Fifty years ago the Beatles were driving a musical revolution, the Rolling Stones had released their eponymous debut album, and Bob Dylan ‘somehow lost touch with people’ after releasing Another Side of Bob Dylan. Elsewhere, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis and The Beach Boys were sidestepping socially conscious, teenage angst.
Ric Trevaskes of Egg Records has got vinyl flowing through his veins. “Certainly The Beatles were the first to stand up to the record companies when it came to cover art,” he said. “Consequently, we saw the artists taking more control of the images that represented their work”. By 1966, The Beatles began exploring new avenues in album cover art, leading to expanded concepts, like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with it’s gatefold sleeve, complex cut-out inserts, and lyrics. By 1970, the arrival of rock, from the likes of Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin, brought a whole new world of artistic collaboration to the fore. Work by design team Hipgnosis, visual artist Roger Dean, and photographer Mick Rock contributed was to become iconic.
Shannon Logan from Jet Black Cat Music added, “Covers like Abbey Road remain artistic icons 50 years after their release, even though many people may be unfamiliar with the music”. Album artwork continued to evolve throughout the 70s. The Rolling Stones added a workable zipper fly to their cover of Sticky Fingers, Bob Marley’s Catch a Fire album opened like a Zippo lighter and KISS, amongst others, overloaded their albums with stickers, posters, masks and wall murals.
Ric Trevaskes recalls Black Moses by Isaac Hayes. “The album folded out into six pieces, forming a massive poster of Isaac in a crucifix shape”. Early editions of Andy Warhol’s banana cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico contained the message ‘peel slowly and see’, revealing a flesh-coloured banana underneath. Few people could resist the temptation, and ‘unopened’ copies now cost collectors dear.
The arrival of CDs in the mid 1980s, led to a decline in the demand for creative cover art. Small, multi-folding covers with postcard inserts pushed the patience of consumers. In 1995, Pink Floyd’s flashing red light on their Pulse album was unique, but such ingenuity was rare. Artists began focusing on MTV visuals rather than cover artwork. With a few exceptions, such as Nirvana’s Nevermind, iconic album cover art was dead. Or was it?
“Absolute not”, says Shannon Logan. “Music and artwork work together for people buying vinyl today. Australian artist Leif Podhajsky, creator of album artwork for Tame Impala, typifies the new generation of album cover artist.”
Ric Trevaskes agrees. “Album cover art is alive and well. Just look at the amazing artwork supporting the new album and single by Brisbane band Halfway”.
Far from dead, the future of album art – it would appear – is here.
Words and images by Colin Bushell