The Rolling Stones
Their Satanic Majesties Request
Design: Michael Cooper
A typical product of 1967 psychedelia, the artwork design of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request was attempting to both emulate Sgt Pepper and to go one better – more colourful, more symbolic, more out there.
The link between the two albums is obvious, as they both feature the work of photographer and man about town Michael Cooper (see sidebar).
Following the very clean cut and mid-60s UK Decca designs of Aftermath (1966) and January ’67’s Between The Buttons – Gered Mankowitz’s vision of the ethereal, misty and dawn-lit Stones after a long night out on the town – Satanic Majesties was a very different proposition.
A suggested idea for the cover – Mick Jagger naked on a cross – was unsurprisingly vetoed by the suits, before Cooper was called upon to photograph the Stones in psych/wizard/medieval get up. So what was it all about? Over to Keith Richards to explain further: “Michael Cooper was in charge of the whole thing, under his leadership. It was handicrafts day… you make Saturn, and I’ll make the rings. I forget the name of those people, those 3D postcards. Thing is, everyone looks round on that one. They take pictures at slightly different times and distances and they’re put together and the heads move but after it gets scratched you don’t really see it anymore. People always ask, are John and George in there? I don’t even know. I’d forgotten if they’re all in there. They are all in there.” Everyone clear on that one then? No? OK, what actually happened was that someone knew someone with a 3D camera in New York – a lenticular 3D image would be cool, right? So in between visiting the Maharishi in Bangor and announcing the split from Andrew Loog Oldham, all the Stones, along with Michael Cooper, travelled to New York and created the elaborate set out of silver foil, sparkly stars and sticky-back plastic at Pictoral Studios, which specialised in 3D images.
Photos were then taken of the Stones in their colourful garb and a transforming lenticular print was created for the front cover. Looking at it from one side, they are all looking forward with Mick, centre, crossing his arms – viewed from another, the band are looking at each other and Mick holds his arms open. Among the Fool-esque planets, fruits, mountains and erm, camel, photos of the four Beatles have been stuck in, as a nod to the inclusion on the Pepper cover of a doll wearing a “Welcome The Rolling Stones” jumper.
The image was originally meant to fill the entire front cover, until the mounting costs forced a reduction in size. It is said that manufacturing of even the smaller image was more costly than the retail price and hence money was lost on every sale. They partly got round this by reducing the size of the cover image and placing it on a background of blue and white clouds or smoke, thus adding to the hazy psychedelia of the proceedings.
And what of the rest of the artwork for the gatefold? The graphic artist and illustrator Tony Meeuwissen (who has since gone on to work for Penguin and Royal Mail amongst others) was commissioned by Cooper to come up with a suitable illustration. After being freaked out by meeting an “on edge” Keith in The Chelsea Potter pub and later a quiet and withdrawn Brian, he came up with a painted border representing the four elements, which was then used on the back cover.
The rest of the artwork includes an uncredited Blakeian collage (that’s Peter, not William), featuring cut-outs of art from various eras which brings to mind the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, as well as a maze, possibly designed by Brian Jones, if you believe the Internet. If there is an overall concept to the artwork – and to the album as a whole – the maze could be seen as the centre of it. Perversely, the maze is impossible to complete, though – you can never reach the “It’s here” pay off at its centre. Again, this could be said about the album generally – part of it works in perfect synergy but ultimately, there is a dead end at its very centre.
Haphazard but strangely alluring in its colourful excesses, the cover art of Their Satanic Majesties Request is emblematic of where the Stones were at in ’67 – a year of confusion, uncertainty and experimentation.
Michael Cooper (1941-73)
Part of the Stones’ inner circle from the mid-60s onwards, photographer Michael Cooper was afforded unprecedented and intimate access to the band and took some of the most iconic photos of them and other stars of the time. Introduced via Robert Fraser, Cooper was especially close to Keith and was one of the people present during the Redlands bust.
A staff photographer at Vogue and general in-with-the-in-crowd character, Cooper is rumoured to be the subject of Blow-Up.
He worked on the first ill-fated film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange and intended to cast Mick as Alex and the rest of the Stones as his gang but the plan was quashed by the censors.
Michael Cooper died of a drug overdose in 1973.
Gitte Morten © 2012
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, November 2012.