A record cover, with a half decent piece of art can simply make or break album, catching the eye and drawing the potential listener in. Over the years there has been some great album art around, some of it on a grand scale others employing clever camera work. My first real experience of something that caught the eye was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Yet, did you know that the first pictured album cover did not feature until the 1930’s.
“In 1938, Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as its first art director. He is credited with inventing the concept of album covers and cover art, replacing the plain covers used before. After his initial efforts at Columbia, other record companies followed his lead. By the late 1940s, record albums for all the major companies featured their own colorful paper covers in both 10- and 12-inch sizes. Some featured reproductions of classic art while others utilized original designs.” Wikipedia, The Album Cover.
Some of the best art, in my opinion, came about with the advent of psychedelic rock, with bands like Yes and Crimson King coming to mind. There were of course others and I am sure we have our favorites, usually on gatefold but not exclusively. With that in mind I had a search through my collection to see what jumped out… It was also very interesting to discover some of the history, the links between the artists and other albums.
Molly Hatchet – Flirtin with Disaster
Release year: 1979 Cat No: EPC 83791
This was Hatchet’s second album and if you have to get one, then this is the one. The original artwork was by the famed Sci-fi and fantasy artist Frank Franzetta.
He produced the covers for the first three Hatchet albums, the first been the famous Death Dealer painting. Franzetta’s history is worth checking out if this sort of thing floats your boat…
Meatloaf – Bat Out Of Hell
Release Year: 1977 Cat No: EPC 82419
One of the biggest selling albums of all time, Bat Out of Hell was slow to be received, with sales building over time. Even critics at the time was slow to offer much in the way of praise… how things can change. Most know of the collaboration with Jim Steinman, although few will realise the album cover was also an idea of Steinman’s. Multi award winning, comic artist Richard Corben is credited with the final artwork.
Meatloaf – Deadringer Release Year: 1981 Cat No: EPC 32692
The second of three collaborations with Steinman, Deadringer was never quite the same success story as Bat Out Of Hell, despite a No 1 spot in the UK charts. Another album cover involving a motorbike was this time produced by Bernie Wrightson. Wrightson, began life as a newspaper illustrator before meeting Frank Franzetta and as a result becoming inspired enough to take to comic books and drawing horror illustrations.
Blackmore’s Rainbow – Rising
Release year: 1976 Cat No: Polydor 2490 137
It still amazes me how few people who enjoy their rock, actually have this on vinyl. I have always considered this a bit of a classic with Blackmore and Dio, probably at their very best. As a band they have used little of the material in live gigs (so I am told) and it seams strange that Stargazer isn’t thought of more highly. Oh yes, back to the album art. Yet another connection to, Frank Franzetta. This time, the album was illustrated by Ken Kelly, who is the nephew of Frank Frazetta’s wife Eleanor “Ellie” Frazetta – yet more connections then! Kelly is no stranger to album illustration’s as he has worked for bands such as Kiss.
Boston – Don’t Look Back Release year: 1976 Cat No: EPC 86057
This was Boston’s second album and another massive hit, including the title track which was released as a single. Few may realise that the album was originally going to be called, ‘Arrival’, but the name was already in use with Abba. Although I strongly suspect we would all have known the difference.
It has been suggested that the cover art for this album inspired the box art on the Atari 2600 release of the video game Space Invaders and its original concept is credited on the album cover. The concept belongs to band member Tom Scholtz with Gary Norman credited as the artist. The spaceship, in the shape of a guitar appears across all of the first three albums and denotes a ‘colony ship’ leaving Boston – well apparently!
Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue. Release year: 1977 Cat No: Jet, UAR 100
By far ELO’s biggest commercial success, the cover art for Out of The Blue, followed in the footsteps of the previous album, A New World Record, in having the spaceship design. The idea came about following the craze surrounding the film’s Star Wars and Close Encounters of a Third Kind. It has even been suggested that Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, influenced the idea of the ‘mothership’. The famous, John Kosh designed the original ‘New World’ space ship, with Shusei Nagaoka credited for Out of the Blue. The original release of the album also included a cardboard cut out of the spaceship, plus band members as the crew – how come we don’t get that anymore! Like Boston, the spaceship was also a central theme on tour.
Nagaoka (see Discogs), is it appears, a fairly prolific album cover artist across a wide spectrum of music genres.
The copy of the cover shown here, has from purchase a ‘nick’ cut into the spine. This at the time denoted an import, US in this case, and may have been part of a consignment that was deemed below standard and removed from the shelves. All speculation, but if some one knows…
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy. Release year: 1973 Cat No: K50014 (Deluxe Edition, 180 Gram, Tri-fold Sleeve, 2014, shown)
So what does Out of the Blue and the album cover of Houses of the Holy have in common? In this case it’s Arthur C. Clarke as it was the ending of his novel Childhood’s End that is said to have influenced this cover.
The cover story to this album is well documented, although I didn’t realise that the wrap around sleeve with the bands name printed on it was to hide the naked bottoms of the children, so that it would be presentable for sale on shop shelves in the US and UK. The cover photo, is one of many of the two children, taken at dawn and dusk and then overlayed. The tint to the picture, was created by accident so giving colour to the original black and white pictures. The photographs were taken at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis.