This brand new feature, The Cover Uncovered, will look to uncover the decisions behind the artistic direction for some of the music world’s seminal albums. This week we delve in to the warped and wonderful minds of Pink Floyd and dissect the brilliant 1975 issue Wish You Were Here.
Released: 12 September 1975
Recorded: January–July 1975
Studio: Abbey Road Studios, London
Label: Harvest Columbia
Producer: Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here was sold in one of the more elaborate packages to ever accompany a Pink Floyd album. Storm Thorgerson had accompanied the band on their 1974 tour, and had given serious thought to the meaning of the lyrics, eventually deciding that the songs were, in general, concerned with “unfulfilled presence”, rather than Barrett’s illness.
This theme of absence was reflected in the ideas produced by his long hours spent brainstorming with the band. Thorgerson had noted that Roxy Music’s Country Life was sold in an opaque green cellophane sleeve – censoring the cover image – and he copied the idea, concealing the artwork for Wish You Were Here in a black-coloured shrink-wrap (therefore making the album art “absent”).
The concept behind “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” suggested the use of a handshake (an often empty gesture), and George Hardie designed a sticker containing the album’s logo of two mechanical hands engaged in a handshake, to be placed on the opaque sleeve (the mechanical handshake logo would also appear on the labels of the vinyl album this time in a black and blue background).
The album’s cover images were photographed by Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, Storm’s partner at the Pink Floyd design studio Hipgnosis and was inspired by the idea that people tend to conceal their true feelings, for fear of “getting burned”, and thus two businessmen were pictured shaking hands, one man on fire.
“Getting burned” was also a common phrase in the music industry, used often by artists denied royalty payments. Two stuntmen were used (Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers), one dressed in a fire-retardant suit covered by a business suit. His head was protected by a hood, underneath a wig.
The photograph was taken at the Warner Bros. studios in Los Angeles. Initially the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, and the flames were forced into Rondell’s face, burning his moustache. The two stuntmen changed positions, and the image was later reversed.
The album’s back cover depicts a faceless “Floyd salesman”, in Thorgerson’s words, “selling his soul” in the desert (shot in the Yuma Desert in California again by Aubrey ‘ Po ‘ Powell). The absence of wrists and ankles signifies his presence as an “empty suit”. The inner sleeve shows a veil concealing a nude woman in a windswept Norfolk grove, and a splash-less diver at Mono Lake – titled Monosee (the German translation of Mono Lake) on the liner notes – in California (again emphasising the theme of absence).
The decision to shroud the cover in black plastic was not popular with the band’s US record company, Columbia Records, who insisted that it be changed (they were later overruled). EMI were less concerned; the band were reportedly extremely happy with the end product, and when presented with a pre-production mockup, they accepted it with a spontaneous round of applause.