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 smiling Beatles”, U.K. collector’s card from 1964, as seen in Har Van Fulpen’s book from 1992, The “Beatles”: An Illustrated Diary. Outtake from the photo session.

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.

4 Responses

  1. ted mills says:

    Coincidence or influence? This screengrab from Chris Marker's 1962 sci-fi classic "La Jette" features a strikingly similar shot…I've queued up the moment in the film on YouTube:

  2. Hugh Nique says:

    I always loved this one, released in 1972.

  3. Cliff says:

    Cool stuff! Here's my appreciation:

  4. Pete says:

    They should have gotten Astrid Kirchherr to do this photo shoot, as it was her influence to use the half shadow effect….

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