When Frank Zappa was working at an advertising agency while trying to make his way in music, he quickly made a discovery about the direction of modern pop culture. He declared that music was now “exactly 50%” about image. By this, he didn’t just mean that you had to look the part, but that the full gestalt of an artist had to be considered and neatly packaged.
While on the surface this is a patently obvious observation barely warranting the denotation of being classified as a discovery, it is, in fact, an enormous art movement that doesn’t really get enough recognition. After all, how many musicians in your record collection can truly be called the absolute greatest in their fields? How many singers could rattle the back wall of an opera house over six octaves, how many could tinkle off a quick rendition of Chopin, in fact, how many can even read music for that matter?
This, however, is not a negative. As a matter of fact, it is a huge artistic feat to rejoice. Art has been wrestled away from stuffy grand concert hall elitism to celebrate expression, personality and the sort of art that permeates our daily lives. Now, when we think of music, we don’t just think of melodies, but the personal evocations that they summon. Most likely, we also think of the artwork that packaged the beautiful music within.
You simply can’t think of David Bowie without picturing the Aladdin Sane cover lightning flash, you hear Nevermind and swimming pools are brought to mind, and the Velvet Underground are basically synonymous with bananas. It is this link between music and art in the pictorial sense that Taschen Publications celebrate in the collection: Art Record Covers.
As the official listing for the collection reads: “Since the dawn of modernism, visual and music production have had a particularly intimate relationship. From Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Futurist manifesto L’Arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noise) to Marcel Duchamp’s 1925 double-sided discs Rotoreliefs, the 20th century saw ever more fertile exchange between sounds and shapes, marks and melodies, and different fields of composition and performance.”
This interesting link is examined, studied, and displayed in all of its technicolour brilliance in Francesco Spampinato’s unique anthology of artists’ record covers. Charting the rise of album covers from the 1950s up until the modern-day, the book presents 500 of the greatest album covers ever made. Featuring works by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat for his own Tartown label, and Salvador Dalí’s classic debasement of beauty with the skewered butterfly for Jackie Gleason’s Lonesome Echo, the eclectic collection offers up insightful analysis and simple photo flicking pleasure alike.
Aside from the artwork and expert takes on what makes them work, the collection also achieves the simple thrill of offering a nostalgic look back at albums of the past, and as previously mentioned there is always a personal cathartic therapy to that as memories come flooding back.
We might take album covers for granted sometimes, but as Steve Earle said “In New York, I’m around a lot of the reasons I started playing music in the first place. I live right behind Matt Umanov Guitars. I live on the street that Suze Rotolo and Bob Dylan were walking down on the album cover. I recognize the history.” In the case of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan cover that Earle references, the linked arm autumn stroll of the loving Dylan and Rotolo is not only indelibly etched into our memories visually, it also serves as a mental touchstone for a record that changed the world.
Record covers can be a piece of beguiling advertising as Bruce Springsteen says: “I do a lot of curiosity buying; I buy it if I like the album cover, I buy it if I like the name of the band, anything that sparks my imagination. I still like to go to record stores, I like to just wander around and I’ll buy whatever catches my attention.” But they can also be a snapshot of time and a window to the record contained within.
You can check out some of the finest examples in the collection below and find out more about the Taschen collection, Art Record Covers, by clicking here.
Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust by Sigur Rós
Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth
It’s Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Wolf by Tyler, The Creator
The Baby Beat Box by Emanon