The jam-packed reissue contrasts with the original’s minimalism, whose most ostentatious inclusion was a collage Hamilton made from photos given to him by singer Paul McCartney. There are no group photos of the band at all in the original packaging, just four solo portraits by the band’s photographer, John Kelly. In hindsight, the separate shoots intimated the band’s fracturing. By that time, they were recording in separate studio sessions, and drummer Ringo Starr even quit at one point—that’s McCartney you hear playing drums on the album’s first two tracks, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence.”
By the 1960s, Hamilton was showing with Robert Fraser, arguably one of the most influential gallerists of his era. One of Hamilton’s most enduring series, “Swingeing London
,” was based on news photos of Fraser’s infamous drug-possession arrest with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, during a party at guitarist Keith Richards’s country home. Fraser was the one who introduced Hamilton to McCartney, and, knowing he had already commissioned and rejected two other attempts at album art for the Beatles, suggested the singer hire Hamilton. While Kelly took the portraits in the gatefold sleeve, McCartney gave Hamilton three tea chests full of photographs for the collage—Hamilton’s primary media at the time—for the poster insert.
The final product was a double-gatefold LP wrapped in a plain white sleeve with a heavy gloss surface; the original pressing had only two markings adorning the front of the cover: “The Beatles” embossed slightly below the middle of the album’s right side—slightly off-kilter—and, for the first 2 million copies, a serial number in the bottom right corner. Hamilton said he suggested it “to create the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like 5 million copies”—a veritable “limited edition” that’s not actually so limited. (The same number system was used at all 12 pressing plants that printed the first run, so there are actually 12 copies of each number.) But that didn’t stop a wealthy fan from ponying up $790,000 for Starr’s personal copy of serial number 0000001 at a charity auction.