Written by Mangesh
There are several reasons I loved working on the Saints and Sinners Issue. It’s the only magazine I’ve ever seen with Madonna and Gandhi elbowing for cover space, it’s the first issue we ever got the fantastic authors John Green and Michael Stusser to write for, and it had this piece by Chris Smith. It’s just 23 quick notes on 23 important album covers, but it’s one of my favorites. Enjoy!
wearing their art on_their sleeves:
23 album covers that changed everything by Chris Smith
Long before MTV, performers expressed the visual dimension of their art through their album covers. Every music fan has his/her favorites, but several covers stand out for their brilliance, their impact and their ability to make as much of a statement as the music they represent. Every art form has its giants, and album cover art is no exception. The work of the designers featured here spans over 40 years of music.
THE SIXTIES: Before the 1960s, most albums featured portraits of musicians, instruments or musicians playing instruments. But the 1960’s spirit of exploration and experimentation found its way into music and, consequently, onto album covers.
1967 The Beatles, Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles’ album covers act as a kind of scrapbook for their mythmaking career: a serious With the Beatles, a hippie-esque Rubber Soul, a stripped down The White Album, and a funeral procession on Abbey Road. Each is a testament to the band’s creativity and insight into their culture. Yet no single album cover defines its era and its artists more than 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
As with any good cult artifact, stories built around the album: Was Paul McCartney dead? (No.) Are the figures cardboard cutouts? (Yes.) Are those pot plants? (No.) The album was also legendarily difficult to execute-securing the faces of the band’s heroes and influences, from Alistair Crowley to guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-was a logistical nightmare. Finding photographs of everyone, blowing them up to specifications and tinting them with color all turned out to be well worth the effort, however. The album became the single most recognizable (and, according to many, the greatest) album cover of all time.
1965 Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights
This concept album pushed the 1960s envelope all the way to the fridge. Every song on the album is named for some kind of food, something the cover model seems to be enjoying in a more than metaphorical way. This was Herb Albert’s most successful album, but whether the songs or cover sold the album has yet to be determined.
1969 Grateful Dead, Aoxomoxoa
It’s an iconic example of psychedelic art by one of the giants of the genre, graphic artist and California surfer, Rick Griffin. The band met Griffin backstage after a concert and fell in love with his style. In fact, they were so sure of his talent that they gave him total artistic freedom for the cover. Griffin also designed the first masthead for Rolling Stone.
1967 The Doors, Strange Days
With this album, The Doors touched on the decade’s surrealism with a Fellini-esque circus, but still escaped the psychedelia that typified its generation. The cover’s zoo of characters were a mix of professionals, amateurs and friends. The juggler is the photographer’s assistant. The trumpet player in the background was a cab driver who agreed to pose for $5 right before the image was shot.
1969 Blind Faith, Blind Faith
By the end of the decade, idealism had given way to cynicism, yet this album offered a strange vision of hope. A maiden in the nude, holding a silver spaceship matted onto a pastoral setting, forms a metaphorical union of innocence and achievement, life and knowledge, uncharacteristic of the decade that spawned it.
THE SEVENTIES: The stylistic fragmentation of the 1960s continued in the 1970s. Bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin claimed music-and their respective album covers-were definitely a trip.
1971 The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
Rock n’ roll is sometimes used as a euphemism for sex, so it’s no wonder that the crotch has been the centerpiece of countless album covers. Yet, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers is the most famous and innovative example.
Sticky Fingers stands out as the best album cover of the decade. The cover features an Andy Warhol photograph of a well-endowed young man (contrary to legend, it was not Mick Jagger). A working zipper on the man’s pants could be opened to reveal another shot of the model, this time in his skivvies. The zipper left its mark on the album cover genre. Unfortunately, it also left its mark on the record itself (right in the middle of “Sister Morphine”).
1973 Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
The classic simplicity of the prism on Dark Side is partly derived from a textbook illustration designed to show how light passes through a prism to form a spectrum. In a science book, however, a prism spectrum has seven colors. The album cover only has six; they got rid of indigo simply because it looked too much like purple.
1977 Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols
Nothing sums up the punk ethos better than this album. Like the record itself, the cover resembles a ransom note (actually designed with cut-up newspaper bits), boldly proclaiming the Pistols had stolen the music industry’s thunder ? and didn’t plan on giving it back. The album was first refused in record shops because of the word “bollocks,” and the issue was later taken up in court.
1979 Supertramp, Breakfast in America
This album reflects the English band’s move to the United States and the cynicism that went along with it. A view of the Manhattan skyline, uncannily recreated with salt shakers, creamers, coffee mugs, egg cartons, napkin dispensers and silverware, stands behind a friendly waitress named Libby who offers you a tall glass of OJ-all through your airplane window. Good morning, indeed.
1979 The Clash, London Calling
Punk thrust a rusted safety pin into the nostril of the bloated music industry with this one. London Calling juxtaposed the concept of a 1956 Elvis album with a blurry image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass. Incidentally, during the shoot, he smashed his watch in the process. That’s the price you pay for ripping on Elvis.
THE EIGHTIES: The 1980s offered an interesting contrast: Musically, the decade was both an extension of the excesses of the 1970s and a reaction to it. So what was the product of this conflict? The ability to stir up some controversy.
1988 Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking
This album was shocking in every way. A pair of Siamese twins joined at the hip and shoulder (actually plaster sculptures built by lead singer Perry Ferrell himself) sit naked on a love seat, their heads on fire.
According to Ferrell, it’s harder to get big flames burning on plaster twins than one might think. Nine national record chains refused to stock the album.
1980 Gamma, Gamma 2
This cover perfectly illustrates the fear that 1980’s punk rock brought into the otherwise serene suburbs of America. Originally, the pair of feet in the bottom right corner of the cover were only those of a woman, but Electra Records felt the image might seem inflammatory to certain female customers. At the last minute, a pair of male feet were added to the cover.
1988 Prince, Lovesexy
While heavy metal and punk were making waves in music during the 1980s, Prince pushed the envelope in a different direction. Celebrating both sexual freedom and ambiguity, Prince combined a feminine pose with overt phallic imagery. Believe it or not, the shot was spontaneous: the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino suggested Prince go nude just before the session.
1983 Def Leppard, Pyromania
This album made Tipper Gore’s “filthy fifteen” list when she crusaded against “porn-rock” in the mid-1980s. By organizing the Parents’ Music Resource Center, she encouraged the Recording Industry Association of America to adopt an explicit content labeling policy to protect minors.
THE NINETIES AND BEYOND: By the 1990s the CD had replaced the old vinyls of yesterday. While the classic square shape was back, the smaller size meant designers didn’t have as much space with which to work. Time will tell what images from the 1990s will stake their claim as classics. Some are immediate standouts.
1991 Metallica, Metallica
The rock band reflects their stripped-down sound with this none-more-black cover, known to fans simply as “the black album.” The album marked the band’s transition from heavy metal to mainstream.
1990 Pixies, Bossanova
The Pixies took their listeners to another world with Bossanova, mixing the old with the new and the new with the kitsch and retro. Pixies’ vocalist Frank Black claims he saw a UFO as a child and was always infatuated with outer space. In fact, the band’s founding members decided to form the band while on a trip to New Zealand to see Halley’s Comet.
1996 Beck, Odelay
One of the decade’s strangest covers comes, fittingly, from one of its strangest artists. Beck’s album shows a Komondor, (a Hungarian sheepdog with a dreadlock-like coat), leaping over a hurdle. It’s almost impossible to tell it’s a dog, but it’s even harder to forget.
1997 Prodigy, Fat of the Land
The rise of electronica brought acts like Prodigy to the fore, which featured a crab with brandished claws, symbolic of their aggressive beats and attitudes. The image was chosen at the last minute as an illustration of the album title: a crab coming out of the sea to enjoy the bounty of the land.
AND SOME COVER ARTISTS YOU SHOULD MEET:
Andy Warhol: 1967 The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
Despite what it insinuates on the cover, the album’s title is not Andy Warhol. Rather, the then-unknown The Velvet Underground used their well-known album artist’of Warhol’s name created a persistent myth about The Velvets. Everybody thought Andy Warhol was the lead guitarist.”
Reid Miles: 1962 Freddie Hubbard, Hub-Tones
Reid Miles produced almost 500 graphically striking covers for Blue Note Records jazz acts like Freddie Hubbard. Apparently, Blue Note often didn’t have the budget to print full-color album covers, so Miles was confined to using two colors. With his creativity and resourcefulness though, you’d never know.
Neon Park XIII: 1970 The Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh
A painter, whose name is as colorful as his work, Park produced quirky paintings for Little Feat and the Beach Boys, and the infamous Weasels Ripped My Flesh for Frank Zappa’s band, The Mothers of Invention. This one was based on an ad for an electric shaver from a 1950s Life magazine.
Roger Dean: 1973 Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans
Influenced by John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis-which argues the entire earth is connected via a single prehistoric ancient culture-and by P. Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Dean imagined otherworldly dreamscapes for prog-rock groups like Yes and Asia. In 1970, Dean also designed the first logo for a new record label, Virgin.
Hipgnosis (A British design pair led by Storm Thorgerson): 1975 Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
Hipgnosis produced widespread cover art, including Led Zepellin’s Houses of the Holy and over 20 Pink Floyd covers. In Wish You Were Here, the burning man shaking hands actually is on fire. At the photo shoot, the stunt man wore an asbestos suit and a wig, then doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.
From “Nevemind” to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” to “On the Corner”, we definitely left a lot off the list. Be sure to tell us which ones we should have included in the comments below.