Ever since a recorded disc needed to be kept in something, the relationship between Art and Music has created a bond stronger than any of the other art forms. Everyone from Salvador Dali to Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat to Keith Haring has committed their art to music at some point in their career and in most cases for a fraction of what they would charge for a lithographic print.
People forget the importance of this relationship and most accolades on a recording go to the band (of course) and Producers, Engineers etc. Considering the amount of prestigious artists, photographers and designers who have created small masterpieces, you would have thought 'Cover Art' would have been a movement in itself like 'Pop Art'
In my opinion album art and packaging deserve to be ranked second only to the band in artistic excellence. Yes a producer can make the difference between success and failure with the right sound, but rarely in the hey day of 12" vinyl did people hear a record before they saw it.
Images would appear several weeks before anything was released so the art had to capture the imagination of the public and hold it until the record was released. As in all great visual art a lot the great covers were controversial either politically, sexually or philosophically, with either an 'in your face brashness' or via 'subtle innuendo', the idea was to make the consumer 'need' the music before they heard a single note. At its most potent this would be the beginning of unimagined success at its most destructive it could put a nail into the coffin of a project barely born. The consumer used to have a shrewd awareness of when they were being sold a dud, just by the posters on the street. This is why vinyl collectors consider the 12" vinyl to be a gem, and like any precious material the true collector wrapped this commodity in protective outer lining and stacked each gem carefully in a vault, dusting it off before and after each play. All of this elevated the art of album covers to a unique status for what, in any other retail business, would be seen as purely packaging, something that had no value whatsoever and was tossed away moments after it was opened. In stark contrast to that, every part of the album packaging became as important as the next.
We started with dust sleeves only, then dust sleeves with type on , then illustrations. To protect and hold the dust sleeves, the outer sleeve was created in a tougher more durable board, which was the perfect canvass to illustrate 'who this music was by' and 'what it was about'. The dust sleeve then became the lyric sheet a new gem for the buyer, now you could read what the songs were about and see who played drums, keyboard, Theremin, guitar, tambourine, saxophone. The outer sleeve to those who could afford it, could be a gatefold, so it opened like a book. Special metallic inks (outside of the four color spectrum), dye cut shapes, embossing even 3D pop ups. An industry of creativity produced memorable and iconic album covers like, The Beatles 'Sgt Peppers', The Rolling Stones 'Sticky Fingers', Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' , Curtis Mayfield's 'There's No Place Like America Today', The Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks', The Clash 'London Calling', the entire Blue Note Jazz Collection the list goes on.
We had formed a special relationship with this unique form of pop culture but in less than 10 years it had all but vanished, the love had been replaced by convenience and as technology grew the printed form shrank with a token front image the only remains of its former glory.
That is why it is important to have institutions like the Album Cover Hall of Fame, whose sole function is to recognise excellence in the artf and to acknowledge those who are responsible.
Sadly the US and many other western countries who are part of the 'Post Industrial Society' have seen the arts sanitised by massive conglomerates who have never understood the abstract nature of art but realise it's value. These are the powers that run this country but don't have the first clue about creativity or how it's achieved. These are the people that don't leave anything to chance and hate the randomness of artists, so they collect, so eventually they own everything. They must all be laughing at the gullibility of consumer because once, even though we didn't own the music, we owned a small part of it, the vinyl, the cover, the dust sleeve belonged to us, we could show it to people, let them hold it. A person's record collection was part of their legacy. Now we don't own anything. For all the music we buy from iTunes we don't actually own anything. No vinyl, no record player on which to play it, no record cover, it's all out there in cyberspace, its become a mirage a cruel illusion.
The irony from all of this is, the digital age has no shape but for some reason they have kept the one thing I always found the most restricting about designing album covers ….the square.