Monday, May 19, 2008

Something's Up My Sleeve

Yesterday’s blog on the art of rock art prompted me to think about the art of the album cover—the vinyl LP album cover specifically. I say “cover,” but is that the proper nomenclature? Why not “jacket,” or “sleeve”? With the advent of the compact disc jewel case, the material aspect of a vinyl LP’s “jacket,” “cover,” “sleeve,” or “wrapper” is no longer applicable, although a recent development in the music industry has been to reissue albums on compact disc in CD-sized sleeves that duplicate the “original art work" of the LP. The restoration of the original album art reflects a desire, I suppose, for presence, an attempt, writes John Corbett, “to stitch the cut that separates seeing from hearing in the contemporary listening scenario” (Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein, Duke University Press, 1994, p. 39). For Corbett, the album cover is an "attempt to reconstitute the image of the disembodied voice" (p. 39) to recorded sound.

Having thought about the issue the past twenty-four hours, and having spent some time browsing through my LP collection, I here present my Top 11 favorite album covers—and why eleven? Because I can do as I please; I don't have to limit myself to ten. Why are they my favorites? Because they enchant me without my knowing exactly why: as Roland Barthes observed, "such ignorance is the very nature of fascination" (Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, Hill and Wang, 1977, p. 3). Do my selections belie my age? Probably, but I would hope that others find my choices as inherently fascinating as I do.

1. Led Zeppelin—Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1969); designer, George Hardie.

2. Steppenwolf—Steppenwolf (Dunhill, 1968); designer: Gary Burden; photographer: Tom Gundelfinger.

3. Elvis Presley—Elvis Presley (RCA, 1956); designer: Colonel Tom Parker; photographer: Popsie [William S. Randolph].

4. London Calling—The Clash (Epic, 1979); designer: Ray Lowry; photographer: Pennie Smith.

5. News of the World—Queen (Elektra, 1977); designer: Roger; painting: Frank Kelly Freas (1953).

6. In the Court of the Crimson King—King Crimson (Atlantic, 1969); painting: Barry Godber.

7. The Pleasure Principle—Gary Numan (Atco, 1979); designer: Malti Kidia; photographer: Geoff Howes.

8. Electric Warrior—T. Rex (Warner Brothers, 1971); designer: Hipgnosis.

9. Meet the Residents—The Residents (Ralph, 1974); designer: Porno/Graphics; photographer: Robert Freeman.

10. Dark Continent—Wall of Voodoo (I.R.S., 1981); designer: Philip Culp; photographer: Scott Lindgren.

11. The Very Best of the Lovin’ Spooful—The Lovin’ Spoonful (Kama Sutra, 1970); sculpture: Ollie Alpert.

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