If the record industry was smart, it would have saved the demise of vinyl by playing up the fact that there is nothing quite as wonderful as a full-sized album cover. Personally, album art in general was always one of the greatest things about buying some new vinyl when I was a kid.
Having recently rekindled my love affair with vinyl, I’m beginning also to realise what a grossly underrated aspect of record production the album cover has been over the years. I guess the reason for that is that not everyone took it seriously. Thankfully, the bands I was into did, and spent time commissioning some sensational artists or photographers to come up with some wonderful work.
Take Iron Maiden, for instance, who created their very own character, Eddie The Head, with a little help from artist Derek Riggs. Eddie has featured on every album the band released, starting with Killers, a number of single covers and, of course on stage with the band and on other merchandise in various guises.
Then you’ve got the great photographic efforts, like The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover, which any tourist in London tries to replicate when on tour in London. Ian MacMillan took the shot from a step ladder while a policeman held up traffic behind him. Paul McCartney’s bare feet, and opposite step to his band-mates, was deliberate, as was the lack of any writing on the cover. No band name, and no album name. Apple Records creative director at the time, Kosh, knew it wasn’t needed since The Beatles was the most famous band in the world and knew it would sell anyway.
Both those covers have been “reversed” by Flickr identity Harvezt recently in his terrific little series The Dark Side Of The Covers. And yes, he’s also done that famous Pink Floyd cover for Dark Side Of The Moon. He’s also done Joy Divisions Unknown Pleasures, a brilliant one for Led Zeppelin IV, Computer World by Kraftwerk, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King. These are all albums I own, and I love Harvezt’s imagination in creating these reverse views. The Abbey Road one is particularly great for including that policeman in its story. The Killers one is awesome, too.
I’ve noticed a few album cover things happening over the past few weeks. The Guardian’s series of shots placing album covers in Google Street View was a good one too.
And last but not least, if you’re on Facebook, no doubt one or more of your friends has shared something about “sleeveface”, whereby people use album covers to replace real heads and faces in photographs. Always a source of amusement and fun.
But the fact is with all this digital music around, we’re in danger of losing the meaning and joy of album art because in large part, the consumption of music in the digital age is purely a purely sonic experience. It’s not longer visual, nor physical, as it was when I was growing up with 12-inch vinyl records. That’s a shame, I reckon, and I’d encourage any young music fan to pick up some of their favourites on vinyl if they get the chance. I’d also encourage record companies to