Album artwork and liner notes are a lost art in today’s world of music as a digital medium. The modern generation rarely gets the gratification of peeling back the shrink wrap from a vinyl LP (or even a CD), gazing into the artwork, and studying the liner notes from the artists, producers, and record label. We are now a culture that requires instant gratification and will settle with a lossy computerized mp3 file rather than the soft feel of connecting the needle to the wax for a journey that can take us all away from reality; if even only for a side A and side B. Sometimes the stories behind the album artwork are as interesting as the songs themselves.
The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” (1995)
If Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins were looking to create a life-achieving opus, then “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” pulled it off beautifully. Not only was it one of the best-selling records of 1995 and 1996, it is right up there with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in regards to sales of a double album. For the album cover, Corgan provided some crude sketches and notes to artist John Craig to use a guide for the band’s vision. The final image, a girl adrift on a celestial raft, is actually assembled as a collage of scraps of paper ephemera. John Craig shed some additional light into the creation of the image in an interview with NPR. The makeup of the woman is a mixture of Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s 1789 painting The Souvenir and Raphael’s 1507 work Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Check out the slideshow to see all 3 images together.
Eric Clapton’s “Slowhand” (1977)
As this series of articles has demonstrated, sometimes the simplicity can morph into genius. With songs such as Wonderful Tonight and Lay Down Sally, “Slowhand” is considered one of Clapton’s best. The cover art is simply a close-up of Clapton hitting a ‘G’ chord on a Fender guitar. In Clapton’s autobiography, “Clapton,” the nickname slowhand (the namesake of this 1977 release) is finally revealed. While most bands at the time played 3-minute songs, Clapton and Yardbirds would try to play 5 to 6 minute songs. Clapton was using light gauge guitar strings so he could bend them easier. However, when a 5 or 6 minute song got wild, Clapton would often break one of the strings. On one occasion while he was changing a string in the middle of a set, the audience started clapping a slow….hand-clap. After that, the Yardbird’s manager, Georgio Gomelsky, started called Eric ‘Slowhand Clapton.’
N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” (1988)
Not only was it the record that would change rap music forever, but it was a image snapped at an opportunistic time that helped put South-Central Los Angeles on the map even before the riots and helped to show the rest of world the reality if the life and the attitude of a crime-torn and gang-plagued culture. The cover image couldn’t be simpler. The image shows all of the members of the group positioned in a circle with the camera pointing up from the ground in between them. Group- member Eazy-E is pointing a revolver down straight at the camera. It can be interpreted as a first person point-of –view shot. You, the listener, are helplessly lying on the ground amidst a street gang in mortal danger. Not only do the lyrics attempt to bring the listener into the ‘gangsta’ world, but the cover image itself does as well by giving the listener a front-row seat to an execution.
Aerosmith’s “Get a Grip” (1993)
No sooner than it was released, Aerosmith was under immediate scrutiny from many groups advocating animal rights. As it turns out, the pierced udder on the cover of “Get a Grip” is computer generated. No cows were harmed in the making of the album. Aerosmith was an unlikely candidate for such success in 1993 when Seattle ruled rock music and MTV. Neither Aerosmith nor record company Geffen were sure about how this record was going to fare in 1993 when it was released. The band had finished the record in 1992, but Geffen records didn’t find it marketable. There were no radio-friendly singles. Aerosmith had to go write some more songs. By putting an image on the cover that was unique and pictured something that nobody had ever seen (or ever considered seeing), the curiosity alone spurred record sales. They weren’t sure about it, so they doubled down. The record went on to platinum status over and over again on the strength of 4 massive radio and MTV singles as well as started the fad of pierced belly-buttons thanks to the Cryin’ video.
The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)
Not only is the one of the most recognizable album covers ever printed, it just happens to be one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Some contend that the Sgt. Peppers album was very drug-induced, and some contend that the people that say that just didn’t get it. Even Paul McCartney will tell you, it was officially the ‘drug years’ of the Beatles. It was a step away from their ‘pop-rock’ sound and a step into the psychedelic rock realm. It was their first time using the wah-wah pedal on their guitars as well. With classics such as Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, it’s an undeniable classic. Lucy in the Sky many have contended is about an LSD trip; however John Lennon always maintained it was based upon a drawing of a surreal dreamscape done by his son Julian. The iconic snapshot on the cover features the band dressed in traditional military outfits satin-dyed in glowing colors standing behind a bass drum with the album’s name. Behind them, as if posing for a huge family portrait is a series of cardboard stand-ups of 60 famous names from writers, to musicians, to film stars. Among the notable faces include, Carl Jung, WC Fields, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowly, TE Lawrence, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, Marlon Brando, Lenny Bruce, and original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. That’s quite a cast of characters to be hanging out with in their theoretical room! Now, that would be an acid trip, on acid. John Lennon wanted Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ to be included, but the idea was eventually scrapped.
For Five stories behind five iconic album covers part 2, click here.
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