The fine art of album covers

These last few days, after reading the news about Storm Thorgerson’s passing away (the man responsible for several iconic record sleeves), I have been pondering on the very special relationship between music and cover art.

Aesthetically speaking, I have always regarded the artwork of an album at least as important as the music it contains. Great album covers often attracted my attention and curiosity while I would browse through records in some store, resulting in my acquaintance with many exciting and undiscovered soundscapes.

In fact, the cover’s artwork has often been my very first impression of a music album. It was through their intriguing, mystifying covers that I was first introduced to many classic records such as Houses of the Holy, Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon, all designed by Storm Thorgerson.

Another work by Thorgerson I have always admired is his cover design for Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The cover shows 800 hospital beds, arranged in a river-like form on a beachfront location (which is Saunton Sands in Devonshire, UK). The image took about two weeks to create and won the photographer Robert Dowling a gold award at the Association of Photographers Awards.

The association between sound and image can be crucial for an album’s thematic coherence, conceptual effect and aesthetic value. It is hard to imagine someone listening to The Wall, Sticky Fingers or The Velvet Underground & Nico without simultaneously thinking of their accompanying cover art.

Some of the best album covers, as in Thorgerson’s work, have their origins in progressive rock. One of my all-time favorites is the artwork for King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, which so powerfully captures the atmosphere of impending paroxysm and paranoia described in the album’s opening track 21st Century Schizoid Man (Barry Godber, who painted the album cover, died in 1970 of a heart attack shortly after the album’s release).

King Crimson, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ (1969)

Another artist I have always admired is Roger Dean, whose designs have been on album covers by bands such as Babe Ruth, Budgie, Uriah Heep and Gentle Giant.

Gentle Giant, ‘Octopus’ (1972)

A truly imaginative and original artist, Dean is most well known for the amazing fantasy landscapes he has produced for the progressive rock bands Asia and Yes.

Yes, ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ (1974)

Examples like the collaboration between Pink Floyd and Storm Thorgerson or Yes and Roger Dean illustrate how cover art can play an integral part in shaping a band’s identity. Masterful works of art in their own right, albums covers can both complement and enhance a band’s artistic image.

This art form, however, has been traditionally associated with vinyl, where the cover design has the necessary breathing space in order to create the desired aesthetic effect. In the era of digital music and massive downloading, it is doubtful whether cover art for music albums will continue to have the same prominence and importance. I, for one, sincerely hope it will.


4 thoughts on “The fine art of album covers

  1. Pingback: The -vinyl- music challenge | The Muser

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