From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, 'Instant Karma', by Alan Aldridge
The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics: 'Instant Karma'.

Alan Aldridge was one of the foremost British graphic designers of the 1960s and 1970s. He worked in a cartoony, fluid, highly flamboyant style with lots of airbrush, which gave him the self-declared nickname "The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes", after the "girl with kaleidoscope eyes" in the Beatles song 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. Aldridge is best remembered for his psychedelic illustrations and designs for various icons of the swinging sixties, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol and The Who. He created the artwork for 'The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics' (1969), making him one of the few graphic artists, along with Klaus Voormann, Bob Gibson and Heinz Edelmann, to be privileged to create official artwork for the band. Later in his career his major claim to fame was the artwork in William Plomer's 'The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast' (1973), which gained further notability when it was animated into a music video for Roger Glover's number one-hit 'Love Is All' (1975).

Still from 'Love Is All'.

Early life and career
Alan Aldridge was born in 1938 in East London. He left school when he was fifteen and drifted through various jobs, including cargo unloader in the London docks, barrow boy, chicken plucker and insurance clerk. His first venture into graphic arts was a job as scenery painter at Old Vic theatre. This job was remarkable, given that he actually was completely self-taught. Aldridge once attended a graphic workshop for eight weeks, but dropped out because it bored him. When he applied for a job at a design agency in 1963, he used his girlfriend's portfolio to make a better impression and was promptly hired. In order to get the required suit for the profession he went to Bethnal Green baths and stole a costume. Bold risks like these eventually paid off when he was hired as a freelance artist for Penguin Books. He illustrated various book covers for them, predominantly science fiction novels. His loose and playful psychedelic style was a result of his lack of professional skill. Before him most Penguin illustrators had graduated from the Academy, but Aldridge just worked on impulse and drew whatever he felt like. As he got promoted as Penguin's new art director, he hired many new young talents who also broke with the tightly structured illustration work of their academy-trained predecessors.

In 1965 Aldridge received a new assignment, this time by the prestigious newspaper Sunday Times. He had to draw an Austin Mini car, but realized his skills were too limited. Intimidated by the paper's classy reputation he was struck with writer's block. Faced with a tight deadline, he hired a real Austin Mini, spray-painted it with illustrations and then had it photographed. That way he wouldn't have to draw one. The idea was so original that it became one of The Sunday Times' most iconic covers. Nevertheless Aldridge felt he couldn't hide behind tricks like these, forever. He therefore borrowed several art books from the library to improve his skills. Among his main graphic influences were Pablo Picasso, Ben Shahn, Robert Rauschenberg, John Tenniel, M.C. Escher and René Magritte. In the field of comics he loved Dudley D. Watkins' 'Desperate Dan', Tom Browne's 'Weary Willie and Tired Tim' and the magazines The Beano, Illustrated Chips, Rainbow and Film Fun.

The Penguin Book of Comics
Book cover of 'The Penguin Book of Comics', 1967. From top to below one recognizes the mascot of Comic Cuts (The King of Comics), Rupert Bear (Mary Tourtel), The Spirit (Will Eisner), Tiger Tim (Julius Stafford Baker), Dagwood Bumstead (Chic Young), Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy comics), Captain America (Joe Simon, Jack Kirby), Popeye (E.C. Segar), Ignatz and Krazy Kat (George Herriman), Donald Duck (Walt Disney), Happy Hooligan (Frederick Burr Opper), Jiggs (George McManus), The Yellow Kid (Richard F. Outcault), Pop (J. Millar Watt), Piggy (Herbert Foxwell), Weary Willie (Tom Browne), Felix the Cat (Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan), Li'l Abner (Al Capp), Mutt (Bud Fisher), Superman (Siegel & Shuster), Der Katzenjammer Kids (Rudolph Dirks), Squeak the penguin (Austin Bowen Payne) and Snoopy (Charles M. Schulz).

The Penguin Book of Comics
In 1967 Aldridge and George Perry, assistant-editor of the Sunday Times at the time, published 'The Penguin Book of Comics'. This was an illustrated history of American and British comics, written by Perry. Apart from images from various classic comics the work also featured artwork by Aldridge. He illustrated the eye-catching cover and the first page of each chapter. In 1971 the book was published in a revised edition. The same year Aldridge also designed the poster for an exhibition named 'AAARGH! A Celebration of Comics' (1971), held between 31 December 1970 and 7 February 1971.  

During the second half of the 1960s, Aldridge became one of England's much sought graphic illustrators. In 1966 The Beatles released their innovative album 'Revolver', notable for the cover illustration by Klaus Voormann. The London magazine Nova asked Aldridge to create visual interpretations of all songs on the record. Though since 'Revolver' wasn't released yet, he couldn't listen to it beforehand and had to base his graphic interpretations on the lyrics. Aldridge's visualisations of 'Revolver' were presented in a special issue of Nova, coinciding with the official release of the album. Both were instant bestsellers. Yet, unavoidably Aldridge was criticized for misinterpreting some of the lyrics. For instance, Aldridge visualized the track 'Dr. Robert' as being about a medical doctor, while in reality it dealt with a drug dealer. John Lennon even personally phoned Aldridge to correct this mistake. Still, the Beatle liked his artwork well enough to pay him a visit. Both Lennon and his wife Cynthia Powell had been art students, so he was naturally very interested in Aldridge's artwork. Aldridge gave Lennon the original print of his 'Dr. Robert' illustration and a few weeks later the artist received a Penguin paperback of Lennon's own illustrated poetry books 'A Spaniard In The Works' and 'In His Own Write' in the mail. It was more than a nice return in gesture, since Lennon wrote Aldridge whether he would be interested in designing new covers for an upcoming reprint of these books. Aldridge accepted the proposal. On one of his new cover illustrations he depicted Lennon as Superman, but was forced to change the 'S' into 'JL' to avoid copyright infringement. 

Alan Aldridge's 'Dr Robert 'illustration (1966). John Lennon was once photographed reading on his bed, with the original print of 'Dr. Robert' hanging on the wall. 

The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics
In 1967 The Beatles released their next groundbreaking record 'Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band'. Aldridge had a strong impression that it was full with secret messages, particularly the song 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', which seemed to be a homage to LSD. He interviewed Paul McCartney and published their conversations in an issue of The Observer. The article, 'A Good Guru's Guide to The Beatles Sinister Songbook', was illustrated by Aldridge and sold exceptionally well. The idea came about to publish an entire book delving deeper into the Beatles' lyrics. It would not only compile all their songs, but also offer personal commentary by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. In 1968 The Beatles founded their own company, Apple, while Aldridge did the same, naming his INK. Aldridge served as their creative consultant. He designed the copyright notice around the label logo and psychedelic wallpaper, Valentine cards and postcards. Aldridge additionally designed album covers for Apple's releases, including 'Under the Jasmin Tree' (1968) by The Modern Jazz Quartet. John Lennon was so pleased with Aldridge's work that he - tongue in cheek - dubbed him: "His Royal Master of Images to their Majesties the Beatles".

From The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, by Alan Aldridge
Paul McCartney in 'The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics'.

Aldridge was also in charge of the upcoming 'The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics' book. He had to gather illustrators and find a publisher in only nine weeks time. All while a more lucrative deal had been proposed by a U.S. publisher, so he had to be quick. Aldridge was forced to reject some of the illustrations sent in by other graphic contributors, since it was too pornographic for mainstream publication. Some was replaced with more chaste imagery. To save time, he also created new illustrations himself. Aldridge absolutely wanted M.C. Escher to participate with the project and visited him in his hometown Baarn in The Netherlands. Escher made some drawings, but Aldridge accidentally forgot them on the train. He was never able to retrieve them. 

Still, the artists who did end up in 'The Beatles' Illustrated Book' were an impressive collection of names: John Alcorn, David Bailey, R.O. Blechman, Charles Bragg, Mel Calman, Seymour Chwast, Alan E. Cober, John Deakin, Etienne Delessert, Heinz Edelmann, Erté, Michael English, Michael Foreman, Milton Glaser, John Glashan, Rick Griffin, Robert Grossman, Rudolf Hausner, David Hockney, Nigel Holmes, Allen Jones, Art Kane, Jan Lenica, James Marsh, Peter Max, James McMullan, Tony Meeuwissen, Philippe Mora, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, Barbara Nessim, Eduardo Paolozzi, Ethan Russell, Ronald Searle, Jean Loup Sieff, Ralph Steadman, Tiger Takeishi, Roland Topor, Tomi Ungerer, David Vaughan and Tadanori Yokoo. 

Finding a publisher was the toughest part. In 1969 The Beatles were already on the verge of splitting, so few companies believed that a book compiling their lyrics would sell. In the end only one company, Macdonald Unit 75, saw something in the idea. To everybody's delight, 'The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics Book' (Houghton Mifflin, 1969) became an instant bestseller and was reprinted many times. 

Cover illustration for 'A Quick One (While He's Away)' by The Who.

The Who
Through his association with The Beatles, Aldridge also received requests from other British pop acts. In 1966 he designed the album cover of 'A Quick One' (1966) by the Who. The front image depicts the band members while their instruments and song lyrics jump out of a canvas. The back cover was simpler and showed the musicians' four faces, with their band name spelled out over each one of them. The musicians liked the design, except for Pete Townshend. Aldridge had drawn him with the letter "o" of the band name stuck on his nose. The disgruntled guitarist felt it made him look like a clown. Aldridge made some last minute changes and the altered cover was printed just in time. Yet according to rumors, Townshend still wasn't pleased, particularly when the cover received more attention than the songs. Other artists who designed album covers for The Who have been Roger Law and Richard Evans

The Rolling Stones
Aldridge also collaborated with The Rolling Stones and designed the poster for their TV concert film 'Rock 'n' Roll Circus' (1968). Unfortunately the movie would only be released three decades later, in 1996.

Jimi Hendrix & Pink Floyd
Aldridge also decorated one of Jimi Hendrix' guitars and worked on an animated TV series named 'Rollo' with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. The show would have starred a character named Rollo who travelled through space to collect animals for his zoo. Apart fom an unbroadcast pilot, the project remained in development hell.

Elton John
Another project by Aldridge that went nowhere was a movie built around Elton John's record 'Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy' (1975). Aldridge and Elton John's songwriter Bernie Taupin took a holiday in Barbados together, to write a screenplay. But they barely worked on the project, having more fun partying and enjoying the fine weather. Aldridge and Taupin also held a drinking contest with famous actor Oliver Reed. Eventually the film was scrapped and the project just released as a music album: 'Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy'. Aldridge's cover design was still used, though. He and Mike Dempsey also published and illustrated 'The One Who Writes the Words for Elton John', a book which compiled Bernie Taupin's song lyrics for Elton John.

Other album covers
Aldridge's art also graces the cover of 'Goodbye Cream' (1969) by Cream, 'War Requiem' (1997) by Benjamin Britten, 'Everybody Loves a Happy Ending' (2004) by Tears for Fears and 'Light Grenades' (2006) by Incubus.

Poster for the film 'Chelsea Girls', 1966.

Despite his success, Aldridge also endured a fair share of criticism. In 1966 he designed the poster for Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey's experimental film 'Chelsea Girls' (1966), which nearly got him arrested for pornography. The work depicts 16-year old model Clare Shenstone in the nude, with her body transformed into the New York Chelsea Hotel. The windows cover her tummy, while her vagina is depicted as the door. The London police had already issued a warrant for Aldridge's arrest, forcing him into hiding for a few days. Eventually his lawyer managed to drop the charges.

Equally controversial was the poster for Jane Arden's theatrical play 'Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven' (1969). It depicts a nude mother holding two babies and crying at her mirror reflection, while the Grim Reaper laughs at her. Her body has the shape of a gas oven. Aldridge's most controversial work was his 1970 propaganda poster for the British Labour Party. It portrayed the Conservative Party as mean, nasty and old plasticine figurines. Critics felt it was a vicious smear campaign. Either way, the poster had the opposite effect. The Conservatives won the elections and Edward Heath became the new Prime Minister.

'The Great U.S. Disaster' (1971), AKA 'A Great Place For Hamburgers, But Who'd Want To Live There!'. 

The Great U.S. Disaster
As the 1960s changed into the 1970s, Aldridge felt the psychedelic era was over. The Beatles' company Apple went bankrupt, while the band split up. In the United Kingdom, the socialist Labour Party who had ruled the country for six years were defeated in the 1970 elections and replaced with the Conservative Party. Aldridge's final counterculture illustration was 'The Great U.S. Disaster' (1971). The poster depicts the worst aspects of The United States: fascist policemen, race riots, organized crime, drug abuse, excessive capitalism, pollution and imperialism. It also portrays U.S. President Richard Nixon as a vampire sucking South Vietnam's blood, while Vice President Spiro Agnew is a childish buffoon next to a Golliwog doll. The illustration is better known under the tagline 'A Great Place For Hamburgers, But Who'd Want To Live There?!', read underneath the image. The poster was quite popular in the early 1970s and decorated many teenage and college student walls. 

An ad for Heineken beer (1977).

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast
In the 1970s Aldridge reinvented himself as an illustrator of children's novels, such as Frances D. Francis' 'Ann in the Moon' (1970) and Steve Boyett's 'The Gnole' (1999). He often worked together with Harry Willock, with whom he illustrated Richard Adams' 'The Ship's Cat' (1977) and his own book 'Phantasia: Of Docklands, Rocklands and Dodos' (1981). Their best known collaboration was their illustration work for William Plomer's picture book 'The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper Feast' (1973), in itself based on the 1802 poem of the same name by William Roscoe. The story featured a group of forest animals organizing a party. Aldridge felt quite proud that he'd managed to draw something one of his idols, John Tenniel, never could, namely a wasp in a wig. The book became an unexpected bestseller and was even adapted into an animated short, set to Roger Glover's number one-hit 'Love Is All' (1975), where a guitar-playing frog strums through the forest, gathering animals for the ball. Unbeknowst to many at the time the single was actually sung by Ronnie James Dio. One of the animators on 'Love Is All' was Harold Whitaker. The book led to several similar insect-related graphic assignments, such as the aforementioned album cover for Elton John's 'Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy' (1977) and Aldridge's 1977 advert for the Dutch beer brand Heineken, which shows a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.

In 1973 Aldridge won the Whitbread Children's Book Award. 

Final years and death
In 1980 Aldridge moved to Los Angeles. For most of his later life he was involved with The House of Blues, a music and restaurant chain by Isaac Tigrett and Dan Aykroyd. Aldridge acted as creative consultant and designed the logo for their Hard Rock Café. In 2008 he published his illustrated autobiography, 'The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes' (2008). The book offers many sensational anecdotes, particularly a meeting between Aldridge and Salvador Dalí at the Nice airport in 1967 where they held an improvisational drawing contest. Alan Aldridge passed away in February 2017.

Alan Aldridge in the 1970s with plastic politician figurines, intended for his Labour Party propaganda poster that same year. 

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