Beatles Semiotic Analysis

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  • Julia GiancolaCMS 200: Research Methods in Communication Professor Ebben April 19, 2012
  • Have you ever looked at an album cover from one of your favorite bands and tried to find meaning in it? As human beings, we are obsessed with finding meaning in what we see, hear, and do. In the media and social world, signs are all around us, including on album covers & sleeves. I chose to analyze Beatles album covers in particular because they are plentiful in signs and meanings. The Beatles were one of the biggest and most influential bands of the 20th Century, and it will be interesting to see how the messages on their album covers played a part in their marketing and overall appeal.
  • Before the creation of music videos, album covers were one of the few ways to represent music in a visual way. In addition, covers also provide a form of both advertising and marketing. In a way, album covers tend to follow the same conventions of other forms of media such as news headlines that seek to attract and retain the consumers attention, which in turn entices them to keep reading and hopefully make a purchase of the medium. Have you ever been caught by a visual on the cover and were curious enough to buy the album? The Beatles were definitely pioneers of using album cover designs to their advantage and were one of the first popular bands to utilize the intentional placement and arrangement of messages (in the forms of words and images) on their album covers.
  • What meanings are represented in the album covers? How are these meanings constructed through images, words, visual arrangements, etc. What might the intent of this communication be and how did it affect their overall appeal over the course of their career?
  • In a previous analysis conducted by Meghan, McGuire, researched was focused on whether the Beatles album covers were visual examples of Mikhail Bakhtins monoglossia, heteroglossia ,and polyglossia. This is a rather complex concept much different than my motive of research, therefore, my findings will greatly differ from hers. To show the distinction between Beatles covers (specifically With the Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Beatles White Album) compared to other album covers of the time, MacGuire looked at the album covers of the top six top selling albums from 1964, 1967, and 1968 (the years in which the three Beatles albums analyzed were released) with the following variables in mind: The type of graphic featured (photograph vs. illustration) The use of color vs. black and white (if photograph was used) Facial expressions of musical artist (if photograph was used) Placement and dominance of artists name on cover Placement and dominance of album title on cover
  • What I would like to know is the intent of the messages (constructed through words, images, visual arrangements, etc.) that are represented in the Beatles album covers. How did this affect their overall appeal throughout their career? Unlike McGuire, I will not be putting much emphasis on albums from other artists for my research and there will be more emphasis placed on the Beatles messages and career alone. One possible fallacy of McGuires research is that despite the use of the variables (listed on the previous slide), there was no labeling of allied concepts in her research. Also, many messages are open to interpretation as we all interpret signs differently. Even the Beatles themselves had different takes on their album covers, as you will discover later on.
  • Given the review of literature, I expect to findthe following: That the intent of communication be that they were a band looking to push the envelope in every way possible down to their album covers That the Beatles album cover design style evolved over time (experimentation of different concepts) in conjunction with the culture, their tastes, and status as band That the evolution of their album covers was dependent of the amount of control and enthusiasm they had over its creation That the Beatles mystique (myths or scandals surrounding the band, adding to their hype) purposely influenced many of their album cover choices aesthetically (words, images, visual arrangements, etc.)
  • Study Design/Method(s) I felt that a semiotic analysis would be the best method of inquiry to go about this project because semiotics is the study of signs. A semiotic analysis can be a very handy form of research because it enables us to understand how it is that people find meaning in the things that they do. For this assignment, I decided to focus on a diverse array of their most popular album covers to analyze from the beginning of their career up to the end. I was able to apply the method by analyzing each cover (looking for allied concepts), creating a chart to display the findings, and then interpreting the results. Please note that not all albums shared the same allied concepts, explaining absence from some slides.
  • Study Design/Method(s)Because the Beatles put out a plentiful amount of albums during their run, it would be difficult toanalyze all of them. I decided to pick 6 of the most significant over a 5 year span withexplanations in the list below: With the Beatles (1963) as it was the first Beatles album released in the U.S., making it the first time many stateside fans were exposed to the band Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) because it was considered to be the Beatles first concept album, and ultimately ended up as one of their most successful albums Magical Mystery Tour (1967) because it was released just after Sgt. Peppers and was produced without the guidance of longtime manager Brian Epstein. It was also (along with the movie of the same name) considered to be the Beatles only failure as it wasnt received very well critically and commercially at the time of release. The Beatles White Album (1968) because it is a great example of the Beatles post- psychedelic period and the depiction of one extreme to another Abbey Road (1969) because it was their last recorded album (despite Let It Be being the last released) and a great example of how hype around a certain album can influence its success Let It Be (1969) as it was The Beatles last released album and will be interesting to compare against the results of all the other albums to look for any consistent patterns, along with how they evolved over time. There was also unrest in the band at this point, and they broke up not long after the release of this album.
  • With the Beatles 1963The following are some basic notes/observations I noticed, many of which werecompiled in a chart on the next slide (I will include a list for each album analyzed): Photograph Black and white No band name depicted on cover Title at the top in white strip above the photograph Horizontal layout John Lennon in is presented at the front, Ringo Starr in bottom right-hand corner There is a shadowing over right half of their faces, the left half is illuminated Shadowed silhouette of faces reminiscent of first quarter moon Johns face, in comparison, is more illuminated than the others None of them are smiling, happy, and/or performing
  • Allied Concepts With the BeatlesMetaphor The shadowed silhouettes of their faces look like the first quarter moon phase, possibly representing that they are a new and young group.Paradigmatic Analysis Oppositions to traditional album covers (black and white, half silhouettes, and no smiling faces) could have been purposely used to possibly generate a sense of mystery and appeal to the new group.Icons The fact that John is presented at the front and that his face is more illuminated that the others represents that he is the front man of the group.Codes The photograph is in a horizontal layout, associating the identity of the group as a whole, and how other than the fact that John is slightly more illuminated, for the most part the group seems to conform and blend in (all wearing the same color suit).
  • Sgt. Peppers
  • Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967 Photograph In color Band located directly front and center They are all dressed in different brightly colored suits They are all holding brass instruments They stand in a crowd of notable figures Directly to the left of the band are wax figures of their earlier personas all dressed in the same kind and color suit The Be