I continue my exploration of different ways to think about leadership by considering perhaps the most iconic album cover in the history of rock and roll, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In Rolling Stone article, entitled “Beatles’ Iconic ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Art: 10 Things You Didn’t Know”, Colin Fleming wrote about the concept and execution. Fleming described it as “wonderful swirl of visuals, ranging from that most distinguished assembly of personalities on its front cover courtesy of Pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, to some sleeve work by the Dutch design team the Fool, to Michael Cooper’s photographs, to the grab-bag of cut-out treasures that accompanied the album.” In honor of the 50th anniversary of the cover shoot for the album, I thought we might consider some of the leadership lessons from it.
Leadership Lesson: Plan your leadership strategy out in a one, three and five year go-forward plan.
The idea for the cover was from Paul, who “produced ink drawings of the cover concept and shared them with Blake and his wife Haworth. “I did a lot of drawings of us being presented to the Lord Mayor,” Paul explained in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now, “with lots of dignitaries and lots of friends of ours around, and it was to be us in front of a big northern floral clock, and we were to look like a brass band. That developed to become the Peter Blake cover.” The idea was to make the cover art about the past, present and future.
Leadership Lesson: In leadership, as in law, there are no new ideas. But you can synthesize other’s ideas into a new formulation.
However, it may have been that he was at the very least ‘inspired’ by another band’s album cover. Fleming noted, “A Beatles tribute/parody EP, released three years prior to Sgt. Pepper by the Swedish brass band Mercblecket, featured artwork that was strikingly similar to the final Pepper cover. McCartney hasn’t gone on record about the earlier image, but Mercblecket did entertain the Beatles upon their arrival in Stockholm in 1964, and according to Swedish record dealer Jorgen Johansson, group member Roger Wallis has claimed he gave McCartney a copy of the EP during the trip.”
Leadership Lesson: Sometimes your first ideas can be improved upon.
The cover was originally to have been an abstract painting. Fleming wrote, “The Beatles were also going to situate themselves in an Edwardian sitting room amidst some bric-a-brac of old trophies and photographs. The appeal of Blake was that his art was envelope-pushing in a more modern sense, but with elements of the past, and the Beatles wanted Sgt. Pepper to appeal as much to teenagers as octogenarians.”
Leadership Lesson: Consider how a leadership initiative will be perceived after you translate it from English into a foreign language for use outside the US.
John Lennon had some of the most strident ideas on who should have appeared on the cover art. Fleming related, “Each Beatle had been tasked with coming up with a list of men and women throughout history that they wished to have join them at the grand imagistic fete seen on the album cover. All told, there are 57 photographs in the collage. Lennon wanting to be “bold and brassy” in McCartney’s words, stumped for Hitler and Christ to appear, and also Gandhi. EMI boss Sir Joseph Lockwood vetoed Gandhi’s inclusion, worried that the album would not sell in India. Occultist/Satanist Aleister Crowley did manage to make the grade, though.”
Leadership Lesson: Seek input from your stakeholders for any key leadership initiative.
There was a wide range of reactions from the celebrities who appeared on the cover. The most classic was from Mae West who said, “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club band?” Others had more varied reactions, “Shirley Temple wanted to hear the record before she would commit. Blake considered the collage “a theater design,” his mindset being that the fictional band had just played a concert in the park, and now were taking a photograph with their audience. Leo Gorcey, who starred in the Bowery Boys films, wanted $400 for his likeness, thus taking himself out of the mix.”
Leadership Lesson: When engaging in leadership training, make sure you are understood by foreign audiences.
The album cover was the first to feature the songs’ lyrics on the back cover, but it had the unintended effect of sparking the Paul is dead hysteria, although as John Lennon later noted, it was great for album sales. Fleming wrote, “On the album’s reverse, McCartney’s back is to the camera, and next to his head are the lyrics “without you” from George Harrison’s “Within You Without You.” “Clues” are alleged to be sprinkled throughout the record’s artwork: with the guitar floral arrangement on the front cover, for instance, and the O.P.D. badge that McCartney is wearing, which John Neary, in a Life article, called the British equivalent of “Dead on arrival.””
Leadership Lesson: If you find that a leadership solution you want is too expense or your department does not have the budget, consider the operationalization aspect of the tool and obtain funding from another corporate function.
It was the most expensive album cover up to that time. As Paul noted, “We originally wanted to have an envelope stuck inside with gifts in, but it became too hard to produce. It was hard enough, anyway, and the record company were having to bite the bullet as it was costing a little bit more than their usual two pence cardboard cover.” Fleming ran the numbers and found, that “Most album covers cost around 50 pounds to make; this Beatles/Blake/Haworth opus ran to more than 3,000 pounds. A lot of that had to do with paying people to use their likeness, which was rarely a factor for a rock LP cover.”
Sgt. Pepper’s is right up there for me as one of the very greatest rock and roll albums of all-time. I still remember when it was released, via radio, to the western world. At the age of 10, I might not have fully appreciated the lyrics but, even then, I knew good music. My suggestion is that you fire up your iTunes (or even better yet go full retro and fire up the turntable), turn up the volume and sit back and enjoy.