My sister keeps telling this story, which I love, of her witnessing my first steps—dance steps, actually—as she put a record on our player. Yes, it does sound corny. But I have to admit this record player was my childhood fetish. I would sit in front of it for hours, listening to records, staring at their covers, reading every word on the albums. So my relationship to music started as an intense and obsessive one, with this turntable as an altar in some way. To the point that, years after my parents threw that record player away, a friend of mine managed to buy a few of this very model (National, 1969) to build a whole one from the pieces that would actually work again. How can you beat such a gift?
That gives you an idea of how essential music is to me. And then it gets worse. I would listen to music constantly (Walkman, Discman, iPods, you name it), go to every concert I could, even travel with the sole purpose of finding records I couldn't find in France.
And of course, my relationship with music, literature and visual arts intertwine. Music is like this powerful impulse in my life that builds bridges between anything artistic, or political even, that drives me. It is and has been crucial, from trivial to more fundamental aspects of my life, from the way I dressed as a teenager to how feminism took shape for me.
The way I listen to music—whether it's putting on an actual record or the radio, streaming or listening to/creating a mix tape on platforms, etc.—really depends on who, what, why, where and when. Mostly I stream, as it gives me the chance to listen to a great variety of artists, in any situation. But I do love taking the time to listen to vinyls the same way I would consume music as a kid. I mean to really listen to the record, fully, doing nothing else, except for reading the lyrics and credits and enjoying the artwork. An album, to me, is the whole package—all the songs, one after the other, again and again, and the artwork, which is inseparable. As if there were some mysterious message to uncover from the whole experience. Or a hidden track at the end. (I loved the hidden tracks!)
Thank you, Muse by Clio, for the beautiful job you do in giving us inspiring information, news, ideas, references we can feed on, when it is so easy and quick to forget the whole point and the main pleasure of our work: creating something that could be as emotionally charged or striking as the art that made us choose these jobs in the first place.
And, thank you for Art of the Album. For me, hearing about the albums that made a difference in someone's life is one of the most playful and trustworthy way of getting an idea of who they are. Also, I love an opportunity to discuss one of my obsessions!
Adventures in Paradise (1975)
By Kenneth McGowan
Strangely enough, the love I have for this particular cover is absolutely unrelated to the music. To me, it says so much about how a single image can appeal to you and either pull you into the sound of the album or create a world of its own in your mind. Moreover, the story behind it adds to the attraction. Working in production, I do love the unexpected on set. Apparently, Kenneth McGowan's shoot went smoothly. But on a promotional shoot with a different lion, the animal lunged at Minnie Riperton, to be quickly sedated. You can actually watch the clip on the Sammy & Company Show. And this photograph keeps growing. There was also a beautiful "counter picture" taken with the tamer instead of Minnie Riperton, and I believe you can see it referenced in Yoann Lemoine's music video for "Born to Die" by Lana Del Rey. I love that about an image—the infinite stories and possibilities within, how it breeds in a way.
By Mike Kelley
Sonic Youth is definitely THE band that made the connections for me as a teenager. From Madonna to William S. Burroughs through Richard Kern, they would cover many of my obsessions, "soundandvision-like." I have this album on cassette, CD and vinyl. I would buy it again at every musical and industrial revolution through the years. This band in particular gave me access to contemporary art. And the first two doors were the covers for Goo (by Raymond Pettibon) and this one, for Dirty. On Dirty, a vivid orange plush toy invites you into the dissonant and noisy sound of an experimental rock band. Something is not quite right … Does it look amused or in serious need for comfort? As you unfold it, there are more portraits of dolls. Cute, creepy, melancholic. Among them, I discovered the face of artist Mike Kelley. The artwork for the album was an actual piece of art called "Ahh … Youth." It was intriguing, emotionally charged, conceptual. I pulled the thread and discovered Destroy All Monsters, Jim Shaw, No Wave, etc. I actually made a documentary about this scene; this is how influential this band and their artwork were. I can say that most Sonic Youth's album covers came with an artistic discovery, but this one is the most iconic to me.
By Frank Kozik
The Melvins are grunge pioneers and a sludge metal or a doom metal band. I am afraid I have never been good at describing music genres. Houdini is the first of their records I bought. It carried a certain aura at the time, as Kurt Cobain, ex-roadie for the band, was supposed to have produced it. I remember listening to "Going Blind" and "Lizzy" over and over again and watching them on MTV at night. Their sound was dark, heavy, humourous, experimental, sexy, slightly rednecky. And their artwork was so consistent. At the time, I had a feeling there was something of Mad magazine and Black Sabbath in it; it conveyed a sense of slick satire of some sort. Like Norman Rockwell gone bad. It was tongue in cheek, colorful and trashy. The cover for Houdini strikes me as very representative of alternative imagery of this era. And it got me into more illustrative and figurative work, specifically for posters and flyers of bands in the '90s. It was made by Frank Kozik, who also worked with Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more.
By Tanino Liberatore
If I were stuck on a desert island with one record? I would rather be stuck with one band. If I were doomed to stay forever on this island? I would choose La Femme. I fell in love with their sound and vision on day one, both chaotic and sophisticated. Since I am definitely not good with describing musical genres, I would say they play DandyWanker music. They are signed to Born Bad Records in France, which is an iconic label. I do love the whole imagery the band has created, whether it is their clothing, set design, music videos, performances. It appears to me as a great mix of playful elements, with great taste and much WTF. They had already been working with a great artist on their first album cover, as Elzo Durt beautifully managed to illustrate the profusion and collage quality of the band. With their second album, they came back with an audacious and sassy artwork. Tanino Liberatore created a mysterious and psychedelic female creature, slightly ominous but irresistible. On the front, you can see the back of her head and her long red hair, hands open. On the back, you can see her face (with craycray eyes), the name of the band, the track list and the title: Mystère. And by now, you will have noticed the shape of a vagina in her hair of course. This is such a clever way to play with censorship and to go beyond, not just for the sake of it. There is a Luis Buñuel touch here I am quite fond of. In general, it is fascinating to me how powerful an image can be, whether disruptive or subtle. How it can suddenly nail it. Working as an art buyer and producer, I like to think the right talent with the witty eye and brains will find an interesting way to subvert the many constraints each project holds. It can be censorship, or the actual concrete constraints of budget, timing, legal issues, etc. It's something that drives me, anyway: how to effectively deviate.
Green Mind (1991)
By Joseph Szabo
Dinosaur Jr. still sounds to me as this forever-tormented adolescent whining for emotional rescue. But in a cute and tender way. You can wrap yourself up in their music and go right back to your teen years with a not-so-guilty pleasure. Their music feels pure, sincere. Even the track list of Green Mind sounds as raw as can be: "Water," "Muck," "Thumb," "Puke + Cry." That is probably why this cover just clicks. Legend has it that Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) suggested the photograph to J Mascis. It was shot by Joseph Szabo in the '70s on Jones Beach, where the artist would shoot a lot of material back then. He has a keen eye for teenagers and their idiosyncracies. This particular picture has something timeless about it. The mysterious ageless girl from the '70s could as well be from the '90s; she embodies something cool, laid back and androgynous that I loved about the music scene of the decade. That is how it spoke to me, anyway.
Houses of the Holy (1973)
By Aubrey Powell @ Hipgnosis
When I would think of Led Zeppelin as a kid, this would be the image that came to mind. I think I listened to them through this picture, always trying to link their sound to it. Which makes no sense but it just stuck with me. It is absolute perfection and I cannot let go of it. On Houses of the Holy, "No Quarter" is the actual song that matches perfectly for me. I am a huge lover of Henry Darger's work, and this photograph resonates with somewhat of an apocalyptic acid-tripping Vivian girls' universe. It's dark and innocent at the same time; it feels like a sci-fi version of Who Can Kill a Child? by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador or Village of the Damned by Wolf Rilla. Actually, I learned later that it was inspired by a science-fiction novel, Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. The whole story about Aubrey Powell making this picture is a fascinating tale of profession of faith—one in which the artist won't give up despite all the constraints and limitations until he gets the exact image he has in his head, or something accidental happens that makes it perfect. You don't have the opportunity to see it as often as you would like in your job, but when it happens, that amount of devotion and radicality, it's magic.
Like a Prayer (1989)
By Herb Ritts
If my early childhood was a cult, Madonna would be the guru. When Like a Prayer was released, I was growing into a teenager and the album resonated with some changes in my tastes and interests. I do remember the very day the music video for "Like a Prayer" was broadcast, eagerly waiting in front of the TV screen. I was fascinated by the controversy around it. I discovered David Fincher with "Express Yourself," and I started understanding who Herb Ritts was. This is a major album (with Prince as a guest!) as well as a major cover. Suddenly, you wouldn't see Madonna's face. And though, as an 11-year-old girl, you think this is precisely what you want to see, you don't get to. Instead you end up obsessing about a midsection close up, the attitude, details, jewelry, position of the hands, the light and texture of the picture. And you wonder: What does it say? When the artist's face isn't forced on you, it leaves room for the artist's message, the concept of the album, etc. It startled me even more, intrigued me. A bit like what George Michael's Listen Without Prejudice did around the same time using a photograph by Weegee.
Psychic Hearts (1995)
By Rita Ackermann
In the '90s, Sonic Youth's music and imagery was filled with artistic nuggets for me to feed on: Royal Trux T-shirts, a Marc Jacob catwalk, a young Chloë Sevigny, Richard Kern's films and photographs, Raymond Pettibon's artwork, a portrait by Corinne Day, etc. When Thurston Moore released his first solo album, I discovered Rita Ackermann's work. The folded CD insert showed both colorful paintings and black-and-white drawings, mixed with photos of Moore as a kid. The artwork illustrated actual scenes and characters, as cute as violent, as peaceful as terrifying, but it was definitely not "illustrative" per se. It felt rather symbolic, filled with references and hints, and highly sensitive. It was a whole world inhabited by these young girls who all looked identical, at the same time mystical and grounded in indie pop culture. It felt fierce and sad. And mostly feminist. This is it, my favorite feminist cover of all!
Peter Gabriel 2, aka Scratch (1978)
By Storm Thorgerson @ Hipgnosis
It took me about 30 years to realize Peter Gabriel was great. So it's also a bit of an apology here. After he left Genesis, the artwork for his solo albums was made by the legendary studio Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, T Rex, Wings…). The albums (#1, #2…) were then named after the actual artwork. Car, Scratch… I love the idea that a music album ends up endorsing the visual that represents it. Like the White Album. But here the playfulness seduces me more than the intellectual concept. Musically speaking, I would have chosen Car ("Down the Dolce Vita"!!), but I do love the simplicity and the "straight to the point" quality of the Scratch picture. The process itself is amusing, and it reminds me of how much pleasure you can get out of making and creating things. Here's how Thorgerson described it:
"We took the picture quite quickly near our studio but then spent ages cutting and tearing strips of white paper, which covered the studio like ticker-tape. We stuck them onto the photo of Peter, adjusting and re-tearing to have them 'join' his fingers then tarting it up with Tipp-ex before re-photographing it all so it became one piece. Now, I don't seriously expect anybody to be fooled into thinking that Peter is actually doing all this reaching out and back onto his photo, only that they may be temporarily bemused and mentally entertained by the impossibility of it—enjoying the idea, then imagining it to be real."
Preps and shoots are essential to me for this reason: Creative ideas are there in the making, before your eyes. You get dirty with paint, you cut your fingers with pins, you are confronted with reality, matter, exhaustion, physical laws, chemistry. In the end, I ended up doing the job I do because I like the reality of the creative process.
Purple Rain (1984)
By Jay Vigon
I really did spend hours as a kid just staring at record covers. One of them was for Prince's Purple Rain. As a child, the visual was intriguing and exciting. At first, I wasn't quite comfortable with the purple and the flowers. The floral frame on the left and right disturbed me quite a lot. It made me "bug." But after a while, nothing about it felt tacky anymore, it was all so cinematic, sophisticated and glamourous. I loved the androgyny and arrogance of the character, and the music was amazing. I remember being very fond of "When Doves Cry" and "Take Me With You." It's strange and maybe blasphemous to think of it as a fun record for kids. What struck me, and what I was focusing on most, was the lettering. If I think of this album now, it is what comes first to mind. It obliterates any other font or love symbol for Prince. It was created by graphic designer/art director Jay Vigon. I am not sure if his collaborator and wife Margo Nahas was also working on this project. He (they?) started making the logo for the film and ended up creating a whole alphabet. When thinking of this list of 10 record covers, I realized I had completely minimized the importance of logos and lettering. But if I think of the Rolling Stones, the tongue + lips come to mind. Same with the Nirvana font. I may feel uncomfortable with over-branding a band, but I do love playing with their names on a specific album and art direction. As if the concept of the album came first.