The first thing that you may notice about the cover illustration for the 1976 album Disco Inferno by The Trammps is that it looks more like something from the New Wave era of the 1980s. The green leopard pattern to the neon pink was certainly years ahead of its time.
The album became popular a year after its release, when the title track was included in the hit film Saturday Night Fever. The cover illustration was created by L.A.-based artist Charles White III. White has produced several album covers over a decades-long career. The most noteworthy is the cover for the U.S. release of Gentle Giant’s 1972 album Octopus. The UK version of the album features an illustration by Roger Dean. White’s version is an octopus in a Mason jar.
White also created movie posters for Star Wars and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. His work has appeared in magazines and major advertising campaigns.
When a young friend recently ask me why the cover for Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 album Physical (below) looks quite a bit like that for Madonna’s 1986 album True Blue (right), I knew that it was time for another Album Art Flashback. There’s an obvious reason for the similarity. Both photographs were taken by the late fashion photographer and pop culture icon Herb Ritts. Ritts later directed music videos for Madonna, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and several other notable artists. He passed away in December 2002.
The art director for Physical was George Osaki. Ritts took the photos on the beach in in Honolulu, Hawaii. The image of Newton-John in profile that was used for the cover continued onto the back of the album, showing the singer splashing in the water. In addition to the photograph on the cover, Ritts shot the poster that was included with the LP (right).
The packaging for Madonna’s True Blue used a similar concept. A poster of an uncropped image that included Madonna’s bare shoulder and a leather jacket was included with the LP. What I find interesting is that even though the album covers are only separated by five years, the Madonna cover has a timeless quality that is missing for Physical. The 1980s workout headband and the wet shift dress give Newton-John a very dated look. Madonna would not look out of place at a trendy nightclub wearing her outfit today.
Because it is scheduled to be reissued on CD and vinyl next month, I was planning on writing about the controversial cover art for The Residents’ 1976 album The Third Reich ‘N Roll. Then, I read about the death of Dick Clark yesterday and wondered when it would ever be appropriate. So, I am just going to go for it.
The album cover was controversial because it features an illustration depicting Clark in a Nazi uniform and holding a carrot. The cover also includes several swastikas and cartoon images Adolf Hitler. As one would guess, many stores refused to display the album and it was banned in West Germany, where display of the swastika and other Nazi symbols was illegal. A censored cover (above right) was later created for the German market. All of the swastikas and images of Hitler were covered with a white strip with the word “censored” written on it.
There are several versions of this album cover. The first vinyl pressing can be recognized by the orange carrot, which is gray in second release of the album. The latest reissue will include the original artwork. It is scheduled to be released on May 8, 2012.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. So, it is appropriate to feature the artwork for the soundtrack for the 1997 film about the disaster. Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture made history on its own by rising to the top of the Billboard 200, selling over 30 million copies and becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. It also has the record for being the highest-selling orchestral soundtrack ever.
The cover art for the album has been updated for a new anniversary edition. The original version (below) is a square version of the theatrical release movie poster. It features the film’s stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
In the mid-1980s, record labels began to produce CD samplers in order to promote the newly introduced Compact Disc format. One of the most noteworthy series of CD samplers was Sire Records’ Just Say Yes series. It was produced from 1987 to 1994 and includes seven volumes.
The second volume, Just Say Yo: Volume 2 of Just Say Yes, featured remixes, extended versions and non-album tracks of artists on the Sire Records label. The artwork featured a rabbit as a tribute to the label’s parent company Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny. Art direction for the project is credited to Kim Champagne. Champagne has a long list of album design and art direction credits during the 1980s and early 1990s. The most notable is perhaps the design for Paul Simon’s Graceland. Other notable artists with album covers designed by Champagne include Aerosmith, a-ha, Van Halen, Chris Isaak and Faith No More.
Just Say Yo is my personal favorite in the series. It features tracks by Depeche Mode, Morrissey, Erasure and many other interesting artists of the era. I think I purchased every album that was promoted by it.
Last month, President Obama delighted the audience at a fundraiser by singing the beginning of Al Green’s 1972 hit Let’s Stay Together. A video of Obama’s brief performance went viral on YouTube and sales for Green’s version of the song on digital retailers like iTunes and Amazon.com increased by almost 500 percent.
The song appears on the album by the same name. The title track became Green’s signature song and his only number one pop chart single. The cover featured a photograph of Green wearing a suede and leather jacket and leaning against a wall.
While the photographer is not credited, the design is credited to Jools DeVere. DeVere has along list of package design credits for artists such as The Zombies, The Everly Brothers, Three Dog Night, and Elvis Costello over a span of almost 50 years.
The cover is noteworthy for being an early use of urban graffiti-style typography. I do not know of many other examples from the early 1970s that feature dripping paint on a wall. Of course, The Rolling Stones 1968 album Beggars Banquet is famous for featuring bathroom graffiti.
Looking back on the cover art for the 1981 album Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones, it is difficult to remember why it was considered to shocking. The illustration of a tattooed face would barely get noticed these days. We are much more likely to see a photograph of a real face with tattoos, piercings and other bizarre modifications.
However, the album cover did result in minor controversy and concern about influencing people to get facial tattoos. While there were no actual cases of people getting the tattoos shown on the cover, it drew enough interest for the designer, Peter Corriston, to be awarded a Grammy for Best Package Design. Photography for the cover is credited to Hubert Kretzschmar and the illustration to Christian Piper.
The image below is from the 2009 reissue from Universal Music. A scan of the original 1981 LP has not yet been added to the AAX gallery.
Released in 1976, Chicago X is the tenth album by American rock band Chicago. The album reached the #3 position on the Billboard Pop Album chart and featured the band’s #1 single If You Leave Me Now.
The album cover was designed by Grammy award winning American graphic designer and art director John Berg. The former creative director and vice president of Columbia/CBS Records, Berg oversaw the creation of countless album covers from 1961 to 1985. Berg did 14 album covers for Chicago before leaving his position at the label.
The cover for Chicago X is perhaps the one most often associated with the band. It was designed to look like a Hersey’s chocolate bar, with the brand’s trademarked brown and silver wrapper pealed back to reveal the name of the band embossed in chocolate. The album cover won a Grammy for Best Package Design in 1977.
I was in high school when this album was released and recall seeing several photographs of people pretending to be eating the giant chocolate bar LP sleeve. The joke just would not be the same with a CD.
AAX gallery contributor Tim Barron recently suggested that I write about some of the notable winners of the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. The award was introduced in 1959 and many of the winners had an influence of album cover designs for years afterward.
The 1999 winner was Kevin Reagan for Ray of Light by Madonna. Reagan is credited for art direction on the project. The design is credited to Kerosene Halo and Kevin Reagan. The photography was done by Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino.
The cover for Ray of Light has been imitated quite a few times over the years. The most recent example is a series of images used by Ellie Goulding for her 2010 album Bright Lights (above right). The use of a fan to blow Goulding’s blond hair over her face from behind was obviously inspired by the earlier cover. The addition of the fairy lights do not really improve the concept.
Reagan has won three Grammy Awards for Best Package Design. In addition to Ray of Light, he won in 2001 for Madonna’s album Music and in 2003 for Home by Dixie Chicks. Neither Music nor Home had the influence that Ray of Light did on future album cover designs.
One of the things I regret most as far as my music collection goes is when I took all of my vinyl records to Wherehouse and traded them in to start my CD collection. At the time, we were told that almost every album ever recorded would eventually be made available on CD. Of course, we now know that is far from what ended up happening.
One of the albums that I regret trading in is Step II by Sylvester (Sylvester James). The 1978 album reached #28 on the Billboard 200 and #7 on the R&B chart. It includes the disco classic You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), which peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #20 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
In spite of being a very influential album, Step II has not made available on CD except for a 1995 UK release that combines both Step II and Sylvester’s 1977 self-titled album. I have heard that this CD is not of the best quality.
The memorable album cover was designed by Dennis Gassner. The art director was the late Fantasy Records art director Phil Carroll who passed away last year. It is a strange image of a yellow liquid in a martini glass being tipped over in a bathroom by a woman’s foot that is covered in glitter. It is similar to many the surreal album covers of the era that were influenced by the British design group Hipgnosis.