With nostalgia, I remember those times when mp3 did not yet exist, streaming services were not invented, and all music was played from CDs. You bought a new release from your favorite artist, walked home and eagerly looked at the cover, spread, inserts and all the contents before turning it on.
Given the lack of photoshop and digital capabilities, creating images on the covers was truly an art back then. Something more than just photos. Sometimes, with a whole story around. Below I have collected as many as six such stories!
1. The Beatles — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
One of The Beatles’ craziest albums also came with the most expensive cover to produce (approximately £3,000 compared to the average cost for the time of £50 per cover). And in 1968, the Liverpool group received a Grammy statuette for this cover as the best graphic work.
It’s all about the image itself: the image contains a collage of 71 characters, not including the musicians themselves. Dressed in colorful uniforms, John, Paul, George and Ringo stand surrounded by many faces who, according to the idea, came to be photographed after the concert. Each of the four introduced their characters, which they would like to immortalize in this picture. As a result, dozens of people from Edgar Allan Poe to Bob Dylan, Aldous Huxley, Karl Marx and Marilyn Monroe graced the cover. Moreover, not all applicants initially wanted to be on this cover (we are talking about stars who lived in the same time period), and some even asked for payment. So the cost of producing art continued to rise.
Not only celebrities and historical figures are present in this crazy collage. So, 4th from the right in the very top row is a girl from a painting by Alberto Vargas. Another one, by George Pitti, is located closer to the lower left edge of the cover. Also on display are two human mannequins airbrushed for Gandhi’s concerns, wax figures of the Beatles themselves, two rag dolls, and a statue from Lennon’s house.
On the back of the sleeve, for the first time in the history of recording, the lyrics of the album’s songs were placed.
The designer who created this miracle received a high honor: in June 2002, 70-year-old Peter Blake was knighted by Her Majesty.
2.Pink Floyd — Wish you were here (1975)
The first part of the concept idea of the British band. The next album, Animals, will be just as conceptual. Not least thanks to the art on the cover.
Absence as a state permeates the entire tracklist. This was guided by Storm Thorgerson, one of the founders of the design studio Hipgnosis, and a longtime friend of the British team. Storm began with hints, the usual symbols of absence: footprints, shadows, imprints, reflections. One of the first ideas to visualize the image was a love relationship. A man hugs a girl, but in the mirror we see only one of them. She may have left him long ago, but he still loves her. Or maybe alienation has come into the relationship, the girl’s thoughts are somewhere far away, and everything is going to break. But the idea seemed too obvious.
Then Storm thought about a postcard sent from a wonderful place and written on it: sorry, you’re not here. According to the designer, people, using this phrase as a duty phrase, often mean the exact opposite. Through this prism, “sorry, you’re not here” takes on a radically different meaning — an empty sign of attention. And this caused an association with another meaningless gesture — a handshake.
On the cover of the album, two men in business suits, almost indistinguishable from each other, shake hands. One of them is on fire, and the other is calm and even smiles slightly, as if everything is in order. It is generally accepted that a businessman, engulfed in fire, went bankrupt and lost money. But for Pink Floyd, it would be too easy.
Probably, the second man hides his feelings and from the impossibility or fear of showing them, emotionally burns out from the inside. Unrequited love, unhappy marriage, incurable fear, self-doubt, external pressure — anything that poisons life and makes it unhappy. And we return to the cross-cutting theme of the album — alienation. An empty handshake with no honesty.
There is another art on the back of the sleeve with the record — a man in a business suit standing in the middle of the desert is handing us a newly bought record. At his feet is a suitcase plastered with stickers from the released Pink Floyd albums. But it is worth taking a closer look and it becomes clear that this is just a faceless silhouette. Again the theme of emptiness and alienation.
3. Pink Floyd — Animals (1977)
Animals was written almost in parallel with the previous Wish you were here and conceptually develops the ideas of the musicians. The main concept of the album is the representation of society through the prism of animals (we should assume that “Animal Farm” was on the album’s moodboard). The songs in the tracklist of the disc are also referred to as specific animals: Pigs, dogs, sheep.
The idea for the disc design belongs to bass player Roger Waters. He drove by London’s Battersea power station every day and offered to shoot her on the cover. With only one caveat: a pig must fly between the pipes of the power plant, referring to the concept of the record.
The huge balloon was ordered from an airship factory, and filming took place two days in a row. As a result, on the first day there was not enough helium to lift it, and on the second, closer to the apogee, the pig simply broke away from the cables and began to fly away rapidly. After a lot of relocations, the connection of aircraft and one surprised pilot of the aircraft, the balloon landed in Kent, from where it was returned to the group for a fee. Fortunately, at the moment of the picture everything worked out, and now it is one of the most famous musical covers of world classics.
4. Anthony and the Johnsons – I am a Bird Now (2005)
This is the second studio album by the non-trivial band Anthony and Johnsons, in order to understand the significance of the cover, you need to know the context. The 1974 photograph shows Candy Darling, one of the stars of the Andy Warhol Factory, on her deathbed surrounded by white roses. The photo was taken by Peter Hujjar, another star of the time, who was on friendly terms with Warhol, was friends with the head of Vogue Diana Vreeland, shot Burroughs and Susan Sontag.
The melancholy image complements the band’s frontman’s haunting vocals and ties together all the pieces of this story revolving around the New York of those years. This is a kind of tribute to the memory of many people and a visual meditation on the theme of death: in addition to Candy herself in the picture, the photo refers to the aforementioned Warhol and Hujar, who died of AIDS, David Vounarowicz and Keith Haring, and in general the mood prevailing among artists of that time. AIDS and hard drugs then claimed many lives.
Even without knowing these details, it is worth paying tribute to the aesthetic perception of Hujjar’s image: an even balance of light and shadows, the body is located along the axes, the light gently fading into noir, the play of dark colors in the foreground and white, like spots of light, in the background.
One such person is Peter Hujar, who was diagnosed with severe AIDS on January 3, 1987. Hujar was an old friend of Warhol’s and appeared in several of his Screen Tests, as well as in The Thirteen Most Handsome Boys. He himself was an extremely gifted photographer. Working only in black and white and flexibly switching between landscape, portrait, nude, animals and ruins, he gave his images a depth, a formal flawlessness that few people manage to achieve.
Olivia Lange, Lonely City
5. Led Zeppelin – In Through the out door (1979)
A gem of cover art and a concept of unsurpassed levels: it seems that no one has ever tried to repeat such a visual game.
Seven songs, six covers, five year old son, four band members, three weeks of work, two words “Dear John…” and one central figure depicted from different angles. Pastel, cigar wrapper paper, sepia.
Led Zeppelin created something truly extraordinary from a visual point of view, and it happened almost half a century ago. In through the out door was released with six different cover options at once! Given the time, in 79 albums were released only on vinyl, which was sealed in craft wrapping paper. Thus, the buyer could not know which of the art would be on the cardboard cover of the record.
Each of the six is one of the six people in the bar looking at the seventh, John. This is the man who was dumped by the girl, and he is trying to wash down the grief in the bar from the picture. On the front side of the cover, a perspective is taken on the main character through the eyes of one of the 6 present, and on the other side there is a picture in the center of which is the person whose eyes we looked at John himself.
As was often the case in analog times, various postcards, additional materials, stickers, etc. were put inside the envelope. Inside In Through the out door was an envelope made of thin, almost cigar paper with a black-and-white image on the theme of the bar: a smoldering cigar, a half-empty glass, a lighter. But if this paper is slightly wetted, then the objects in the image become painted in bright shades.
6. Pink Floyd — Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988)
This is not a hit parade of the best Pink Floyd albums, but this group has consistently produced masterpieces of artwork.
By the time this album was recorded, Roger Waters had already left the band, and the band’s times were not the best. However, even in its decline, Pink Floyd managed to create and implement an idea that is not inferior to past visual successes. The author of the cover was Storm Thorgerson, the permanent ideological inspirer of the British team.
The photo shows two men: one surrounded by a flock of birds in the background, the second in the front in a suit covered with light bulbs. Thorgerson embodied the two components of Pink Floyd concerts in this image:
Since it was a live album, I wanted the cover to reflect the specifics of Pink Floyd that make their concerts special: it’s like a union of light and sound.
So, a flock of birds that flap their wings refers to sound, and the light bulbs on the suit are a symbol of light. In an interview, Torgenson recalls that the inspiration for such images was partly the work of the sorrealist artists Fur Breakfast by Maret Oppenheim and Disturbing Dreams by Salvador Dalí.
Adding to the incredibleness of the album is the fact that Delicate Sound of Thunder was the first rock album to be played in space. Soviet cosmonauts took her with them to Soyuz TM‑7. Firma Melodiya released this record, and it became the first officially released Pink Floyd record in the USSR.