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Back in January, 1998, Cecil Adams fearlessly accepted the challenge of the toughest Beatle question in his syndicated Straight Dope column. It began as follows:
I have received a question pertaining to the Beatles from a friend. I have no idea what the answer is. What do all four Beatles hold on the cover of the Beatles '65 album? - Lee, via AOL
I have the album right here. You forget how big these things were - 12 inches by 12. (To be precise, 12-5/16 by 12-1/16.) Perfect for examining for hidden meanings while listening to the album on headphones. Can you do that with the dinky paper inserts on today's CDs? I think not. And there were hidden meanings, too. Beatles '65 is a good example. There are four photos, representing the four seasons. (No, I don't mean the group the Four Seasons. I mean the cycle of meteorological variation you might have noticed had you not been holed up in your room all the time listening to records.) In the largest of the four photos, the Beatles are holding umbrellas representing winter - winter as experienced in London, one feels obliged to say, not Minneapolis. In the other photos they're holding parasols and a knotted handkerchief for summer, brooms and leaves for autumn, and giant springs and a green shoot for spring. Springs for spring! The Beatles have grasped the pun! Truly these were multitalented guys... - Cecil Adams
Even though this essay is screaming out for further discussion, none of the Beatle fans I know - including the millions on the internet - raised an eyebrow at it. Guess it's up to me...
I don't know Lee from AOL. I don't know his friend. I do know that he meant to say Beatles VI, not Beatles '65. This shouldn't require a single word of explanation, but here goes.
1. Beatles VI and Beatles '65 can be easily confused as albums, neither being a "real" Beatles LP, both being Capitol concoctions, both drawing heavily on material from Beatles For Sale, both being released within a half-year of each other. Beatles VI was released smack in the middle of 1965. (Beatles '65 was not released in 1965.)
2. Beatles VI and Beatles '65 can be easily confused as album titles. They both have the form "Beatles" followed by a number. The number in each case is dominated by "six". Visually, they each show a prominent "five" as well. Another potentially confusing element is that they represent consecutive releases of new Beatle material in America - and were released out of numerical sequence, with 65 coming before 6. Brilliant titling, huh? (The fact that Capitol released The Early Beatles album in between these two early Beatles albums doesn't help much in nailing all of this down.)
3. If Lee were talking about Beatles '65, he would have said, "What are the Beatles holding...", not, "What do all 4 Beatles hold...", which is the appropriate question for Beatles VI.
4. The point of the Straight Dope column is to answer tough questions. Even 2-year-olds know what an umbrella looks like. Surely, Cecil can put his not inconsiderable investigative powers to better use than that. What all four Beatles are holding on Beatles VI is far from obvious - if not downright impossible to determine - making it a somewhat more interesting question.
I've heard what the Beatles are holding on Beatles VI - Scott Muni answered this question on his Ticket To Ride radio series - but I'll leave it to someone who can actually direct us to the uncropped photo to tell us. When I was a kid, I thought maybe it was a microphone with a cord hanging down. Nope.
Notice that Cecil tries to humiliate poor Lee for his CD collection, but I'm willing to bet that his collection - like everybody else's - does not include Beatles '65. [At least as of 1998. In 2006 maybe Lee went nuts with his money and grabbed up the cds of the Capitol Beatle albums.]
Cecil brought up the Four Seasons pop group in a half-hearted stab at jocularity, but totally fumbled a chance to make hay with the infamous, but wholly legitimate, VeeJay double album, "The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons".
Also, I wonder where Cecil got those album jacket measurements, a quarter inch out of square. I just stuck a ruler on all the old Capitol jackets and they seem to be as square as you can hope to chop cardboard, averaging about 12 3/8 inch on a side. One dimension might differ from the other by up to 1/16 inch on a given jacket.
Experts . . . Man, I sure hope they do better in fields you don't know anything about. You can see the whole column, in which Cecil rambles on about the Butcher Cover, at the Straight Dope web site.
All right, all right. Here it is going on January 2007, and nine years is much too long to keep everybody in suspenders. Click on the following to hear the transcript from Scott Muni's Ticket To Ride radio show:
This week we got a letter from Michelle Boomer from Visalia, California. She writes, "Dear Scott, what is it the Beatles are holding on the cover of Beatles VI?"
Thanks for the question, Michelle. Although you can only see the handle, the lads actually have their hands on a knife. The picture is cropped to conceal the weapon, but I saw a full shot and it's a knife - and it's stuck in a cutting board!
(A cutting board??? Oh, dear!)
Well, after adding Addendum I, things kicked into high gear for this page. Within days, I got a nice email from the Michelle Boomer, herself! It's hard to know which of us was the more surprised. Imagine finding a transcript on the web of a letter you sent to a radio station almost 20 years earlier (I figure about April 1988) when you were a 12-year-old kid! I hope nobody out there is taking this miraculous internet thingie for granted yet, or ever will.
And then, a few days later, I got another nice email from Michael B. providing links to other, uncropped photos from the same session, solving the mystery once and for all. Let us call the photos Beatles VI.2 and Beatles VI.3. Now, visit the fine page that shows these pictures in the context of the Robert Whitaker photo shoot from late 1964, including the album cover version that caused all the trouble in the first place (Beatles VI.1).
It's a birthday cake!   SCOTT MUNI YOU HAVE MISLED ME!   (Experts, urrgghh . . . )
I know that people have said before it was a birthday cake, but my web searches on the obvious keywords never turned up any photos backing up the claim. On top of that, at least one person out there claimed that the cake photo was a fraud; that the cake was edited in for a certain publication. That could easily be the case for the second photo, but definitely not the third. It would be nice to find a fuller version of the album cover shot showing the cake. Until then, Scott Muni's lawyer can argue they were using a cutting board on some practice shots before the cake arrived.
Luckily, I am only responsible for spreading the cutting board misinformation to the world for less than a month. Whew.
Finally, let me draw your attention to the weirdest photo from the Robert Whitaker session. It was used for the Beatles '65 album cover. This is truly strange. The Beatles are holding up these batons, or cue sticks, or pointers, or somethings... And what it looks like, is, near the end of the stick is a bicycle wheel with the rim removed, so just the spokes are left. And then, there's something stretched over the spokes, like rubber, I guess, that's so tight it actually puts a curve in the spokes(!) Maybe it's an antenna of some sort? Anyhow, if anyone thinks he can identify these strange devices and offer up any sort theory of what they might be used for, no matter how implausible, please contact me and I'll definitely record your speculation here.
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