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Celebrating The Artists Who Created Iconic Album Covers

From the site :"Long before the digital era and the design disciplines that emerged with it, there was a unique canvas, reaching a visual audience of millions; every designer dreamed of working on a vinyl record album cover. Invented in 1938 by graphic designer Alex Steinweiss while working at Columbia Records as an art director, album cover art quickly became one of the most important design disciplines in the world. Thanks to Steinweiss’s inventive concept and unique visual language, a new way of representing music was born. In the following years, cover design became a vital part of music albums, not to mention a strong cultural influence. It was one of the few mediums at the time which reached millions of people and had a truly global impact thus providing designers with a canvas through which they could express their creativity and originality to the whole world. It was also considered to be among the most effective marketing tools. Oftentimes the album cover was the main thing that persuaded people to purchase an album, rather than the music itself. ...The importance of cover design was so immense that it became a way for artists to popularize themselves and their work." 

As so often happens, some vital things are often left by the roadside in the name of "progress".  Back in the 80's,when a new music delivery system called the compact disc was introduced, one of the most essential elements of record albums was lost.  I'm referring to the exquisite visual one would get when they stared at the cover of a record album while kicking back and digging the music.  Today's post is about some of my favorite artists who designed many of the iconic album covers that have graced my album collection over the decades.




Peter Blake is the artist who created The Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, which many consider to be the most renowned album cover of all time.  Over the years, Blake's work influenced such pop art artists as Andy Warhol.  From the Art Story site: "In 1963, Blake found representation by Robert Fraser, the notorious art dealer who was later arrested with Mick Jagger for drug possession. This put Blake at the center of the swinging scene of 1960's London alongside leading figures of popular culture. It was Fraser who introduced Blake to Paul McCartney, and recommended him for designing the iconic album cover for The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although this gig positioned Blake's work in the international limelight, he frequently recalls that he was only paid £200 and given no copyright or royalties on the final cover."

Here's a list to all of the people who appear on the cover of Sgt Pepper's album






From the udiscovermusic site: "The moody photography of Francis Wolff and the artistic genius of Reid Miles became hugely influential in the world of music and graphic design, and turned Blue Note album covers into enduring cultural gems.  Reid Miles (below), was twenty-eight years old when he began working on the designs for Blue Note’s long playing records. He was working for Esquire magazine when he did his debut for Blue Note...It is ironic, given that Blue Note album sleeves have become the benchmark against which all modern jazz covers – and those of just about any other album – are measured, that Miles was not a jazz fan. Yet perhaps it was his distance from the music that was also his strength, allowing him to approach the design unencumbered by all but the basic details – the album title, the feel of the music, and something about the session. And of course, he had Francis Wolff’s brilliant photographs to work with. Reid was also interested in photography and began taking his own shots when he didn’t have the right kind of image from Wolff, who was sometimes frustrated by the way Miles drastically cropped his photographs.  Miles wasn’t paid a lot, at around $50 per cover, and often designed several albums on a Saturday, when not at his full-time job."



Barney Bubbles (aka Colin Fulcher) is remembered for all of the iconic album covers he created in the 70's and 80's when he produced art design projects (album covers, logos & artist related visuals) for Stiff Records and the weekly music magazine, New Musical Express.  Later on, he would gravitate towards making music videos such as the ones he created for The Specials song, "Ghost Town" and Elvis Costello's "Clubland".

“I love rock and roll…I can’t get enough of it! But I’m really sad the way it’s gone. I find all the young designers…and I’ve talked to a lot of them…they think they’re doing Art, and they talk about record covers as Art. They do one sleeve and they are already talking about what they are going to do for the next album cover. All that to me is highly suspect because you’ve got to wait, hear the music and meet the guys, and they tell you what they want and then it’s up to you to deliver that.” (Barney Bubbles interview in The Face magazine 1981)



Andy Warhol is probably the most famous artists listed in this blog post.  In the late 50's, Warhol was still a struggling young artist when the RCA hired him to design album covers for the label.  Although, Warhol would move on to create his art in a wide variety of mediums, he would still design album covers (particularly for the Rolling Stones) over the years.






Best remembered for creating the popular "Skull & Roses" logo for the Grateful Dead, Miller started out in the sixties add unique artistic touches to hot rods that were a big part of the California youth culture during the early 60's.  As California turned on, tuned in and dropped out, Miller gravitated towards designing many renowned psychedelic posters for various concerts.  "In 1967, Mouse collaborated with artists Kelley, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson to create the Berkeley Bonaparte Distribution Agency.[3] Mouse and Kelley also worked together as lead artists at Mouse Studios and The Monster Company - producing album cover art for the bands Journey and Grateful Dead. The Monster Company also developed a profitable line of T-shirts, utilizing the four color process for silk screening.  The psychedelic posters Mouse and Kelley produced were heavily influenced by Art Nouveau graphics, particularly the works of Alphonse Mucha and Edmund Joseph Sullivan. Material associated with psychedelics, such as Zig-Zagrolling papers, were also referenced. Producing posters advertising for such musical groups as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Grateful Dead led to meeting the musicians and making contacts that were later to prove fruitful." (WikipediaBy The 70's, Miller began to design album covers for folks like The Grateful Dead and the Steve Miller Band.  In the 80's, he was involved in designing rock memorabilia.




Guy Peellaert was a Belgian artist who is best remembered for his groundbreaking book Rock Dreams which he created with Nik Cohn and for the unique album covers he crafted for David Bowie and the Rolling Stones.  From The Independent: "The iconic book Rock Dreams, created by the Belgian artist Guy Peellaert with the British rock writer Nik Cohn, had a huge impact when it was first published in 1972, and went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide. Issued under various titles, it told the story of popular music, from the crooners of the Forties to the glam days of the early Seventies. In a series of 125 striking tableaux, Peellaert displayed an amazing gift for recreating the likenesses of his heroes while putting them in situations echoing their mythical status or playing on their most famous lyrics.  For Peellaert, though, the Rolling Stones were the most louche band of all. He painted them holding court at the Ad Lib club; he recreated the food fight at the launch of their Beggars Banquet album; he portrayed them in Gestapo uniforms surrounded by pre-pubescent girls; and he anticipated Keith Richards's cameo in the film Pirates of the Caribbean – At World's End by 35 years when he depicted the guitarist and Mick Jagger as buccaneers dancing on a coffin. 'Whose coffin is that?' the Stones singer had asked Peellaert pointedly when they met in Germany in 1973. I replied: 'I don't know, Mick', recalled Peellaert. 'He knew very well it was supposed to be Brian Jones.' Jagger suggested that the artist create the group's next album cover, following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol and David Bailey."



From the Co.Design website: "In the 1970's, designers were treated as rock stars–album cover designers, that is. “'There was no MTV, there was no VHI, there was no Spotify, Instead, there was album art.You were regarded almost like the fifth member of the band,” says Aubrey Powell, whose studio Hipgnosis was responsible for the album cover designs for artists like Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Genesis, and Led Zeppelin. A new book, Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art, revives Hipgnosis’s complete catalog, displaying 480 illustrations from the studio’s archive. It’s a glimpse into a pre-digital era when a single illustration could take months to complete.  Hipgnosis got its start in 1968, when Aubrey Powell and his creative partner Storm Thorgerson were asked to do an album cover for their friends’ second album. Lucky for Powell and Thorgerson, their friends happened to be the members of Pink Floyd; lead singer and guitarist Syd Barrett was their roommate.  While initially, the duo’s connections and cheap rates led them to more and more gigs, it was in 1973 that Powell and Thorgerson struck album cover gold. That year they designed the striking cover for Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy, where images of children playing on the rocks of Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway pepper an otherworldly orange landscape.  The same year, they designed perhaps their most famous album cover, for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The cover’s triangular prism and rainbow of light was inspired by a photograph of the sun shining through a glass paperweight that Powell found in a French physics book. Today, it’s the image most associated with the band. “We literally sketched it up on a napkin,” Powell says. “In those days we weren’t very sophisticated. We were like an art school studio.”




How The Dark Side of the Moon Album Cover Became An Icon


From Disc Dog's Sleve Artists: Ed Thrasher : "Thrasher was a multi-talented creative, who's immense body of work helped to shape the image of rock and popular music through the 'free-loving' 1960's and into the organized musical presentation & commercialism of the 1970's. Although an accomplished artist & photographer, Thrasher's greatest skill was that of a true Art Director, having the vision and insight to commission photographers, typographers and illustrators for album sleeves that would become as memorable as the works within.  In 1964 he moved to Warner Brothers and became head art director in the music division. It was here that his vision and imagination really kicked in, working among a diverse roster of top performers. One of his tasks included working with architect Quincy Jones on the design for the Company's building at 3300 Warner Boulevard, LA. At Warners the Thrasher photographs of Frank Sinatra occupied many album sleeves and it was Thrasher who coined the album title Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back. When Thrasher finally left Warners his portfolio of celebrity photography was vast. He formed an advertising company, Ed Thrasher & Associates, creating memorable film posters, music promotions and album sleeves. During his career Thrasher gained over a dozen nominations for the Grammy Award in Album Design."





I've always enjoyed Neon Park's album cover work.  He brought a unique combination of humor and surrealism that reflected the true spirit of rock music.  Park's work appeared on Frank Zappa albums and most notably, Little Feat many album covers.  Lowell George, Little Feat's de facto leader, had been exposed to Park's art while in the Mothers of Invention. Park created the infamous Weasels Ripped My Flesh cover on which a man is depicted using a live weasel to shave his face. Park's sense of absurd imagery appealed to George's own innate sense of dada art. The Sailin' Shoes cover, depicting a slice of cake on a swing, a phallic snail and a Mick Jagger inspired image of Gainsborough's Blue Boy, caused quite a stir upon the album's release. Starting with this second album, Park's art would adorn every subsequent Little Feat album cover and, even though Park passed away in 1993, his surrealistic imagery continues to be featured on every Little Feat record that is released to this day.  In a 1976 interview with Zig Zag magazine, Lowell George described his first meeting with Neon Park: "He was hitch hiking one afternoon, and a friend of mine picked him up on one of the sidestreets of Hollywood. He cruised over to my house, and I met the man, because I admired his cover of Weasels Ripped My Flesh - I electric weasel...whatever next! - so we began a friendship and also a business relationship, in that I would say "Give me a cover". Many times he wasn't told anything about the album, because I believe art is art, and I would rather do that than have somebody construct a concept and get heavy, because seriousness really doesn't play too great a part in what we're doing. It happens, and you never really know...there's really no concept...except perhaps "Feats Don't Fail Me", which was a party record - have a beer or two and dance or whatever happens - that's the frame of mind we were in for that record.”





Mick Rock, known as "The Man Who Shot The Seventies", is widely known for creating memorable album covers featuring such cutting edge artists as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Ramones, Queen and Lou Reed.  Most recently, he has photographed Father John Misty, Janelle Monáe.  I recently had to opportunity to watch the Vice documentary SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock:  "When you're dealing with musicians, a lot of them would rather be playing than standing in front of a camera—except for David Bowie. He was always happy to get in front of a camera. Lou Reed was like that with me, too. He and I always had a great time. But building a circle of concentration is like being a cook. You stir, add, and taste, and after a while, the pictures almost take themselves." (from the Noisey website)


Strange as it seems, I actually was part of a Mick Rock photo shoot.  The two photos below are of the Freelance Vandals; a band I was in back in the 70's and 80's.  These photos were shot by Mick Rock at a diner in the Queens section of NYC on June 8, 1978.  Originally, these photos were for an album we had recorded for the RCA label which got shelved due to some issues with our producer, Dennis Ganim.  We later used the original Mick Rock photos for our 1979 double 45 rpm package which was called The Double Dog Pak.











This post first appeared on Rock & Roll Is A State Of Mind, please read the originial post: here

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Celebrating The Artists Who Created Iconic Album Covers


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