Raconteurs fans who thought they heard a hint of the Beatles embedded within the group’s new album, “Help Us Stranger,” may have been more intuitive than they realized. There’s a more blatant homage to the Fab Four in the LP that was sent out to Third Man Vault subscribers, but it’s not in the grooves — it’s in the cardboard.
The lenticular cover that is exclusive to the Vault edition is adhesively applied to the LP jacket, as is the case with all 3D album sleeves. Since Jack White’s Third Man label is known for its packaging mischief, fans quickly wondered if there might be some different image underneath, and risked destroying their limited-edition covers to find out. It was worth the “damage”: what lies beneath is a dead-on parody of the Beatles’ famous “butcher cover.” The cover-within-the-cover spoofs the Beatles’ scandalous and withdrawn “Yesterday and Today” jacket nearly to the last detail.
Don’t go looking for this version of “Help Us Stranger” at your nearest record store. It was only sent to those who sign up for a $60 quarterly subscription to the Vault, with orders having closed weeks before the record landed on doorsteps this weekend. The only way to pick up a copy now is on the resale market. A standard edition arrived in stores Friday.
On the secret cover, the Third Man logo sits in the corner where the Capitol branding sat in 1966, and the typography for the album title and track listing appears identical. But if you want to credit the band members with going to the effort of finding the same lab coats, turtlenecks and wristwatches worn by the Beatles, not to mention cutting identically shaped slabs of beef and dismembering the same vintage dolls in the same fashion, do note that they appear to have skipped those steps and merely Photoshopped their heads onto John, Paul, George and Ringo’s bodies.
Like the Beatles, the Raconteurs split singer/songwriter duties between two primary frontmen. So if you’ve always wondered whether White considers himself the Lennon or McCartney of the group, this pose may provide a clue: In this recreation, at least, he’s Paul, and Brendan Benson is John. That positioning, though, may have more to do with White as the likely ringleader of this particular prank, just as McCartney was the motivating force behind the avant-garde “Yesterday and Today” art.
In 1966, the Beatles commissioned photographer Robert Whitaker to shoot a surreal cover image for “Yesterday and Today,” an odds-and-ends collection of singles and British album tracks that hadn’t previously made it onto an American LP. The photographer “knew we liked black humor and sick jokes,” Paul McCartney said in the “Anthology” series. “And he said, ‘I have an idea – stick these white lab coats on.’ It didn’t seem too offensive to us. It was just dolls and a lot of meat. I don’t really know what he was trying to say, but it seemed a little more original than the things the rest of the people were getting us to do.” John Lennon tied the cover concept (which originally involved a much more elaborate triptych) to current events, saying, “It’s as relevant as Vietnam. If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover.” (The other popularly accepted explanation — that the Beatles were mad at Capitol for “butchering” their albums in the U.S. — appears never to have occurred to the group.)
George Harrison was less enthused by the photo shoot, calling it “gross” and “stupid.” Nonetheless, Capitol Records went along with it — for a minute. It was reported that 60,000 copies were sent to stores before the label issued a recall the day before the album was to have gone on sale. A few copies were sold by stores anyway, but most were shipped back, as requested. The vast majority were destroyed, but so as not to delay the release of “Yesterday and Today” much further, Capitol took some of the existing LPs and pasted new, more generic cover art over the offensive image.
Thus was born a cottage industry for Beatles collectors, in which pristine versions of the original “Yesterday and Today” cover have sold for as much as six figures, and copies with the cheerful cover still slapped on or professionally peeled off are worth thousands. Of course, not everyone steamed off the application with as much care, and damaged butcher covers can be had for the bargain price of a mere few hundred dollars.
The manufacturing of the Raconteurs’ parody cover appears to have damage built in. If the cover art doesn’t rip as the lenticular application is peeled off, the ink still appears to have been absorbed into the glue anyway, leaving a series of… white stripes.
See our somewhat tortured “unpeeling” video, here:
This isn’t the first time Third Man has released a collectors’ item in which you have to risk damaging one element in the process of getting to something else beneath. The label has released extremely limited-edition “triple decker” records in which a 7-inch 45 is encased within a 12-inch LP — including a re-release of a 1960s album by the group Public Nuisance that had embedded within it an otherwise unavailable single featuring the White Stripes covering a Public Nuisance tune. “It’s one of the many mind games we like to play with you here at Third Man Records,” said White in a video showing off a Dead Weather triple decker release in 2010.