The Beatles Rock On  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Alexander Autographs.

Picture The Beatles dressed in white butcher smocks.  They’re also draped in slabs of raw, red meat and covered in nude, dismembered body parts of baby dolls.  On this particular album cover the four musical wizards are leering out at the world like they’re in on some kind of weird joke and we’re not. 

That was their original 1966 “Yesterday and Today” album cover.  

It was inspired by boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatle thing,.
— John Lennon

To say people were shocked when advance copies were released in the United Sates is putting it mildly.  And it wasn’t about the music. It was the album cover that freaked record reviewers and radio station disc jockey’s out. 

They couldn’t get past the grisly photo. Capital Records responded immediately and recalled the album and destroyed all the promotional materials related to it.   

The Beatles seemed to be having fun with the photo shoot.  But the reception was anything but friendly. 

“It was inspired by boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatle thing," John Lennon later said.  He was tired of the staging.

A new photo shoot was rescheduled with photographer Robert Whitaker and a tamer shot of The Beatles standing around a steamer trunk and looking stiff was reissued five days later.

Press proofs of the new purple trunk cover were scraped at the last minute when a white trunk cover design was used in its place.  The Beatles didn’t complain about the change at the time.  John Lennon said the cover was "as relevant as Vietnam."  Paul McCartney added that it was "very tasty meat."    

Many of the 750,000 or so original Butcher albums went into record stores with a new cover pasted on top of the old.  In reality, the covers could be peeled off and underneath remained the “fab-four butchers” in all their glory. 

The Butcher album cover turned out to be one of most collectible items of Beatle memorabilia.

The "Yesterday and Today" album was comprised of songs from the American versions of three other Beatles LPs, plus both sides of an earlier 45. 

Whitaker, the photographer, originally had a studio in Melbourne, Australia.  He was hired by Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager and spent a few years traveling with the band and photographing them on-and-off the road.

"We were all really fed up at taking what one had hoped would be designer-friendly publicity pictures," he said.  The whole thing was taken out of context.

Despite all the controversy, the album was number one on the U.S. Billboard charts by July of 1966 and reached gold soon after.

There has never been a band quite like The Beatles and probably never will be again.  They touched an entire baby boomer generation with their music in a way that literally transformed lives.  Pure magic.

On Oct 21, 2009, Alexander Autographs featured a selection of Beatles memorabilia in its Rock the Auction sale.  The Beatles first state (original), sealed, Butcher cover album of “Yesterday and Today” went on the block and sold for $25,095.

Extremely rare, the album came from the collection of Alan Livingston, president of Capital Records in 1966.  The pedigree doesn’t get any better than that.    

Here are values for other Beatle lots sold in the auction.

Update:  A sealed vintage Beatles "Butcher album” (Mint 10 Condition) sold for $125,000 at Heritage Auctions in February 2016.

Beatles promo poster; from Shea Stadium concert; photographic enlargement produced from original artwork supplied by Sid Bernstein Enterprises to Sullivan Productions; 1966; 36 inches by 48 inches;  $454.

Ringo Starr drawing; signed by Ringo; from his appearance on the The Simpsons television show; 1991; 10 inches by 8 inches;  $777.

Abbey Road album; signed by Ringo Starr; $956.

Signed envelope; signed by all four band members on the reverse side; 5 ¾ inches by 4 ¼ inches; late-1962;  $5,975.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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