Coming from a family that's worked in the arts and advertising equally, I credit my parents for an attentiveness to good packaging and design they passed on to me early on. Exposure to cover art in most cases precedes one's experience of the music and appeals to your tastes before an ear is even lent. Whether thematically or aesthetically, I believe your eye being attracted to, let's say, a particular CD case reveals something about you. Some mysterious force pulls you toward it as the art resonates within. Get to know why! The same way, the following selection betrays some of my obsessive interests: typography, color symbolism, dark romanticism, escapism, Americana. What an introspective exercise it is to write about album art! ;-)
The Awakening (1970)
George S. Whiteman (allegedly)
Ahmad Jamal means business and wants you to know it. He's a bad mutha, self-assured, a defiant one! The confidence he displays commands you to play his record and dig it. Picture yourself in the store: Don't you feel challenged to buy a copy? The colors have a gradation in their intensity which culminates in the player's portrait and reinforces a posture of aristocracy. When put in relation with the title of the work, the meaning takes a more spiritual turn, where verticality stands for elevation. Most of all, I find it to be a beautiful cover, very graphic. The colors are warm and rainbow-like, as if picked from a child's box of crayons. Combined with the picture's severity, it gives the cover an added layer of complexity while toning down the man's assertiveness.
George Hunter/Globe Propaganda
Globe Propaganda, the design agency responsible for the album art, is behind some of that era's most iconic covers. This one is my favorite thanks to the flashy lettering. The deep night blue really has the band's name standing out. It's inadvertently reggae, yet somewhat gothic … what an electric blend! The website Allmusic points out that the liner notes are a tip of the hat to the people of the plains, "the midsection of America," where man finds nothing but "himself, the land, and the sun." A vision of a life aligned with nature, unpolluted, in contrast to the manic pace of the city. In a record released months prior to Hallelujah, Gram Parsons sings a recipe for happiness: chores to keep me busy, a clock to keep my time, a pretty girl to love me. Here, it is just what you find.
Moog Power (1969)
An explosive cover that turns record shopping into a staring contest! The goatee, the turtleneck, the aplomb … Hugo Montenegro is a beatnik Sean Connery with guru-like charisma. The radiating glow makes it all the more cultish, while Moog Power reads like mind control! The synth patch imagery, placed on the brain, is unambiguous. A lot is happening here, but it all falls in place somehow. The colors are vibrant and complement each other. The groovy font is the icing on the cake.
Organic Music Society (1972)
Moki Cherry's rendering of her family's idyllic residence in a geodesic dome. Situated in Stockholm, the visionary structure they inhabited for three months became a space of creative and spiritual practice she vividly depicts on the cover of OMS. On the bottom right, Don is seen playing the berimbau while Moki does yoga. Earth, wind, fire, air … all play a part in a composition very much about holistic wellness and inner balance.
The Allman Brothers
Eat a Peach (1972)
J. F. Holmes and W. David Powell of Wonder Graphics
These pastel colors are cotton-candy to the eyes ... super dreamy and soothing. The album art pays tribute to the late Duane Allman, who when in Georgia ate a peach for peace. The early morning sky-feel of the cover, as described by the artist, brings a serenity that parallels the words of Skydog. I also like the idea of a fruit three times the size of a tractor trailer, reduced to the proportions of a stamp.
I bought this one for the cover alone. The artist, Whyn Lewis, is Vashti's daughter. Talk about good genes! About that animal ... not sure if it's a young deer, or a greyhound rather … a chimera, reminiscent of medieval tapestries? It seems to carry some sort of allegorical meaning, like innocence, or chastity. A mythical creature that would allow only a most deserving few to witness it.
John C. LePrevost
That design is half Top Gun and half G.I. Joe. Makes you think this one is packed with action, no? And totally pre-dates the '80s! I want to believe that the stripes on the top right allude to Cale's reputation within Americana and are in fact part of a flag. Also, let's speculate one more time over that S shape in the center and make it the exhaust of a Harley-Davidson.
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Yet another framed photograph. With a twist, this one, as two versions exist, and with contrasting undertones. In this one, complicity is at its height, a tight unit of three sailing the seas on a boat of concord. Wooden ships, on the water, very free and easy, as sung on their first release.
In the second picture, however, each member faces a different direction, a different horizon, and oneness is no more. I'm reminded of Crosby's existential masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name. With Nash facing outwards, Stills is suddenly reminded of the camera's presence, a moment of regained gravity that feels apprehensive while keeping cool.
Death Walks Behind You (1970)
Death Walks reprocesses the Nebuchadnezzar of Blake. The original print depicts the fall into madness of a man once a king, de-evolving into animality. The despair in his eyes echoes the artwork of a King Crimson classic you should have no trouble finding a visual for. The title of the record is fatalism incarnate, the album art proto-doom … pretty much what'd come out of a band fronted by the ghost of Edgar Poe!
I found this one in a pile of dusty records sold for a euro each. I was 12 or 13 at the time, and for a dollar-bin item, I wasn't worth the trouble—the clerk was kind enough to let me take it for free. A priceless takeaway, really, as it would start it all! Kiss's infamous disco detour introduced me to vinyls, which in retrospect is not at all a bad place to start. The record, however, was scratched, wobbly in some parts. Made better use of its cover tacked to the bedroom wall. There, I had all the leisure to study the respective makeups of Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter. Also, how many albums are more hair than this one??