Design by MC Productions & The Apple, photo by Michael Cooper.
In this MP3, streaming, file sharing day, Millennials have rediscovered the wonders of music on vinyl records and are happily plunking down anywhere from $15 to $50 for new and reissued albums. The thought being that the music sounds better, more pure, on vinyl than it does digitally. True? It’s open to debate, I guess.
Though phonographs and “records” have been around in one form or another for over a hundred and twenty years, the albums themselves (whether made of tin or shellac or, eventually, vinyl) originally came in brown paper sleeves without any art. Until the mid-1940s the most popular method to listen to music, other than in person, was over the radio (the sound was much better than what was possible with a phonograph or gramophone) and the idea of buying music to play at home was something of a novelty. At the end of WWII that began to change as war-time technology and materials became increasingly translated into commercial applications. Inexpensive and portable record players were followed by stereos and “Hi-Fis” with giant speakers and subwoofers as the Baby Boomers embraced rock’n’roll and bought singles and LPs of their favorites to play whenever they wanted. Plain brown paper sleeves were replaced with full-color cardboard jackets; early on most featured studio-pin-up style photos of the singers or bands, but they quickly evolved into more conceptual, expressive, and creative imagery, particularly for rock performers. Before the arrival of big-box retailers, every town and city had “record stores”—most run either by the mob or hippies or sometimes both—jammed to capacity with racks of product priced at a couple of bucks a pop and the period of the 1960s to the early 1990s were the heyday for memorable album art.
Album covers became hugely important marketing tools as well as an influence on popular culture. Back in the day they were among the most lucrative jobs for illustrators, photographers, and designers so it’s of little surprise that virtually everybody who was anyone were doing jackets. Now? Well, as with all things, times changed; marketing, branding, and the “delivery of content” moved in other directions and the labels found different ways to spend their money. While the big-paying assignments occasionally pop-up today, they’re relatively few and far between.
But since vinyl is “hot” again, at least modestly so, I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane and show a very few of my favorite album covers from days past; if anyone reading this wants to chime in with their favorites, please do.
Art by H.R. Giger for Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery.
Giger’s painting scared the stuffing out of Cathy’s son Arlo when he was little.
More people saw Frank Frazetta’s “Death Dealer” (and became fans) on the Molly Hatchet
album than did when it originally appeared as the cover of the Flashing Swords anthology.
Art by Roger Dean for the Yes album Relayer.
Dean’s band logos and title lettering also became symbols for the era.
Art by Drew Struzan. He also provided the painting directly below for the album.
Art by Don Ivan Punchatz
Art by Patrick Nagel
Art by Richard Corben
Art by Michael Whelan
Art by Bernie Wrightson
Art by Philip Garris
Art by Drew Struzan
Art by Norman Rockwell
Art by Burt Silverman
Art by Iain McCaig
Art by Robert Crumb
Art by John Collier
Art by Charles White III, lettering by Michael Doret
Stan Watts, a one-time member of Don Punchatz’s Sketchpad Studio,
Arnie Fenner has worn a number of hats in his career, sometimes several at once. He was a Senior Artist for Hallmark Cards for 19 years, and for the last 14 has been the Senior Art Director for Andrews McMeel Publishing (part of Universal Press Syndicate).
While working in the corporate world, he has also (as time permitted) been a junior partner in the Jankus/Tiber advertising agency, served as art director for Mark Ziesing Books, been a small press publisher (of both books and magazines), and worked as a freelance illustrator and designer.
Fenner has produced many CD and book covers over the years for titles by everyone from Stephen King to Harlan Ellison to Bob Dylan to R.E.M.; he's received medals from the Society of Illustrators, certificates from Communication Arts, and two World Fantasy Awards. He collaborates with his wife, Cathy Fenner, on a wide variety of art books (including retrospectives devoted to Frank Frazetta, Dave Stevens, and Robert McGinnis among others) and the annual SPECTRUM: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.