The secret messages between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones hidden in their album covers
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have a chequered history if you believed everything you read about the two groups in the press during their rise to prominence. Despite being painted as rivals, barring the occasional flippant comment, the story of two bands seemingly at war wasn’t the case at all.
Here, we explore the subtle hidden messages between the two groups on their 1967 record covers Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request respectively.
Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record that saw The Rolling Stones go full psychedelia for the project, was heavily criticised at the time of release and billed as an act of copying the recent work of The Beatles—more specifically, the material of the Liverpudlians’ now-iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With the similarities extending to even the album artwork, the Stones’ effort was, in reality, a deliberate move and featured a subliminal message that showed their admiration for the pioneering Merseysiders.
Closer inspection of the Their Satanic Majesties Request artwork shows a significant amount of psychedelic imagery which, as some rock historians have suggested, is the reason that The Beatles reference often goes unnoticed. The album cover shows Jagger and the rest of the band dressed as wizards, an immediate attention grabber which allows for the flowers with the faces of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr to hide in plain sight.
Photographer Michael Cooper was the mastermind behind the artwork for Their Satanic Majesties Request and, in 2018, his son Adam spoke about the design in an interview—finally addressing why The Beatles were featured. Cooper said: “The British press were constantly dreaming up rumours that relations between the Beatles and the Stones were always bad, and they presented this bad-boy image of the Stones and the clean image of the Beatles and all of that. It was a complete invention by the press. People believed it, so the Stones, by 1967, said: ‘We’ve had enough of this shit. Let’s try to communicate through the cover to tell the public this is not the truth.'”
Despite the endless headlines, both bands remained calm. While The Stones offered their hidden tribute, The Beatles had already made their move by putting out the message that there was no bad blood between the two groups.
Famously, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band artwork sees a doll wearing a shirt which reads ‘Welcome the Rolling Stones’ and Cooper believes that these two subliminal messages combined prove that the bands not only respected each other but, contrary to popular beliefs, actually liked each other.
See The Beatles cover, below.
Prior to the controversy regarding The Rolling Stones ‘copying’ The Fab Four on their psychedelic venture, the two bands famously shared material when The Stones recorded ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, a song that was originally written by The Beatles. The track, which got The Stones to Number 12 in the charts, showed that there was a level of respect between the contemporaries.
Recalling the incident that led to the gifting of a song, Stones’ frontman Jagger once said: “We knew [the Beatles] by then and we were rehearsing and Andrew brought Paul and John down to the rehearsal. They said they had this tune, they were really hustlers then. I mean the way they used to hustle tunes was great: ‘Hey Mick, we’ve got this great song.’ So they played it and we thought it sounded pretty commercial, which is what we were looking for, so we did it like Elmore James or something. I haven’t heard it for ages but it must be pretty freaky ’cause nobody really produced it. It was completely crackers, but it was a hit and sounded great onstage.”
However, as part of an interview in the 1970s, John Lennon was in a typically defensive mood and would refute Jagger’s memory of how the Stones’ came to release the track, detailing in The Beatles Anthology that the band had already recorded the track for themselves but decided they would never release as a single and, in turn, offered it up to Jagger and the Stones as a Beatles cast off.
The Beatles would eventually go on to release it a year later anyway, appearing on the group’s second UK album, With the Beatles, with the vocals provided by drummer Ringo Starr. Discussing the track, Lennon was dismissive of its credibility: “It was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”