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Friday, June 30, 2017

Record Art--the Top Ten.

10. Tattoo You--Rolling Stones: 1981. Designer Peter
Corriston won a Grammy award for his stylized portrait.
There was a time, before the advent of cassette tapes and CDs, when the artwork on the cover of a LP record album was a big deal. In my own case, and I'm sure in that of many others, the cover made the difference in buying and not buying the album. Not that the musicians and music tracks weren't important, but, being a visual artist, even almost fifty years ago when some of the top ten album covers I've chosen (below) came out, if the artwork didn't "grab" me, the album remained in the store's sales bin. Today, since the size of that artwork has been reduced again and again due to miniaturization of the media, cover art has come to mean less and less. It's hard to imagine in today's pop culture, an album cover spawning a decades-long conspiracy theory such as that of the Beatles' Abbey Road back in September of 1969.

Hard Rock covers--some of the best, and worst, cover art
ever rendered.
10. Tattoo You--Rolling Stones (top), was the 16th British and 18th American studio album by The Rolling Stones, released in 1981. Designer Peter Corriston won a Grammy award for his stylized portrait that makes the subject look almost reptilian. Regardless, it's a very memorable cover and leaves its mark (pun intended) in your mind.
9. Abraxus, Santana
9. Abraxas--Santana: The cover for their Abraxas album was as creative as the music within its grooves. Artist Mati Klerwein created the piece long before the album was recorded, but there's something so perfect about the pairing.
8. Surfin' Safari, Beach Boys (my favorite group as a teenager).
8. Surfin' Safari--The Beach Boys, was the debut studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released in October, 1962 on Capitol Records. The album peaked at number 32 in its 37-week run on the US charts. The cover of Surfin' Safari with its yellow pickup truck and surfboard, features David Marks (on hood), Dennis Wilson (driver), Mike Love (front roof), Brian Wilson (back roof) and Carl Wilson. The photo was taken by in-house Capitol photographer Ken Veeder, on the beach at Paradise Cove, north of Malibu.
 7. Killers, Iron Maiden, (not my "thing"). However, those who appreciate the music seem to like the art. Personally, I consider it one of the ugliest record covers of all time.
7. Killers--Iron Maiden: Picking one Iron Maiden album cover to put on this list was a tall order but I went with Killers. Maiden mascot Eddie is an iconic character that rock fans immediately recognize and is beloved among metal-heads.
6. Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Herb Alpert
and the Tijuana Brass.
6. Whipped Cream and Other Delights--Herb Alpert: Whipped Cream & Other Delights was a 1965 album by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, released on A&M Records. It was the band's fourth full album and arguably their most popular release. This album saw the band all but abandoning its Mexican-themed music, featuring mostly instrumental arrangements of popular songs, Whipped Cream & Other Delights sold over 6 million copies in the United States and the album cover alone is considered a classic pop culture icon. It featured model Dolores Erickson wearing chiffon and shaving cream. The picture was taken at a time when Erickson was three months pregnant. The album cover was so popular with Alpert fans that, during concerts, when about to play the song Whipped Cream, Alpert would tell the audience, "Sorry, we can't play the cover for you!" The art was parodied by several groups including A&M band Soul Asylum, on their 1989 EP Clam Dip & Other Delights; comedian Pat Cooper on his album Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights; the Frivolous Five on a Herb Alpert tribute album Sour Cream and Other Delights. Incidentally while in the Air Force, I had this album out in plain sight with my other LPs. During an inspection I was asked to put it away. (It was considered too racy for a military barracks at the time.)
5. Elvis Golden Records, Vol. 2, ca. 1961, Elvis Presley
5. 50,000,000 Fans Can't be Wrong--also known as Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2, was the ninth album by Elvis Presley, issued by RCA Victor in November, 1959. It is a compilation of hit singles released between 1957. "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" was not part of the original title of the album. It was from 1959 through 1961 that RCA Victor added this claim to the newly released "electronically reprocessed stereo" records.
4. Thriller, Michael Jackson
4. Thriller--Michael Jackson: Thriller was the sixth studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released in November, 1982 by Epic Records. In just over a year, Thriller became—and currently remains—the world's best-selling album, with estimated sales of 65 million copies.
3. Nevermind, Nirvana
3. Nevermind--Nirvana: Nevermind was the second studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released in September, 1991. The Nevermind album cover shows a naked baby boy, alone underwater with a dollar bill on a fishhook just out of his reach. According to Curt Cobain, he conceived of the idea while watching a television program on water births. He mentioned it to the recording company's art director, Robert Fisher. Fisher found some stock footage of underwater births but they were considered too graphic for a record album. Fisher then sent a photographer to a pool for babies to take pictures. Five shots resulted and the band settled on the image of a four-month-old infant named Spencer Elden, the son of the photographer's friend. However, there was some concern because the baby's penis was visible in the image. The record company prepared an alternate cover without the penis, as they were afraid that it would offend people, but relented when Cobain made it clear that the only compromise he would accept was a sticker covering the penis that would say, "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile."
Abbey Road, 1969, The Beatles.
2. Abbey Road--Beatles: Abbey Road was the eleventh studio album by the Beatles, released in September 1969, by Apple Records. The recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Though met with lukewarm acceptance at the time, many critics now view the album as the Beatles' best. Some rank it as one of the greatest albums of all time. The album's cover features the four band members walking across a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios and has become one of the most famous and imitated images in the history of recorded music. The front cover design was based on ideas sketched by McCartney, and taken in August, 1969. Photographer, Iain Macmillan, was given only ten minutes to take the photo while standing on a step-ladder with a policeman holding up traffic behind the camera. Macmillan took six photographs, which McCartney later examined with a magnifying glass before deciding which of the shots would be used upon the album sleeve. The Abbey Road photo now graces public service announcements against jaywalking in Calcutta.
And finally, number ONE, perhaps to no one's surprise--
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--The Beatles
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--Without a doubt the most creative album cover art ever conceived, was largely the inspiration of the individual Beatles themselves, with each member of the band suggesting figures to be used in the background. All those famous folks standing with The Beatles were not Photoshopped in (the software didn't exist back then). What you see are cardboard standees that were meticulously built by designer Peter Blake. You can't look at this album cover and not smile from all the nostalgia.
The bottom two images just above reflect last minute changes in the placement of The Beatles as well as certain other figures. Those omitted were Leo Gorcey, an American movie actor (back row); Mahatmas Gandhi (far right); Albert Einstein (to Paul McCartney's left) Bette Davis--as Queen Elizabeth I (obscured by George Harrison's red hat); and Timothy Carey, American film and TV actor on Bette Davis' left, and also obscured by George's hat in the final version. (Each omitted figure is boxed in red above.)

Runners up.

Note: I'll freely admit I've never been a fan of hard rock music; but I've done my best not to let the music prejudice my judgment as to the album artwork.


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