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!
Tales from Topographic Oceans by Roger Dean
This whole double album LP was based completely on a footnote on page 83 of Paramahamsa Yogananda’s autobiography (usually known as ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’). It is divided into four parts to correspond with the four shastric group of texts referred to in the footnote that are essential elements of the Vedic tradition in India which is in its turn the foundation of Hinduism and other religions (who all claim the Vedic tradition as part of their traditions but which pre-dates all of them by thousands of years and was entirely different in its character to the later religeons!). The album came out in 1973 to critical acclaim both for its music and it’s incredible cover painting by Roger Dean, which blends fantasy and surrealism. The speed lines on the fish appear on the original album cover but not on later posters etc. As usual for Roger Dean, a combination of techniques and mediums have been used starting with an airbrushed background. The “stars” have been hand-painted on, not sprinkled in blobs. Roger Dean designed the lettering of the title and the YES logo became a firm identifier of the band throughout the seventies.
This Roger Dean landscape or under-sea-scape includes some famous English rocks taken from the Dominy Hamilton postcard collection – Brimham Rocks, the last rocks at Lands End, the Logan rock at Treen and single stones from Avebury and Stonehenge. Jon Anderson, YES’s singer, wanted the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza included and Alan White the drummer wanted the markings from the plains of Nazca so these are in the painting as well.
Not every YES album has carried a Roger Dean cover but he is firmly connected with the band in the mind of every long-term fan. His paintings are large and he works on a massive easle when he paints. I once jokingly suggested to him that he doesn’t know how to paint a small picture! Tales From Topographic Oceans with its waterfall under water is just a surrealistic masterpiece!
Relayer by Roger Dean
This album followed on from Tales from Topogrtaphioc Oceans and came out in 1974. The sound is quite different in places which is mainly due to the departure of Rick Wakeman and the arrival of Patrick Moraz on keyboard duties. They were both extremely accomplished musicians but with quite different styles. The first track (that is just under 22 minutes long!) ‘Gates of Delirium’ is based on part of Tolstoy’s ‘War & Peace’. The album, in true progressive rock tradition, only has a total of three tracks!
The full cover has a great rattlesnake on the back cover whose tail can be seen down the bottom left of the front cover. The “impossible” rock walls on this cover are another trademark of Roger Dean. He likes to push back the frontiers and improvise and experiment (one of his paintings for Uriah Heep combined almost every artistic medium you can think of from collage to oils to watercolour etc).