Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Lost Art of Album Covers

Last February Suze Rotolo passed away at the age of 67. Suze was best known for being Bob Dylan’s girlfriend in the early 60’s and the iconic girl on the cover of Dylan’s album Free Wheelin’. A fantastic photo that critic Janet Maslin summed up as "a photograph that inspired countless young men to hunch their shoulders, look distant, and let the girl do the clinging." Funny thing is, every time Suze looked at the photo she thought she looked fat. It got me thinking about the lost art of album covers – now with the advent of CDs and MP3s generations of kids will never experience the thrill of sitting down for hours staring at an album trying to decipher its hidden meaning.Sure, now we have music videos to feed our mental imagery.. But nothing quite compares to the rush of tearing the wrap off that LP and pouring over the cover inside and out.
So I decided to pick MY favourite album covers, I thought I’d pick my top five. Too hard, so maybe ten. I finally settled on my top 15 album covers of all time with four, make it five, honourable mentions.What were my criteria in choosing my favourite album covers of all time? They had to accomplish one of the following:
  1. Broke boundaries or pushed the limit;
  2. Blow me away with artwork so profound I could stare at it for hours OR
  3. Simply remind me of a wonderful time of life. A cover that, even when I see the photo today, brings back a flood of memories of great songs, teenage naivety and a time before the Internet where we connected through music and still believed all you need is love. Here are my top choices:
#1- In Though The Out Door, Led Zeppelin (1979). My absolute all time favourite! The album came in a brown paper sleeve. There were six different covers and you had no idea which one you got until you brought it home. It was the same scene, just taken from six separate points of view. People would buy duplicates of the album just to get different covers – brilliant! If that wasn’t enough of a gimmick, the inside sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would change colours, like children’s water colour artwork.
#2- Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969). How can this not be in the top ten? Was there ever an album that created more buzz about the cover photo than ABBEY ROAD? Seriously, I never believed the whole Paul is dead rumour, but I must say all the clues on the cover led to hours and hours of staring at that photo. Pure genius.
#3- Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973). Iconic. We all knew at least one person who had their walls painted with the Pink Floyd prism. Black light and all.
#4- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beatles (1967). This cover featured a colourful collage of cardboard models of famous people, The Beatles and all their heroes including: Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Laurel & Hardy and the original Beatles’ bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Also on McCartney’s sleeve is an Ontario Provincial Police flash. According to Wikipedia - all the work done both inside and out of this album cover has been estimated that it cost 100 times the average cost for an album cover in those days.
#5- Some Girls, Rolling Stones (1978). Controversy – love it! The album cover featured the Stones in drag along with female celebrities and lingerie ads. The controversy? They didn’t get permission for the celebrities’ photos. Lucille Ball, Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and the estate of Marilyn Monroe all threatened legal action. The revised cover removed all the celebrities, whether they had complained or not, and replaced with the phrase PARDON OUR APPEARANCE - COVER UNDER RE-CONSTRUCTION. There was also a third version of the album cover with hand-drawn women. I had the under re-construction version, but remember going through every music store to try and find just one copy of the original.
#6– Untitled 4th Album (AKA IV), Led Zeppelin (1971). Clearly one of the greatest albums of all time, the cover created its own celebrity. There was no title, no group name, and no information at all on the outer jacket. However the photo, that showed the dichotomy of city and village, paled in comparison to the inside illustration of the Hermit. Redrawn by countless high school art students. Even today, you can go on YouTube and watch people put The Hermit drawing up to a mirror to show the wolf in the rubble.
#7– Relayer, Yes (1974). It's simply a remarkable piece of work by artist Roger Dean. Yes continued to feature his work in the CD releases.
#8- Crime of the Century, Supertramp (1974). This is one of those albums that I love simply for the great memories it gives me every single time I see the cover or hear one of the songs. I guess I’ll always be a Dreamer.
#9- Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones (1971). This was the first “rock album” I ever owned, so it has a special place in my rock ‘n roll love. It actually featured a working zipper that opened to reveal cotton briefs. The idea for this album came from Andy Warhol. When storeowners complained that the zipper was causing damage to the vinyl (from stacked shipments of the record), the zipper was "unzipped" slightly to the middle of the record, where damage would be minimized. This album was also the first time the Stones used the "Tongue and Lip Design"
#10- Love it to Death, Alice Cooper (1971). Originally Cooper had his thumb sticking out of his pants. The record company thought it looked like a penis, and proceeded to airbrush his thumb and arm out of future releases. However, when Cooper released the CD, the uncensored photo found its way to the shelves.
#11– Freewheelin’, Bob Dylan (1963). Although the release was before my time, my brother had this album, and I always loved the cover. I’m sure every girl at one time wished they could be Suze Rotolo in that photo.
#12- Retro Active, Def Leppard (1993). This album doesn’t quite fit the mold, as it came out 20 years later than the others I’ve chosen. But when I saw it, I had to do a double take. Really? It was a throwback, a tribute, to great album art. But the big question was whether it’s a woman at a dressing table or a skull? Or both?
#13- Candy O, Cars (1979). Another album that just brings back great memories of driving in a beat-up old Datsun with a portable radio that we had to stick the antenna out the window to get reception. Those were the days.
#14 – Earth & Heaven, Angel (1977) .You may have never heard of this group, or this album before, but the cover was cool. Mind you the music was never that good, but you can turn the album upside down and it’s a mirror image – logo and all. And just look at that hair!
#15 – KISS– first album (1974). Who were these guys, and what’s with the make up? In an era where we thought everything had a meaning, the conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. It wasn’t until "Hotter Than Hell" did we realize that they were more than show.
There they are, sorry for being so longwinded. But I have to admit – it was a lot of fun to write, and relive.