Have you seen the latest crop of album covers? It is a rather uninspiring diet of head shots and text, with the occasional hip or grungy urban backdrop.
Like most people, I got into music via my parents. I spent hours playing the records in their collection, but I also spent those hours equally captivated by the packaging the music came in. I remember being hypnotized by the yin-yang design in the center of the “Day Tripper" single’s label, and studying every inch of the Beatles’ “White Album" until the cover’s cardboard went soft. When I was old enough to buy my own music in the late 70s, my first treasures included the likes of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" as much for the art as for the tunes. I got into Yes because of Roger Dean's intensely mysterious covers. I even started playing around with marbling paint in my studio after studying "Views," the book of his early work.
Remember all the different Chicago covers? Rendered in multiple ways, from skyscraper to chocolate bar, that logo immediately heralded something new from the familiar in quintessential graphic tradition. And on Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" what about the New York City skyline built from restaurant products? H.R. Giger’s treatment of Debbie Harry’s face on her first solo album, and similar honors for “Brain Salad Surgery" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer? Both Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell ably illustrating their own album covers with self portraits? And all those covers for Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis and Pink Floyd created by the Hipgnosis team – could there be a more conceptually perfect cover than that of “Dark Side of the Moon"?
Where are the big art campaigns now? Blame it on the CD – the tidy little five by five window demands a different graphic treatment than the acreage of the twelve inch LP cover. On the LP, not only could you get into detail, you could frame a whole album's concept in the illustration (and no, I'm not going to touch the death of the concept album here). And let’s face it, in this age of buying music electronically, the album art is further reduced to thumbnail on the computer screen, or a PDF addition to the download. I haven’t even opened the PDF for the last album I bought. It didn’t look interesting enough to spend time with.