Julia GiancolaCMS 200: Research Methods in Communication Professor Ebben April 19, 2012
• Have you ever looked at an album cover from one of your favorite bands and tried to find meaning in it?• As human beings, we are obsessed with finding meaning in what we see, hear, and do.• In the media and social world, signs are all around us, including on album covers & sleeves.• I chose to analyze Beatles album covers in particular because they are plentiful in signs and meanings.• The Beatles were one of the biggest and most influential bands of the 20th Century, and it will be interesting to see how the messages on their album covers played a part in their marketing and overall appeal.
• Before the creation of music videos, album covers were one of the few ways to represent music in a visual way.• In addition, covers also provide a form of both advertising and marketing.• In a way, album covers tend to follow the same conventions of other forms of media such as news headlines that seek to attract and retain the consumer’s attention, which in turn entices them to keep reading and hopefully make a purchase of the medium.• Have you ever been caught by a visual on the cover and were curious enough to buy the album?• The Beatles were definitely pioneers of using album cover designs to their advantage and were one of the first popular bands to utilize the intentional placement and arrangement of messages (in the forms of words and images) on their album covers.
• What meanings are represented in the album covers?• How are these meanings constructed through images, words, visual arrangements, etc.• What might the intent of this communication be and how did it affect their overall appeal over the course of their career?
• In a previous analysis conducted by Meghan, McGuire, researched was focused on whether the Beatles’ album covers were visual examples of Mikhail Bakhtins monoglossia, heteroglossia ,and polyglossia. This is a rather complex concept much different than my motive of research, therefore, my findings will greatly differ from her’s. To show the distinction between Beatles covers (specifically With the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Beatles White Album) compared to other album covers of the time, MacGuire looked at the album covers of the top six top selling albums from 1964, 1967, and 1968 (the years in which the three Beatles albums analyzed were released) with the following variables in mind:• The type of graphic featured (photograph vs. illustration)• The use of color vs. black and white (if photograph was used)• Facial expressions of musical artist (if photograph was used)• Placement and dominance of artists name on cover• Placement and dominance of album title on cover
• What I would like to know is the intent of the messages (constructed through words, images, visual arrangements, etc.) that are represented in the Beatles’ album covers. How did this affect their overall appeal throughout their career?• Unlike McGuire, I will not be putting much emphasis on albums from other artists for my research and there will be more emphasis placed on the Beatles’ messages and career alone.• One possible fallacy of McGuire’s research is that despite the use of the variables (listed on the previous slide), there was no labeling of allied concepts in her research. Also, many messages are open to interpretation as we all interpret signs differently. Even the Beatles themselves had different takes on their album covers, as you will discover later on.
Given the review of literature, I expect to findthe following:• That the intent of communication be that they were a band looking to push the envelope in every way possible down to their album covers• That the Beatles’ album cover design style evolved over time (experimentation of different concepts) in conjunction with the culture, their tastes, and status as band• That the evolution of their album covers was dependent of the amount of control and enthusiasm they had over its creation• That the “Beatles mystique” (myths or scandals surrounding the band, adding to their hype) purposely influenced many of their album cover choices aesthetically (words, images, visual arrangements, etc.)
Study Design/Method(s) • I felt that a semiotic analysis would be the best method of inquiry to go about this project because semiotics is the study of signs. • A semiotic analysis can be a very handy form of research because it enables us to understand how it is that people find meaning in the things that they do. For this assignment, I decided to focus on a diverse array of their most popular album covers to analyze from the beginning of their career up to the end. • I was able to apply the method by analyzing each cover (looking for allied concepts), creating a chart to display the findings, and then interpreting the results. Please note that not all albums shared the same allied concepts, explaining absence from some slides.
Study Design/Method(s)Because the Beatles put out a plentiful amount of albums during their run, it would be difficult toanalyze all of them. I decided to pick 6 of the most significant over a 5 year span withexplanations in the list below:• With the Beatles (1963) as it was the first Beatles album released in the U.S., making it the first time many stateside fans were exposed to the band• Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) because it was considered to be the Beatles’ first concept album, and ultimately ended up as one of their most successful albums• Magical Mystery Tour (1967) because it was released just after Sgt. Pepper’s and was produced without the guidance of longtime manager Brian Epstein. It was also (along with the movie of the same name) considered to be the Beatles’ only “failure” as it wasn’t received very well critically and commercially at the time of release.• The Beatles White Album (1968) because it is a great example of the Beatles’ post- psychedelic period and the depiction of one extreme to another• Abbey Road (1969) because it was their last recorded album (despite Let It Be being the last released) and a great example of how hype around a certain album can influence its success• Let It Be (1969) as it was The Beatles’ last released album and will be interesting to compare against the results of all the other albums to look for any consistent patterns, along with how they evolved over time. There was also unrest in the band at this point, and they broke up not long after the release of this album.
With the Beatles – 1963The following are some basic notes/observations I noticed, many of which werecompiled in a chart on the next slide (I will include a list for each album analyzed):• Photograph• Black and white• No band name depicted on cover• Title at the top in white strip above the photograph• Horizontal layout• John Lennon in is presented at the front, Ringo Starr in bottom right-hand corner• There is a shadowing over right half of their faces, the left half is illuminated• Shadowed silhouette of faces reminiscent of first quarter moon• John’s face, in comparison, is more illuminated than the others• None of them are smiling, happy, and/or performing
Allied Concepts With the BeatlesMetaphor The shadowed silhouettes of their faces look like the first quarter moon phase, possibly representing that they are a “new” and “young” group.Paradigmatic Analysis Oppositions to traditional album covers (black and white, half silhouettes, and no smiling faces) could have been purposely used to possibly generate a sense of mystery and appeal to the new group.Icons The fact that John is presented at the front and that his face is more illuminated that the others represents that he is the front man of the group.Codes The photograph is in a horizontal layout, associating the identity of the group as a whole, and how other than the fact that John is slightly more illuminated, for the most part the group seems to conform and blend in (all wearing the same color suit).
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967• Photograph• In color• Band located directly front and center• They are all dressed in different brightly colored suits• They are all holding brass instruments• They stand in a crowd of notable figures• Directly to the left of the band are wax figures of their earlier personas all dressed in the same kind and color suit• The Beatles have rid themselves of their original “mop-topped” and clean-cut image• Early wax figure of Ringo looks glum upon looking down at the flower bed, while John consoles him by placing his hand on Ringo’s shoulder• Some notable figures are pictured in color, others in black and white• Loaded with intertextuality (the notable figures, “Welcome the Rolling Stones” inscribed on the Shirley Temple doll, etc.)• Various props of significance are included such as a television set and a garden gnome among objects• The band name is boldly written in a red flower arrangement• Their drum, positioned in front of the band, includes the album name• None of them are smiling• No one band member is visually represented as the leader of the group, unlike previous their albums
Allied Concepts Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandMetaphor The flower bed arrangement along with the grieving wax Ringo/consoling John seems to represent the “death” of the early Beatles era and the birth of the new one.Icons The flower bed resembles a funeral flower arrangement.Indexes Directly to the left of the band are wax figures of their earlier personas (in , which may represent how they have changed and grown as a band both literally and artistically- no longer conforming).Intertextuality The Sgt. Pepper album cover is loaded with intertextuality everywhere with portraits of a diverse array of notable figures.Codes No one band member is visually represented as the leader of the group, unlike previous their albums demonstrating a sense of equality within the band.
– Paul McCartney regarding the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover (252)
Magical Mystery Tour
Magical Mystery Tour AnalysisMagical Mystery Tour – 1967• Photograph• In color• Side 1 track titles depicted at very top, side 2 at very bottom• Band name positioned center directly above the band in stars• Band members are positioned in the center, dressed as various animals• John is front and center as the walrus, Paul the hippo, George the bunny, and Ringo the chicken• Name of the album in bold rainbow type positioned directly below the band members and center aligned• Facial expressions unclear due to masks• Clearly a psychedelic album
Magical Mystery Tour AnalysisAllied Concepts Magical Mystery Tour The fact that John is presented at the front once againIcons represents that he is the front man of the group. The psychedelic culture of this time period caused many artistsIndexes of this time, including the Beatles, to experiment with bold colors and avant-garde imagery. The walrus, a symbol of death, is a character that has popped upSymbols many times in Beatles songs both during Magical Mystery Tour and after (which will coincide with the “Paul is dead” rumors and hype later on). There is intertextuality in this album cover because it refers toIntertextuality their movie of the same name (this album is a soundtrack) and John’s walrus was a reference to Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” The different animal marks and costumes further represent theCodes Beatles’ notion of individuality and nonconformity.
White Album AnalysisThe Beatles (AKA “The White Album”) – 1968• White square• No depiction of the band• The words "The Beatles" in embossed, right-aligned type• Band name = title• Very minimalist/simplistic design
White Album AnalysisAllied Concepts The Beatles (White Album)Paradigmatic Analysis The album design went against the conventions of what typical album covers of 1968 should look like could represent a release from the “Beatles mistique” and breaking away from the standard once again in a completely unorthodox way. They wished to leave behind their identity of the group known as “the Beatles.”Indexes With the commercial failure of Magical Mystery Tour, it is possible that the Beatles wanted to drift away from the psychedelic image and start with a clean slate.Symbols White can symbolize many things such as purity, fresh starts, cleanliness, neutrality, and mental clarity.Codes The possible motive behind the design of the White Album could be that the culture at this point was departing from psychedelics and the Beatles no longer felt the need to use garish colors and fancy displays.
Abbey Road – 1969• Photograph• In color• No band name pictured on front• No album title pictured on front• Pictures all four Beatles walking in a crosswalk outside of Abbey Road Studios (Paul McCartney lives next door)• All four Beatles are wearing neutral colors• John is pictured out front wearing white, Ringo wearing black, Paul wearing gray, and George wearing blue• John, Ringo, and Paul are wearing suits and George is the only one wearing blue jeans• Paul is barefoot• There is one onlooker spotted in the distance• None of the Beatles are smiling• Paul is the only Beatle with a cigarette in his hand
Allied Concepts Abbey Road From the angles of many conspiracy theorists, this albumMetaphor cover is symbolic of a funeral procession (allegedly Paul’s) in relation to their outfits with John representing God or a God with the others following him, Ringo representing an undertaker, Paul representing the deceased, and George representing the grave digger. Once again, John is placed at the very front wearing aIcons pristine white suit (in contrast to the other Beatles wearing darker colors), once again giving the viewer the association that he is the leader. His white suit could also be a play on his controversial “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” statement. Although it was unintentional, Paul’s bare feet areIndexes representative of how the deceased are buried in the UK. People took note of this, and this only added more fuel to the “Paul is dead” rumors. Unlike previous album covers, the Beatles are not standingCodes and are instead in motion following one behind the other in step with the exception of Paul. Considering that it was Paul who picked the photograph that wound up being the cover and was also the one who decided against wearing shoes, this could be an intentional gag for Paul to stand out against John who is always portrayed as the leader.
– John Lennon on the Paul McCartney death rumors generated from Paul’s portrayal on the album covers, 1969 (342) –Paul McCartney on his own death rumors, 1970 (342)
Let It Be
• Photograph matted on black background• Title centered above photograph• 4 squares depicting all four Beatles• John and Paul have microphones and Ringo and George do not• John, Ringo, and George are looking to the left and Paul is looking straight• John, Ringo, and George all have white backgrounds in there portraits and Paul has a brown one• Band name not present• George is the only Beatle smiling
Allied Concepts Let It Be Out of the four Beatles, where originally it was John who wasIcons the leader of the group, Paul is now the one that stands out against the others by looking straight while all others are facing left. At this point, band members weren’t getting along or working together, and Lennon took a back seat. The album is very simplistic and is probably one of their leastIndexes visual appealing, most likely due to the band not caring at this point with what anything looked like. It was no longer a group effort.Symbols An unintentional symbol could be that both Lennon and McCartney are pictured with microphones, being the two most outspoken/best remembered members of the group, the symbolism is rather coincidental. The four equalized squares return to the notion of equalityCodes within the band, however, at this stage in their career (around the time of their break up), things were anything but.
Allied With the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Magical The White Abbey Road Let It BeConcepts/cases Mystery Tour AlbumMetaphor x x x(3)Paradigmatic x xAnalysis(2)Icons x x x x x(5)Indexes x x x x x(5)Symbols x x x(3)Intertextuality x x(2)Codes x x x x x x(6)
• In my analysis, I was able to tally the five most prominent allied concepts used by the Beatles to be icons, indexes, and codes.• Indexes make sense considering a lot of the Beatles’ album cover choices reflected in conjunction to culture, their tastes, and status as band (which was one of the expectations in my hypothesis) which are representative of the cause/effect relationship.• The discovery of a plentiful amount icons somewhat surprised me as I was anticipating finding a lot more individual cases of symbols and metaphors. It goes to show that the Beatles did have a way of being literal and representative (especially when it came to associating band members as leaders).• Codes are also a very important concept to the Beatles as they often represent a reason and/or motive correlating to both the icons and indexes together such as why the placement of certain band members would be plausible for a particular case.• Despite not being the most plentiful number, but when combined together it’s easy to see why symbols & metaphors were also used amongst the Beatles. They got a kick out of leaving everything open to interpretation. The Beatles enjoyed putting a lot of gags in both their music and their album covers (especially John who always played on – Ringo Starr on the Sgt. Pepper’s theories about the band and people who looked too much into their material). album cover (252)
What does this all mean? Here’s what was discovered:• The Beatles were a band looking to push the envelope aesthetically. There is no doubt that the Beatles went completely against the conventions of what traditional album covers should look like.• The Beatles’ album cover design style did evolve over time (experimentation of different concepts, going from one extreme to another, etc.) with intent correlating with: 1. The culture- from the 1960’s transition into hippies and psychedelics and then a departure from the two 2. Their tastes- psychedelics vs. non-psychedelics) 3. Status as band- when they were going strong or lost as a group/ready to break up• That the evolution of their album covers was dependent on the amount of control/enthusiasm they had over its creation (compare the enthusiasm as Sgt. Pepper’s where they were very much involved in approving the design as a group with Let It Be where they no longer really cared).• The “Beatles mystique” did purposely influence many of their music and album cover choices aesthetically (words, images, visual arrangements, etc.), especially if John was involved, however, some choices were unintentional and open for interpretation which is a possible fallacy in this analysis.• I would ultimately say that my hypothesis and expectations were confirmed.• Because not much other research has been done on this topic, it is difficult to compare my research to past findings as others such as McGuire had much different hypotheses. She did however make a strong mention of the Beatles’ intent of breaking the mold when it came to their album covers, she did look at the album covers in a much similar way (making observations as she went) regarding her findings, and she did come to a similar conclusion regarding how the culture, tastes, and status as a band influenced the moves that were made design-wise in the production of their album covers.
• Aside from a lot of the Beatles’ material being open to interpretation (especially pertaining to the “Beatles myth”), other fallacies include that fact that some concepts may fall under more than one allied concept and that there may be additional allied concepts that have gone unnoticed when analyzing the album. I also did not examine every Beatles album released.• There is no doubt that the aesthetic appeal of the Beatles’ album covers contributed (along with their music and personalities) to their legendary status.• First impressions are everything, and album covers are no exception. The Beatles’ albums always stuck out at the record store, and for a good reason.• It would be interesting to further research to see additional correlations and new opportunities for study in this area such as doing a study amongst Beatles fans asking them which album cover was most appealing to them and why. Which one wasn’t? How has technology changed the appeal/usefulness of album art? Is it even relevant anymore? There are so many interesting research routes you can take.• What are your thoughts? Have you ever wanted to try a new band because the album cover appealed to you? Have you ever tried to analyze album or CD covers? If so, what were your experiences like?
1. Berger, Arthur Asa. Media & Communication Research Methods: An Introduction to Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000. Print.2. The Beatles Anthology. First ed. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle , LLC, 2000. 204-342. Print.3. The Beatles. Abbey Road. Apple, 1969.4. The Beatles. The Beatles. Capitol, 1968.5. The Beatles. Let It Be. Apple, 1969.6. The Beatles. Magical Mystery Tour. Parlophone, 1967.7. The Beatles. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Capitol, 1967.8. The Beatles. With the Beatles. Parlophone, 1963.9. MacGuire, Meghan S. "Covering Music: Tracing the Semiotics of BeatlesAlbum Covers Through the Cultural Circuit." Thesis. Bowling Green University, 2005. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=bgsu1112552888>.