Sound Spectrum owns a copy of The Beatles' original album cover "Yesterday and Today," otherwise known as the butcher cover that was pulled off the shelves in 1966 for a less offensive version shown at right. The record store came in contact with the album when they bought a few boxes of albums from a man and discovered it in the collection. (Don Leach, Coastline Pilot / August 6, 2014)

Jim Otto can't quite recall how the ragged LP cover arrived at his shop, but he surmises it came the same way as many others — in a box full of other records, left by an owner who needed a quick way to part with them.

For half a decade, it's lingered at Sound Spectrum, a shop at 1264 S. Coast Hwy. in Laguna Beach. Customers have occasionally expressed interest in buying it, only to withdraw the offer when they learn that its price tag may run into quadruple digits.

Why the demand? Well, it's probably not for the music.

In the past two years, the world has celebrated more than one 50th-anniversary milestone for the Beatles: the band's first Parlophone recording session in 1962, the opening of "A Hard Day's Night" in 1964. There may not be such a commemoration for the release of the 1966 "Yesterday and Today" album, whose original design — known as the "butcher cover" — marked another public-relations nightmare in the year of John Lennon's remark that the band was more popular than Jesus.

But anniversary or none, original copies of that cover — which features the Beatles clad in butchers' smocks and surrounded by cut-up baby dolls and chunks of meat — can fetch alarming sums of money. So until someone is willing to shell out a suitable amount, that once-scandalous image may occupy an indefinite place behind Sound Spectrum's front counter.

"When I kind of give them a ballpark idea in the more-than-$1,000 range, that usually kind of puts them off," Otto said.

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'Beatles Butcher One'

Just how much is the album worth?

In November, the website Ultimate Classic Rock reported that an original copy of "Yesterday and Today," still in its shrink wrap, sold for $15,300 on eBay. Sound Spectrum's copy, which is presumably a "third-state" butcher cover, would go for considerably less.

Before defining what those "states" mean, a bit of history will help.

In 1966, the Beatles submitted the provocative photo for the cover of "Yesterday and Today," an American album that, like others released on this side of the Atlantic, pieced together tracks from original British singles and LPs. The common story is that the Beatles intended the image to protest Capitol Records "butchering" the presentation of their music — although, as with many parts of Beatles lore, multiple theories exist.

Regardless, the stunt drew puzzled and disgusted reactions, with the Los Angeles Times declaring "Beatles Butcher One" in a headline. Reporter Pete Johnson, citing a record executive who claimed that the photo's satiric intent had been misinterpreted, wrote, "Misinterpretation is a mild description of what would probably ensue when the 13-year-olds began trotting into kitchens to show their harried mothers what their photogenic idols were up to."

(As for the Beatles themselves, they may have had mixed feelings about the butcher cover in later years: Three of the group's four members became well-known vegetarians.)

The outcry over the "Yesterday and Today" cover was such that Capitol recalled it almost instantly, but some copies did make it into circulation. According to http://www.thebutchercover.com, a website operated by a rock memorabilia company in Pennsylvania, those untouched original albums are known as "first state."

For the copies that were recalled, Capitol pasted another photo of the Beatles over the butcher image. Original 1966 pressings that feature this replacement cover — which left traces of the butcher cover visible underneath — are known as "second state." Over the years, many owners of "Yesterday and Today" steamed or otherwise peeled the replacement cover off, and a sleeve with the butcher art uncovered is classified as "third state."

The Pennsylvania company operates a Facebook page, Fans of the Beatles Butcher Cover, which sported a modest 60 "likes" as of this week. Indeed, Otto said the cover's allure is mostly reserved for hard-core Beatle aficionados and that some casual fans react to it with bemusement.

"I find that most people actually don't know they even exist," he said. "So it's collectors or people that are Beatlemaniacs, so to speak, who might be looking for them more than just the regular person off the street who might be a Beatles fan."

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A choice cut

The weathered butcher cover on Otto's wall is far from the first one he's handled. When his store opened in 1967, first pressings of "Yesterday and Today" still lined record shops, and Sound Spectrum got its share as well.

"They weren't quite so in demand," Otto said. "People were still finding them in stores with the other cover glued over them."

He's keen to add that the butcher cover isn't the only piece in his shop that once ruffled a few feathers. In addition to "Yesterday and Today," Sound Spectrum offers the UK version of Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland," which features a portrait of a group of nude women; the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers," with a workable zipper on a picture of tight-fitting jeans; and Cheech & Chong's "Big Bambu," which contains a large rolling paper inside.

Still, the Beatles are the Beatles, which means any scandal connected to their career invariably surpasses others in lore. Geoff Leamon, owner of Left of the Dial Records in Santa Ana, said he once sold a second-state butcher cover to a Japanese collector for about $700.

Everett Caldwell, the owner of Mr. C's Rare Records in Orange, said he has a second-state copy in stock for $2,200. Perhaps no one in the area, though, has handled more copies than Mike Lefebvre, the owner of Pepperland Music in Orange, which specializes in Beatles merchandise.

Over the years, Lefebvre estimated, he's stocked about 50 butcher covers, including first, second and third states. A month ago, he said, he sold the most recent one — and he hopes to have another soon.

"We're a Beatles specialty store, so it's not too nice for us not to have one," Lefebvre said, "but the customers come first."