums weren't identical to UK releases, and there would often be songs left over, and there were always songs that were released just as singles.
Yesterday and Today was one of the American odds and ends albums, made up of a hodgepodge of tracks, including Act Naturally, Yesterday (which had not been collected on an American LP before), Nowhere Man and more. It probably wouldn't be worth noting today if it weren't for the controversy over the cover.
The Beatles had grown really sick of standard publicity shoots, and when photographer Robert Whitaker (who had been shooting the band for a couple of years; his photos make up some of the Revolver cover) wanted to do a conceptual art shoot with them, they jumped at the opportunity. The title of the shoot was "Somnambulant Adventure," and it was intended as a surrealist critique of... well, it was 1966 and it was a surrealist critique/reaction to lots of things, not the least of which was the Beatles' own fame.
Whitaker took a whole series of photos with the Beatles draped in pork and holding dismembered baby dolls; the image was intended to be part of a triptych that would somehow reflect Moses coming off Mount Sinai and finding the Jews worshipping a golden calf (seriously). Instead one of the images became the cover to Yesterday and Today.
Surprisingly it was Paul, the cute nice Beatle, who was most adamant about what would come to be called "The Butcher Cover" on the album. Some people thought it was a Beatle commentary on how Capitol Records 'butchered' their albums - the band was very specific in their song sequencing - but Paul and John both said they were trying to say something about the Vietnam War.
The album went out to stores and retailers flipped. It's weird to imagine that an image like this would have been considered way over the top at the time, but it was, and that's without even taking into account The Beatles' status as a band whose fanbase was filled with tweens (a phrase that didn't even exist at the time).
750,000 copies were printed up and were almost immediately recalled. Capitol at first decided to scrap the covers, and many ended up in a Florida landfill. Eventually they realized what a waste it was and decided to instead paste a new cover on the existing albums. This new cover had a photo of the Beatles senselessly surrounding a steamer trunk; Whitaker had taken that picture as well.
The new cover was literally glued over the old one, and many many people peeled it off to reveal the original Butcher cover. These are called 'Second State' covers, and some are so haphazardly glued on that you can actually see the picture beneath. First State Butcher covers are incredibly rare. Alan Livingston, president of Capitol at the time, wisely rescued a whole crate of sealed Butcher Covers; his son sold one for $39,000. They are currently valued at around $10,000 to $12,000.
* For my money Rubber Soul and Revolver is the great double album that was never a double album.