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Monday, August 31, 2009

Album Covers, Part 2

Here is the second installment of 40 of my favorite album covers. These next ten (of 40) cover the years from 1967-1975. (My all-time top five will be discussed in a separate post.)

Once again, my excitement in sharing these with you is tempered by the teensy size of these photos, which in several circumstances keep from properly conveying the majesty of these sleeves. Nonetheless, hope you enjoy!

Mr. Fantasy, Traffic, 1967
I find this one of the few psychedelic covers to really capture the mystical, druggy bent of the time as well as the sense of adventure of "getting it together in the country." This was shot in Traffic's communal house in the Berkshire countryside, where the album's music was written and created, minds were blown, and lives were altered.

The Beatles, 1968
Things are seldom what they seem, in the words of W.S. Gilbert. "It's just a white sleeve!" some whined at the time. Well,
no. First off, coming out of the splashy psychedelic age, a return to simplicity was a masterstroke. Plus, "The Beatles" is raised in relief on the cover. The original pressings were numbered (starting at #0000001). And the typography on the back is stunning in its deco simplicity. Once you got inside, there were pictures and a foldout poster with lyrics and candid shots. It's a triumph for British pop-artist extraordinaire Richard Hamilton.

Abbey Road, The Beatles, 1969
Including Beatles sleeves here is almost too easy, but objectivity forced me to remove some which are either too busy (
Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour) or just not that appealing in the long run (Rubber Soul, Revolver). This has the advantage of being an arresting, crisply executed image of a moment in time that has often been imitated, usually poorly. Are you listening, Paul is Live?

Space, Modern Jazz Quartet, 1969
The veteran jazz group's second and last album on the Beatles' Apple label features a harsh, almost orgasmic abstract painting of fiery reds, purples, and black and white slashes. The painting also has inlaid metal balls, the largest of which reflects the photographer shooting it. Genius. I wish I had a better copy to show you. The only negative is the inclusion of the apple in the upper right.

Live Peace in Toronto, The Plastic Ono Band, 1969
Maybe it's a simple image, but it's a gorgeous simple image, one that contrasts markedly with the often chaotic music inside.

The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, 1970
Chess Records of Chicago (and associated labels Cadet and Checker) put out a lot of great soul, jazz, and funk albums (with superb covers) around this time. This one features Ms. Ashby, a hard-partying funk-inspired singer/harpist, playing a Japanese koto on a huge oriental rug. Putting the artist in the upper left corner and giving most of the shot to the rug itself couldn't be much cooler. The album itself, a series of songs inspired by the poetry of Omar Khayyam, is rather amazing.

Abraxas, Santana, 1970
Many late 60s/early 70s album covers just look like technicolor vomit. But this one is special. Artist Mati Klarwein, a brilliant "primitive" before the term had been defined, painted 'Annunciation' back in 1961, when Carlos Santana was still playing with tinkertoys. Like the gorgeously textured and lovely music inside, the cover is almost an embarrassment of riches both sacred and profane. Mati himself is shown wearing a straw hat on the left. Wish this picture was bigger. Seeing it on a foldout LP is tremendous; on a CD, not so much.

Talking Book, Stevie Wonder, 1972
When my mom got this album in the early 70s, I didn't even know that Stevie Wonder was blind. I just thought it was cool that he was wearing this great robe and sitting playing in the dirt. Knowing that this was just his second album free from the Motown machine, a journey of self-discovery made public, it takes on extra resonance for me...I love that he is searching for answers and information in the earth.

Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne, 1974
Many 70s L.A. album covers exude an unearned sense of terminal coolness. This Magritte-inspired image, however, perfectly balances surrealism and ultra-realism. The daytime sky, night street scene, and perfectly appointed vintage car fuse into an unreal tableau of beauty and uncertainty. Placing this scene in a fashionable neighborhood is necessary to maintain the altered reality of the situation.

Bob Marley and the Wailers Live!, 1975
Reggae covers aren't always the most interesting in the record racks. But this one bursts with energy. The use of the red, green, and yellow is not particulary groundbreaking, but Marley's exuberance is palpable and the entire package just explodes.

Next time, we move into the new wave.


Blogger Amy said...

I adore the Abbey Road sleeve. I adore it for it's simplicity and at the same time, all the speculation and twittering (back before there was "Tweeting") it caused. Was Paul dead? Why was Lennon wearing all white? Why was George dressed as a grave digger? All too brilliant, and SIMPLE! I also love how the cover is a snapshot in time of that neighborhood which was (as of 10 years ago) still entirely unassuming and very much like a hip, upscale, residential neighborhood in Boston or New York City.

As for psychedelic hairballs, I do agree that a lot of 60's era covers resorted to craptastic, uninspired spin-art, or looked like the result of someone spending way too much time with the water pipe. However, there are 2 bits of cover art that I'm quite fond of because of their quirkiness and way the whole package just speaks to the music contained inside. The Zombies "Odessey and Oracle" and Love's "Forever Changes".

I really do miss gatefold covers.
There was some really wonderful cover art produced in the 70's, on gatefold covers. Say what you will about the often self-indulgent (but also sometimes brilliant) music, the folks at Hipgnosis put out some really memorable covers.

I also truly adore the covers of "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (Elton John) and Queen's "News of the World".

Both sport original art work that to my mind, is still cool enough to hang on your wall whether or not the music stands the test of time.

2:44 PM, September 02, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Late for the Sky" is probably my fave album musically from 1974. No hit songs, yet a platinum seller. I love the Lp cover because it gave a picture to go with the lyrics that was perfect. I still have the T-Shirt I bought with that cover in the 70's. I can't fit in it, but I still have it! Before JB became a household name and somewhat sold out (after "Runnin on Empty" LP), this album got play on my turntable constantly. I still feel "The Late Show" is one of my favorite lyrical picture song I know. It is great and fits the LP cover too. All in all, just a masterpiece musically and graphically. Good chpice, Stu! Clark Besch

7:22 PM, September 03, 2009

Anonymous Peeches and Herb said...

I like Stevie Nicks in her high heel, purple boots on the "Belladona cover. She looks so unsure of herself and stiff...hoping that the bird doesn't crap on her arm.

9:56 PM, September 03, 2009

Blogger Bob Purse said...

Interesting stuff - I think this is where we must split off. I agreed with you on many of the earlier ones, but most of these don't do much for me.

Abbey Road, though, is just clearly the best cover ever made. Stark, stunning, all the beautiful colors in the background (the sky is just gorgeous), and the Beatles in their absolute most photogenic period. They never looked cooler than in 1968-69.

I'm surprised you don't like Sgt. Pepper more. MMT, on the other time, is a mess.

Looking forward to the next batch!

6:34 AM, September 05, 2009


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