Listen - Record Store Day 2018 - the stories behind iconic album artwork
It's Record Store Day 2018! In honour of our independent local stores, we've taken a look at something we often take for granted: the art on the front of the albums we buy or stream. Often captivating, sometimes shocking, album artwork is an assumed feature of any modern musical release; but how much do we know about the stories behind them?
The practice of including imagery with albums was pioneered early in the 20th century by Alex Steinweiss; photographs, abstract art and illustrations were presented on vinyl covers to engage eager music fans - and soon all forms of physical music featured an eye-catching visual. Later, the advent of computer imaging offered an unrestricted canvas to artists and propelled the medium of album art. Over the years, a huge range of themes, subjects and statements have been incorporated into album illustrations; some so ubiquitous that we recognise them instantly;
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
The imagery of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album is among the most well-known images produced in the 20th century, if not the most well known of all. The Band wanted to move away from more traditional photography and wanted to create something “Smarter”.
Working with the famous Storm Thorgerson, under the instruction to create a “Not funny” image, the iconic cover was produced, and this light prism imagery has become synonymous with the band.
Little known fact: in an earlier draft of the artwork Thorgerson included a figure of Marvel’s Silver Surfer character. This was later removed.
Radiohead – Ok Computer
The 1997 release of Radiohead’s third studio album, OK Computer, is now cemented as one of the band’s standout performances from an incredible back catalogue.
The artist responsible for some of the Radiohead’s previous artwork, Stan Donwood, was invited back as the project’s visual director and Thom Yorke included him early in the recording process.
The cover art is composed of images collected from a visual diary documenting the recording process and assembled on a computer. A “you cannot erase anything” rule was enforced during the creative process.
Little known fact: Thom Yorke is credited on this piece under the name “The White Chocolate Farm” and no one knows why.
Black Sabbath – Born Again
Allegedly, due to animosity between the management and the 1983 Black Sabbath line up, the management would send any available images to the band fully expecting them to be refused. However, Tommy Iommi was taken by this ‘crying baby’ image, and it was chosen by the band for the release.
The image of the infant was lifted from a 1968 magazine article by the Artist Steve Joule. Unbeknownst to Joule, two years previously this same image had been included in artwork for the Depeche mode single “New Life”, sparking rumours that the image had been stolen by Black Sabbath. However, this was never intentional and is considered to be a coincidence.
Little known fact: even more strange than this coincidence is that the lead vocals on this album were recorded by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillian.
Kanye West – Yeezus
Streaming services have become the norm, and physical sales of music have been on a steady decline for some time. Nothing sums up this reality quite like the artwork, or lack thereof, on Kanye West’s “Yeezus”. In contrast to previous releases that included bright and vivid imagery, this release was void of all artwork and booklet. The physical version of this album was presented in a clear CD case sealed with red tape.
A statement on the future of music sales or a callback to the days of roughly labelled mixtapes? Either way (or both) a non-artwork-artwork that was nonetheless impactful.
David Bowie – BlackStar
Are we at all surprised that the final release from the beloved Bowie incorporated a few secrets? Concentrate, and the shapes along the bottom of the cover spell out ‘Bowie’.
Leaving the album cover in direct sunlight for an extended period of time will bring out a night sky full of stars so full you that can see constellations; but maybe not the constellations that we are familiar with. Joining these stars in the sky creates a figure of a man (a star-man?).
Listen is an RHA blog series that examines the stories and science behind music and audio.
To find your local record store, and find out more about Record Store Day, check out the event website.