Richard Avedon’s Beatles portraits

The famous “psychedelic” individual Avedon portraits of the fab four.

In January 1965, US photographer Richard Avedon met The Beatles at the Ad Lib club in London. He was in town researching an assignment for the magazine Harper’s Bazaar. At a photographic studio in a penthouse in Thompson House, 200 Gray’s Inn Road, London, Avedon shot a portrait photo of Ringo, wearing a laurel wreath, looking like a Roman emperor. The photograph was first published in the Daily Mail newspaper on 12 May 1965, under the headline “Hail, Ringo”.

One of the January 1965 Avedon portraits of Ringo.

Two and a half years later, The Beatles were photographed by Richard Avedon on August 11, 1967. at the same photographic studio – and the studio was again used by The Beatles for one of the “Mad Day Out” photo locations on 28 July 1968. Avedon, whose career spanned 60 years, died in 2004 at the age of 81 while on assignment in Texas for The New Yorker.

The American photographer took a number of shots of the group in the August 1967 session, four of which were later adorned with psychedelic effects. They were first published in the 9 January 1968 edition of the US magazine Look, and were subsequently sold as posters.

Look magazine, front.

They were published simultaneously by Stern Magazine in Germany, Daily Express in England, Varagids in Holland and Look Magazine in the USA. In my native Norway, they were printed in youth magazine Det Nye, and they were probably printed in one or other magazine in every country where The Beatles were popular. The Varagids prints are the smallest, measuring 18.5″ x 26.77″ (47 cm x 68 cm). The Stern and Daily Express versions measure 19 x 27″ (47,7cm x 68,7cm), the Look versions are slightly larger, at 22.5″ x 31″ (57.15 cm x 78.74 cm).

The German Stern Magazin, no. 16, 1968.

In the USA, you could order your set for $1.50 from a pullout tab in the magazine, and wait for them to be delivered by mail. The posters were also available from newsstands, wrapped in plastic, and displayed in a special presentation stand. The “Mount Rushmore” banner was the same size in all countries, 40″ x 14″ (101 cm x 37 cm).

German cardboard display poster holder.

The following image is a colour proof of the photographs, prepared for the edition of Look magazine.

Collection of colour separation proofs for Richard Avedon’s psychedelic portraits of The Beatles for Look magazine, 1968.
Advertisement for the Look editions of the posters.

By contractual agreement at the time of the Aug. 1967 Beatles shoot, Mr. Avedon sold the copyrights to his Beatles psychedelic colour work and other Beatles portraits to NEMS Enterprises, Ltd. NEMS was the firm run by the Beatles music manager Brian Epstein. Avedon relinquished all rights, but collected royalties under the now defunct Richard Avedon Posters, Inc. On August 27, 1967, sixteen days after Avedon’s Beatles photo session, Brian Epstein died from an accidental mixture of alcohol and pills.

French advertisement for the five posters

Clive Epstein was management director of his brother Brian’s NEMS Enterprises, Ltd. He helped his and brother Brian’s mother Queenie Epstein, who was heir executrix of her son Brian’s estate. In 1979 Clive Epstein told Richard Warren Lipack, the then young unknown Beatles historian visiting the Epsteins in Liverpool; a secret. Clive had explained to author Lipack that in order to circumvent impending death duty taxes on the estate, he had to sell NEMS quickly. He did so, selling to Triumph Ltd. Triumph stock was then bought for his mother Queenie with the money but Triumph went bust and almost, the Epsteins.

A retailers’ cardboard stand, housing the posters for sale. US version. 

Since the Beatles photo copyrights were owned by NEMS, when Brian Epstein died and NEMS transferred to Triumph, Ltd, the copyrights transferred as well. The copyrights now became held by the liquidation receiver when the firm went under. It was at this point that Mr. Avedon could have bought back the Beatles 1967 photo copyrights, but did not. The four psychedelic portraits were later re-published in several magazines around the world, throughout the seventies typically in the size of a magazine page, which you could then tear out and hang on your wall.

Copyright notice from one of the prints.

Never mind copyrights, in 1990 Avedon created a Beatles portfolio, which was a colour dye-transfer set of the four psychedelic colour pictures of each of the Fab Four. These prints measured 21 5/8″ x 17¼” (55cm x 43.9cm). Avedon created nine editions of the portfolio, all commanding hefty prices at the high end collector’s market these days.

The four portraits later appeared on the 2000 hits album 1.

At the same time as the four “psychedelic” portraits, Avedon also shot another set of individual portraits which have been used on a Beatles album cover.

Individual black and white portraits

These portraits were used by Avedon to create a collage, which was also used in Look magazine and offered as a banner alongside the four psychedelic portraits.

A collage made from the individual portraits depicted above.

The collage was nicknamed “Mount Rushmore”. After the success of the 1976 compilation album “Rock and Roll Music”, Capitol wanted to repeat the success by releasing another themed compilation album, called “Love Songs”. The packaging for this set was designed by the then Art Director of Capitol records, Kenneth R. Anderson. Christmas 1977 was approaching, and Capitol wanted to cash in on the Beatles revival. Anderson wanted to use the “Mount Rushmore” collage, but didn’t know that this was in fact a collage of four portraits. Furthermore, Anderson wanted to bring Paul McCartney closer to the front – after all, Paul was the main composer of many of the songs and he was the only Beatle still connected to Capitol at the time. So, using airbrush retouching, Capitol Records created a new version of “Mount Rushmore” to serve as both a logo and inner gatefold for the album.

The 1977 version of “Mount Rushmore”, used as gatefold on the album
“Logo” version, used on the front cover. Close up.

The album was released by Capitol Records in the United States on 21 October 1977 (catalogue number SKBL-11711) and on Parlophone in the United Kingdom on 19 November 1977 (PCSP 721). The lavish “leather look” compilation album did fine for Christmas and stayed on the Billboard charts for 31 weeks, eventually selling 3,000,000 units. Still, it was the first Beatles Capitol album to miss the Top Ten, indeed, the Top Three! since “The Early Beatles”. It only got up to number 24.


All tracks written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, except where noted.

Side one

    “Yesterday” – 2:03

    “I’ll Follow the Sun” – 1:47

    “I Need You” (George Harrison) – 2:27

    “Girl” – 2:30

    “In My Life” – 2:24

    “Words of Love” (Buddy Holly) – 2:12

    “Here, There and Everywhere” – 2:22

Side two

    “Something” (George Harrison) – 3:00

    “And I Love Her” – 2:28

    “If I Fell” – 2:18

    “I’ll Be Back” – 2:21

    “Tell Me What You See” – 2:35

    “Yes It Is” – 2:38

Side three

    “Michelle” – 2:40

    “It’s Only Love” – 1:55

    “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” – 2:16

    “Every Little Thing” – 2:01

    “For No One” – 1:59

    “She’s Leaving Home” – 3:35

Side four

    “The Long and Winding Road” – 3:37

    “This Boy” – 2:12

    “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – 2:02

    “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” – 2:07

    “I Will” – 1:46

    “P.S. I Love You” – 2:02

The LP’s original packaging included an 11 x 11″ booklet, with the songs’ lyrics printed, calligraphy-style, on simulated parchment paper. For the first several pressings, the cover itself was simulated leather, and the front logo was simulated gold-foil. A deluxe edition on yellow vinyl was also produced.

The Avedon logo was also used on the sleeve of an aborted single.

A planned single, “Girl”/”You’re Going To Lose That Girl” was scrapped, but picture sleeves had been produced, these are now collector’s items.

The newly redesigned “Love Songs” logo was even used on the label of the US pressing of the album.
Advertising the album in Rolling Stone magazine.

In the pre-Anthology era, Capitol continued to release Beatles compilation albums like “Beatles Ballads” and “Reel Music”. Like “Rock and Roll Music” and “Love Songs”, all have later been discontinued, and never officially made it to the CD era.

The poor cousin: cassette tape edition of “Love Songs”.

Of course, when it was first decided to release The Beatles albums on CD back in 1987, the catalogue was streamlined to just include the original UK albums, accompanied by a special collection of wayward tracks called “Past Masters” and assembled by Mark Lewisohn. In 1993 however, the Capitol compilations “red” and “blue” albums was seen fit to reproduce on CD. In later years, we have seen that albums from other countries have made it to the market, starting with the US sixties era albums, and 2014 also saw a collection of five Japanese albums officially released on CD. Perhaps one time we will also see some of Capitol’s compilations like this one making their CD debut.

12 Responses

  1. Ariel C says:

    I would love to see this in a "mini-lp cd" format.

  2. db says:

    Interesting post

  3. David Brailsford says:

    Thanks Roger. Very interesting!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey, excuse my offtopic, but it's me or the is offline for a few day now?

  5. McCracken says:

    At least the Rarities LP contained different mixes and creations – should be available on CD.

  6. Lizzie Bravo says:

    Very interesting post, as always! I bought the four posters and the long one by mail while in London at the time. Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to the four psychedelic ones, but the long black and white one is still with my daughter, framed. And I believe I still have the cardboard tube they came in, somewhere. Regards from Rio de Janeiro!

  7. Cream says:

    Thanks for the great info.Which collection would consider more valuable, the look set or the stern set.

  8. Enersha says:

    Hi there. Can I check I believe I have a late reprint but my Mount Rushmore has a blue background. Does anyone know it’s origin ?

  9. Enersha says:

    Hello I have the Mount Rushmore print with a blue background. I believe it’s a reprint from the 80s can anyone give me some more background on this one? Cheers

  10. Mauro Suttora says:

    Photos were shot in 1968, not 1967

  11. Reporter says:

    Were there ever bootleg copies made in the original Look Mag size with all the identifiers at the bottom (Avedon, Look Mag, NEMS,etc)? I have a set I know are originals but people interested in buying want proof they aren't repro. The size is right, the info at the bottom, the copy being in different colors, etc.

  12. Chris ward says:

    Hi, we actually have a set that were produced as limited edition prints to promote the number one album by parlophone records when my wife worked I wondered if you had any details about how many were produced at this stage? Thanks

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