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classic album covers

The Art of Album Covers

One of the most interesting perks achieved in my career is that I’ve been able to participate in the Grammy voting process. Many years ago, the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy was forming a Craft Committee to vote on CD Packaging. Believe it or not, there is a Grammy category for best cd packaging! (you won’t see the recipient on the telecast, of course). Fortunately I met the requirements and have been a voting member for the last many years.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grammys to be televised on February 10, 2008 at 8pm on CBS. A list of this year’s nominees and scheduled performers for the telecast are available at www.grammy.com.

I’ve always had a passion for music and album covers. As a kid I would draw/copy my LP covers and treasured the t-shirts commemorating all of the concerts I had attended. Now as a professional designer I’ve had the pleasure of designing a multitude of album covers and concert shirts for artists ranging anywhere from indie singer/songwriters and alt-rockers to mega platinum classic rockers and pretty much everything in between. And it is still great fun!

A few years ago I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Sunday, July 24, 2005) that asked the question about the future of album art. It was called “Who Cares About Covers?”

…You know what? I DO!

Is album cover art really a dying art form? Thanks to the popularity of digital distribution and downloads, many seem to think so and it will surely be a great loss. Album covers are works of art… evidenced today by the proliferation of pre-fab picture frames for those coveted LP covers. The legacy of the album cover art is so enduring that it has been anthologized in books. (ie: Phonographics, Brad Benedict & Linda Barton, 1000 Record Covers, Michael Ochs). While cover art took a huge blow when cds replaced vinyl, it recovered, somewhat, and evolved into the CD packaging we see today.

Think about what we’re losing… the covers, …Andy Warhol’s banana (“The Velvet Underground & Nico”), Nirvana’s swimming baby (“Nevermind“) the Pink Floyd prism (“Dark Side of the Moon“), The Rolling Stones wonderfully controversial and distasteful covers (“Let it Bleed,” Sticky Fingers,” and “Made in the Shade“). The Beatles included graphic design in their album conceptions as early as “Revolver,” and with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they set a new standard that is still alive today… but threatened in the age of digital downloads where album packaging is disposable to many.

I grew up listening to the music of the 60’s and 70s and was enthralled with the wonderful covers by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roger Dean, Storm Thorgerson, Reid Miles, etc. I feel very fortunate that I have had the chance to design CD covers for many artists (Michelle Malone, Caroline Aiken, Alix Olson, Beth Wood, and many others) and I hope that this art form survives and evolves for generations of artists and fans to come.

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