Great album art and strange stories

Way back in the hippy days of the sixties a monster of an album burst forth on an unsuspecting world in 1968. Robert Fripp, a guitarist of no small talent and a penchant for originality, had put together a new and unusual group fronted by a singer called Greg Lake who was destined to go on to dizzy heights later with ELP. The lyrics for the first album were oddly enough by someone who wasn’t in the band and whose own singing abilities (to be kind) were less than wonderful. But as a poet he was way ahead – reading the words to 21st Century Schizoid Man and then reading the newspapers today it is hard not to think of him as some kind of prophet. But we’re here to talk about art so here are both the outside cover and inside cover of ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’ painted by Barry Godber –

Front cover for Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson

Inside cover for Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson

The front is the schizoid man and the inside is the Crimson King with his jolly smile and very sad eyes. The artist Barry Godber was in fact a computer technician who the lyricist Pete Sinfield knew. In fact, he was the only artist he knew so the choice of who to ask was easy! Sadly, Barry Godber barely survived to see his artwork printed on the cover as he died in 1970 from a heart-attack at the tragically young age of 24. The cover and the album went on to become hugely venerated icons of art and music name-checked as influences countless times over the years. The raw emotion portrayed in the front cover and the way that the face is almost bursting out of the frame of the cover attracted many people to the album even if they hadn’t heard a single note of it. Strangely enough, given his tragic early death, the painting was based on a distorted reflection of the artist’s own face. The album itself was remastered for the final time in 2003 when they finally found the original master tapes, which is a bit like finally remembering you left the Rembrandt down in the cellar :-)

Black Sabbath cover - first Black Sabbath album

From painting to photography. The first Black Sabbath album has this classic photo on it. The place is Mapledurham Watermill but the odd thing is that nobody knows who the woman was who modelled for the cover. Bit spooky eh? Not so spooky was the record company cashing in on the satanist hype in the media by putting a reversed cross on the inside cover much to the annoyance of the band who actually weren’t satanists. Made on a shoestring budget in a a couple of days it turned out to be one of the most influencial albums ever made. The title track is probably almost single-handedly responsible for the births of the genres of heavy metal and goth music. So now you know who to blame … or praise :-)

Art and Music

The link between art and music is very strong, probably more like a marriage really, especially where the production of an album is concerned. In the field of popular music and particularly with those bands who employed top artists to design their covers the end of the vinyl era meant the end of large packaging for albums and much of the artwork that looked so impressive on a gatefold vinyl album measuring some 12″ x 24″ didn’t look quite so impressive on the cassette or CD format. The tiny cassette format especially did no favours to sweeping majestic artwork.

When you think that artists like the legendary Roger Dean paint on huge canvases it really doesn’t seem as if art came off very well in the marriage does it? If you get to see a poster of his work (like one of those here for instance) then you’ll see what I mean. It is good to see that bands still use great artists for their album covers though. The work done by Dave McKean for instance is remarkable. Check out the Paradise Lost album covers he did – ‘Shades of God’ and ‘Draconian Times’ are particularly good examples of his work in this genre.

The problem of course is that for many bands the budget for the album cover is no longer as high as it used to be but given the talent out there it should still be possible to get a stunning cover even within a reasonable budget. The great thing about using the big names is, of course, the fact that people will recognise the work because they have seen it around so much. This can be very useful for tapping into a particular target market. No doubt Paradise Lost were well aware of Dave McKean’s work for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and well aware that the readers of that series would be in their target market. If they weren’t, it was indeed a lucky accident … :-)

Maybe we will have a trawl back over the years before long and recommend some awesome album art … and maybe some awesome songs too!