The Beatles Album Covers – Help
It seems reasonable to assume that the Beatles’ arm positions on the front cover of their 1965 album Help! actually spell out HELP — but this is not, in fact, the case. Photographer Robert Freeman knew he wanted to use flag semaphore positions, which is a system of conveying information at a distance that is mostly used in the maritime world. However, he did not find the semaphore for HELP to be aesthetically-pleasing enough for the front of an album, so he decided to improvise.
The Beatles’ arms actually spell out the nonsense word NUJV on the UK release and NVUJ on the U.S. release, because Capitol Records also decided to rearrange the letters slightly. Believers in the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory thought that NUJV stood for “New Unknown James Vocalist,” because James is Paul McCartney’s actual first name.
Download The Beatles album Help!
In the same way that Freeman decided to re-imagine the semaphore, he also reversed some of the photographs he took to improve the composition. Upon closer inspection, for example, one can see that John, George, and Ringo’s jackets all have the buttons on the wrong side. The original photo on the UK album was also reverse-printed, so that if one were to hold it up to a mirror, it would reveal the letters LPUS (or “Help Us”).
Fresh from filming their second movie Help!, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr stand in a straight line against a plain white background on a specially-constructed platform at London’s Twickenham Film Studios. All are wearing oversized black coats, capes, and hats (except for Paul) from their film wardrobe. Robert Freeman, who took numerous album cover photos for the Beatles between 1963 and 1966, was inspired to use semaphore by a series of publicity photos the Beatles took in the Austrian Alps. In these photos, the Fab Four were dressed in black and playing around in the snow with their arms extended.
The Beatles were nothing if not efficient — the photoshoot for this simple yet striking album cover was completed in just thirty minutes.