June 2017 of course marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ oft-hailed ‘masterpiece,’ ‘groundbreaking’ album, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ As such, I think I’ve been given a timely-enough excuse here to dedicate a little blog-post space to some of the details behind the creation of its controversial front-cover sleeve, a sleeve which, of course, over the years, has given birth to any number of theories of a conspiratorial and esoteric nature from those who believe it to feature clues pertaining to the ‘death’ of Paul McCartney in 1966, and those who accuse The Beatles of ‘Satanism’ due to the inclusion of ‘the Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley in the cardboard cut-out crowd of illustrious and famous people staring at us from behind the band.
We’ve been told by those closely and intimately involved in the album-cover’s concept and design that all if not some of the renowned and/or notorious figures included on the sleeve were chosen either by John, Paul and George (although – reportedly – not Ringo). Recalling the making of the album-cover in the 1997 book ‘Paul McCartney. Many Years from Now,’ the former-Beatle tells author and long-time friend Barry Miles that he “asked everyone in the group to write down whoever their idols were… folk-heroes like Albert Einstein and Aldous Huxley… William Burroughs, and of course John, the rebel, put in Hitler and Jesus, which EMI (Records) wouldn’t allow, but that was John. We were starting to amass a list of who everybody’s favourites were…” It’s, I think, fair to assume that the ‘Beatles Satanist’ tag that’s been levelled against the band with regards to this album is perhaps largely due to the fact that, as McCartney states, the group-members themselves are said to have chosen who would appear in the cardboard cut-out collage.
Now, the question I have found myself asking here on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the album’s release is, which member of the band specifically asked for the inclusion of Crowley in the mix? Of course, I’m open to the possibly that it might have been a joint decision to add him in but, for some reason, that scenario doesn’t quite satisfy my curiosity. Sure, in the scheme of things, I suppose it might matter little as to who in the group in particular plumped for Aleister. However, I am intrigued to know, especially as very few if any sources on the internet appear to have looked into this, instead often choosing to conclude that it was a collective choice. Personally, I’ve seen no proof or reasonable enough evidence to corroborate this conclusion, but I have read noteworthy accounts that others close to the Beatles’ camp at that time – in other words, non band-members – might have had a hand in the collage’s selection process too. For example, George Harrison – decades after the album’s release and during the making of the band‘s official 1990s documentary/biography ’The Beatles Anthology’ – recalled that although he himself chose a number of people for inclusion on the cover, he also “had no idea who chose some of” the others adding that it was the sleeve’s co-designer, the 1960s Pop-artist, Peter Blake who was largely responsible for putting “a lot more of the confusing people on there.” We’re not told who the “confusing people” in the collage are, but it wouldn’t be too much to assume, would it, that Crowley might be one of them? After all, his presence on the sleeve has resulted in a never-ending stream of head-scratching debate, theorising and investigation on countless websites, blogs and in printed literature too.
In the book ‘The Beatles: Off the Record,’ by Keith Badman, Blake is quoted as saying that he did indeed “also make a list” of names for the collage during the development stages, although he doesn’t reveal who his choices were. Is it likely that he was the one who opted for Crowley? Well… not according to Jann Haworth it seems. She’s Peter’s ex-wife and she was co-designer of the Sgt. Pepper cover. Apparently, she’s stated also that it was indeed a Beatle who chose Aleister. Unfortunately, at this moment in time, I can’t confirm this conclusively due to the fact that the interview in which she makes these claims is only available on the news-website ‘Boston.com,’ and it requires you to pay a fee of at least ten dollars to read it! I’ve been unable to locate an exact copy of this info from any other web-source, including ‘WayBackMachine‘…. A most un-agreeable predicament… and made all the more frustrating because Haworth, in the article from 2007, also reveals which Beatle chose Crowley for Pepper… or at least that’s what I’ve been led to understand after having perused the ’LashTAL’ internet-forum belonging to the ‘Aleister Crowley Society.’ It’s there I found the web-link to the Boston.com article in the first place – and also – thankfully – where the Society’s moderator, who appears to have read the article in full, informs us which member of the band Haworth is referring to…
Can you guess who it is?
Yup. But of course, there’s evidence out there to show that Lennon isn’t the only Beatle that’s given a passing nod in public to Crowley over the years. As I noted earlier, I suppose it matters not a jot who in the band wanted this notorious occultist on the album-cover, but it is quite satisfying nonetheless to have at least one known former Pepper insider giving us some scrap of info with regards to this question.
‘Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now’ by Barry Miles (pg. 305)