In the year of 1938, Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as their first art director. He is acknowledged for devising the concept of album covers and cover art, taking the place of plain covers used previous to this period in time. By the late 1940s, after Steinweiss’s first efforts at Columbia Records, all the main record companies ensued with the exact concept of creating album art uniquely for individual records, featuring their own colourful, vibrant paper covers for both 10inch and 12inch record sizes. From the 1950s straight through to the 1980s, the major formats for distribution of popular music are the 12inch record and the 45 RPM record. From the mid-1990s, the compact disc (CD) became the most generally used form of physically distributed music in a much smaller, more convenient size, this time around accompanying two different designs for the packaging, one being the highly common three-piece plastic jewel case, holding the compact disc with the album booklet and back cover, and the other being the commonly known digipak, using a cardboard and plastic combination holding the same content as the jewel case with the exception of the album art and rear cover being printed on the cardboard itself, not being separately held within a jewel case. Not long after the creation of the compact disc, the portable music player, named the iPod, was developed in less than a year and announced by Steve Jobs, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple on October the 23rd 2001. He announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5GB hard drive capable of holding “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Three years after the release of the iPod, the iTunes Store, which was introduced April the 29th 2003, enabled people to digitally-download music to keep and listen to on their iPods. The album art was embedded within the music file itself and the album booklet was contained digitally within an Adobe PDF file, both for viewing on a personal computer.
The album cover became a significant part of the music culture at the time. Under the influence of designers such as Bob Cato who at several stages in his long music career was vice president of creative services at both Columbia Records and United Artists, album covers became famed for being a marketing tool and an expression of artistic aim. The Band’s 1970 release “Stage Fright” was accompanied by Norman Seeff’s photograph as a poster inside the packaging of the LP, this is an early example of the poster rapidly becoming a collector’s item. Folded double covers, named “gatefold covers” and inserts such as lyrics sheets, made the album cover a wanted artefact in its own right. Prominent examples are The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, for the reason that it had cut-out inserts, lyrics and a gatefold cover, even though it was a single album, The Rolling Stones’ “Exile On Main Street” which had a gatefold and a set of twelve punctured postcards as inserts, all photographed by Norman Seef, and Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which had a gatefold cover, lyrics, poster and stickers. The transition to small (less than quarter the size of a record) compact disc format unfortunately lost that effect, though efforts have been made to create a more worthy packaging for the compact disc format, such as the re-issue of “Sgt. Pepper” which had a cardboard box and booklet, or just the use of oversized packaging to make the product more appealing to the consumer.
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The significance of cover design was so intensive that some artists specialised or gained credit through their work, particularly the design team “Hipgnosis” through their work on Pink Floyd albums, in the midst of others, and Roger Dean famous for his Yes and Greenslade covers, Cal Schenkel for Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” and Frank Zappa’s “We’re Only In It for the Money”. The natural endowments of many photographers and illustrators from both inside and outside of the music industry have been used to create a huge range of unforgettable LP/CD covers. Photographer Mick Rock created some of the most iconographic album covers of the 1970s, including Queen’s “Queen II” , which was revived for their classic music video “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Syd Barrett’s “The Madcap Laughs” and Lou Reed’s “Transformer”.
From 1972 to 1975, photographer Norman Seeff was Creative Director at United Artists and in addition to his many cover photographs, The Band, Kiss’s “Hotter Than Hell”, Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” to name a couple, he also art directed many album covers including The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street”, many of which received Grammy nominations. In addition to the examples mentioned before, a number of world-famous graphic artists and illustrators such as:
Ed Repka (Megadeth)
Andy Warhol (The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones)
Mati Klarwein (Santana, Miles Davis)
H. R. Giger (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Debbie Harry)
Frank Frazetta (Molly Hatchet)
Derek Riggs (Iron Maiden)
Jamie Reid (The Sex Pistols)
Howard Finster (R.E.M., Talking Heads)
Al Hirschfeld (Aerosmith)
Gottfried Helnwein (Marilyn Manson)
Rex Ray (David Bowie)
Robert Crumb (Big Brother and The Holding Company)
John Van Hamersveld (The Rolling Stones)
Shepard Fairey (Johnny Cash)
â€¦have all applied their talents to distinguished music packages.
A number of record covers have also used images licensed or borrowed from the public domain from artists of past eras. Notable examples of this include the cover of “Derek and the Dominoes”, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” from the painting “La Fille au Bouquet” by French painter and sculptor Emile Théodore Frandsen de Schomberg, the cover of Kansas’s debut album, adapted from a mural by painter John Steuart Curry, Norman Rockwell’s cowboy for Pure Prairie League, and, more recently, Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”, which features Eugène Delacroix’s painting “Liberty Leading the People”, a favourite in The Louvre, with the words “Viva la Vida” brushed on top in white paint.
Listed below are legends of photography and video/film that have also created record cover images:
Drew Struzan (Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Iron Butterfly, The Beach Boys)
Annie Leibovitz (John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith)
Richard Avedon (Whitney Houston, Teddy Pendergrass)
David LaChappelle (No Doubt, Elton John)
Anton Corbijn (U2, The Killers, Depeche Mode)
Karl Ferris (Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, The Hollies)
Robert Mapplethorpe (Patti Smith, Peter Gabriel)
Francesco Scavullo (Diana Ross, Edgar Winter)
A number of artists and bands feature members who are, in their own right, skilled illustrators, designers and photographers and whose talents are exhibited in the artwork they created for their own recordings. Examples include:
Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin IV)
Chris Mars (Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me)
Marilyn Manson (Lest We Forgetâ€¦)
Michael Stipe (REM’s Accelerator)
Thom Yorke (credited as “Tchocky” on miscellaneous Radiohead records)
Michael Brecker (Ringorama)
Freddie Mercury (Queen I)
John Entwistle (Who By Numbers)
Graham Coxon (13 and most solo albums)
Mike Shinoda (various Linkin Park albums)
Joni Mitchell (Miles of Aisles)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (So Far)
M.I.A. (credited variously on Elastica’s The Menace and her records).
Album cover art was the topic of a 2013 documentary film “The Cover Story: Album Art” by Eric Christensen, a San Francisco Bay Area record collector.
With the ever growing popularity of digital music downloading services and the constant expanding cost of conducting business, the purpose and dominance of the album cover is gradually developing. While the music industry attempts to keep up with technological and cultural shifts, the part that packaging and album cover will play in consumer music sales in the near future is unsure, although its role is for most definitely changing, and digital forms of packaging will continue to rise up, which, to some extent, and to some consumers, take the place of physical packaging. Both MP3 and WMA music files are able to contain embedded digital album artworks in JPEG format. As of 2008, physical music products, with a physical album cover, continue to outsell digital downloads. Some artists have used the Internet to make even more cover art. For example, Nine Inch Nails initially released its album “The Slip” as a free download on their website, attaching separate but thematically connected images to each individual track. On February the 14th 2013, rapper Tyler, the Creator announced his new album “Wolf” would be released with three different album covers.
Album art is still considered a necessity for many people as part of the listening experience, and despite the less-physical kind of digital images, there are still many collectors trading cover art and music.
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