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Beatles Album Covers, seeing and observing

Which Beatles album covers can you visualize right now? A few of them can be classed as Universal Knowledge for people over a certain age, and they are an occasional source of quiz questions. Here’s an example from a recent edition of “The 100k Drop”:

“Which member of the Beatles wears a blue military coat on the cover of the 1967 album ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’?”

Possible answers: Ringo Starr / Paul McCartney / George Harrison / John Lennon

The question was asked at a point in the show where contestants are given four possible answers, but most of us will not need to be reminded of the names of The Fab Four. The answer appears at the end of this piece in case you want to think about it for a bit longer.

You might have a very strong visual preference, and enough interest in clothes to be able to picture the colours of all four Beatles’ jackets on the cover of “Sgt Pepper”. I don’t have either character trait, but during the 60 seconds when the contestants moved their money around I could confidently eliminate one member of the band. I could picture him in his green jacket, and felt that if pushed I would have made the right choice from the other three.

Soon after watching the show I took down the boxed set of Beatles CDs that my brother gave me for Christmas a few years ago. (It was something to do with a newspaper promotion in Spain, where he lives.) I took a long, deliberate look at each album cover and tried to remember key things about them. Unsurprisingly a few potential quiz questions came to mind, especially related to the cover of “Abbey Road”. Along with “Sgt Pepper” this is probably the album cover that can be visualized most readily by most people, the four band members crossing the road near the famous recording studio. If you take a trip to that zebra crossing during daylight hours you are likely to see a group of tourists recreating the image. Here are a few questions, all related to the cover of “Abbey Road”:

Which Beatle is wearing a white suit?

Which member of the band does not have a beard or moustache?

Which Beatle is wearing jeans?

Which Beatle is barefoot?

Which Beatle is on the far left of the picture?

Which Beatle is holding a cigarette in his right hand? [The cigarette has been edited out of some later copies of the image, but it was on the original album sleeve.]

Again, the answers appear at the end of the piece.

We’re dealing here with the difference between seeing and observing. You could see the same image thousands of times but not be able to answer detailed questions about it. Similarly, you might walk up a set of stairs hundreds of times but not know how many steps there are. This is Sherlock Holmes territory, and the number of steps leading from the hall up to Holmes’s rooms in Baker Street is the subject of a conversation he has with Dr Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”. A while back, at our local second-hand bookshop, I bought “Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes” by Maria Konnikova, having never heard of the book or the author. It’s the kind of impulse purchase that means there are hundreds of unread and partly-read books on my shelves. I have dipped into this one a few times, but might never read it from cover to cover. I don’t especially want to think like Sherlock Holmes. The author’s childhood memories of her father reading the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to her and her siblings are the starting point of the book. She quotes from Holmes’s conversation with Watson about the number of steps on that staircase in Baker Street: “You see, but you do not observe … Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

One evening last week I went through that boxed set of Beatles CDs with my 13-year-old son. He has heard much of the music, but was unfamiliar with most of the artwork. He couldn’t distinguish between John, Paul, George and Ringo, which is understandable. How many 13-year-olds could? The fashions changed in so many ways, and so did their faces, from “Please Please Me” in 1963 through to “Let it be” in 1970, via “With the Beatles”, “Help!” and the rest. The band do not appear in the same order from one picture to the next. The TV presenters Ant and Dec, who until earlier this year were a fixture of prime-time TV, have always appeared with Ant on the left and Dec on the right of our screens, so you can tell which is which. When Ant returns to presenting duties I expect they will do so again. The order in which the Beatles appear varies from album to album. They do not appear in the same order on any more than two covers. Can you visualize the order they appear in on any of their album sleeves?

A list appears at the end of this piece, but first the answers to the questions about “Sgt Pepper” and “Abbey Road”.

The Answers

Which member of the Beatles wears a blue military coat on the cover of the 1967 album ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’?

Paul McCartney

The following questions all relate to the cover of “Abbey Road”

Which Beatle is wearing a white suit?

John Lennon

Which member of the band does not have a beard or moustache?

Paul McCartney

Which Beatle is wearing jeans?

George Harrison

Which Beatle is barefoot?

Paul McCartney

Which Beatle is on the far left of the picture?

George Harrison

Which Beatle is holding a cigarette in his right hand? [The cigarette has been edited out of some later copies of the image, but it was on the original album sleeve.]

Paul McCartney

Finally, the order that the band appears, reading from left to right, along with the relevant album(s):

Ringo, Paul, George, John: “Please Please Me”

John, George, Paul, Ringo: “With the Beatles” {left to right) and “A Hard Day’s Night” (top to bottom)

George, John, Ringo, Paul: “Beatles for Sale”, “Rubber Soul”

George, John, Paul, Ringo: “Help!”

Paul, John, Ringo, George: “Revolver” (based on the larger drawings of the band members, and reading left to right over two lines. If you read clockwise from the top left corner it’s Paul, John, George, Ringo)

John, Ringo, Paul, George: “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

George, Paul, John, Ringo: “Yellow Submarine”

George, Paul, Ringo, John: “Abbey Road”

John, Paul, Ringo, George: “Let it be” (reading left to right over two lines. If you read clockwise from the top left corner it’s John, Paul, George, Ringo)

 

“I have both seen and observed.”

 

 

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