50,000 Rare 'Butcher' Beatles Record Covers May Be Buried in MA Landfill

Fifty-thousand rare Beatles record covers featuring a controversial photograph of the British band could have been buried at a landfill in Needham, Massachusetts, according to a newly emerged memo.

The original Yesterday and Today record cover, taken by photographer Robert Whitaker, featured The Beatles wearing butchers' coats and holding baby doll parts and meat.

The covers for the album (released in the U.S. in June 1966), which can sell for thousands of dollars today, are often said to have been a statement against the Vietnam War (November 1955 – April 1975).

Before its release, the cover met with a backlash among some who had seen advance copies, including DJs and reviewers, prompting the record label to make a U-turn.

A Boston Globe article from June 25, 1966—shared on Twitter by musician and journalist Ryan Walsh—reported that the move cost Capitol Records $250,000, which would be the equivalent of approximately $2 million today.

The Beatles 'Butcher" Record Cover
View of a Beatles "Butcher" cover at Bonhams and Butterfields' office in Hollywood, California, December 7, 2007. More than 50,000 of the "butcher" record covers may be buried at a landfill in Massachusetts. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty

According to the article, about 750,000 albums featuring the original cover were distributed for release, only for the distributors to be told to send them back. The records were then removed from the sleeves and repackaged in new covers, before being shipped back to distributors.

The cover that made it to the shelves featured the band posing around a trunk.

A spokesperson told the Globe at the time that the cost of repackaging the records "wiped out" the profit that the album would make.

But what happened to the "butcher" record sleeves after the records were repackaged? Thousands of them may be buried in a town southwest of Boston.

50,000 Beatles 'butcher' LP covers are buried in Needham, MA. pic.twitter.com/thaBFJ5riA

— Ryan H. Walsh (@JahHills) June 25, 2021

Walsh also shared a memo dated June 28, 1966, in which local distribution manager Joe Sobeck wrote that 50,700 Beatles record covers had been destroyed by June 27, 1966.

According to the memo, the records were destroyed by being buried in a water-filled hole in a "swampy part" of Needham Town Dump.

Sobeck told National Distribution Manager R. L. Howe: "By the time the hole was ready for us it had filled with water. The jackets were dumped on the ground as close as possible to the hole and then a bulldozer pushed the jackets into the hole.

"The hole was then covered with about one to two feet of dirt and will subsequently be covered with garbage which will be well compacted as time goes by."

Newsweek has contacted Capitol Records for comment.

In May 2019, John Lennon's own copy of the record cover featuring the signatures of Lennon himself, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr was sold for around $250,000, the third-highest price for a vinyl record, according to the BBC.