Many of us remember LP albums when they were supplanted by the much smaller CD. We lamented the loss of the 144 square inches for album cover art work. And that’s not counting the gate fold album with two extra 144 square inch surfaces for art and text. Sure, CDs had art work but in most cases it was a matter of just shrinking the 12 x 12 album cover aret into a plastic CD case. Not very satisfying. I would imagine the artists who had to transition from LP album cover to CD case design found it difficult, if not just simply disheartening.
With the resurgence of vinyl LPs, there is again more interest in album art design. The premier site for everything there is to know about album art is The Album Cover Hall of Fame curated by Mike Goldstein and of course, there is a Best and Worst list for 2018 there. This is probably the most comprehensive list of lists, so I’m not going to attempt to recreate it or find something that Mike missed because I’m pretty sure he hasn’t missed anything.
I noticed that Hugh Syme won five Junos over a ten year period and four of these were for Rush album covers. This was during a period when physical products were still how we consumed music. Rush was also in their heyday then. This lead me to reach out to Mike and he did not disappoint giving an insightful and in depth response.
VC – What’s your take on the potential impact of a great album cover helping the popularity of a band versus the popularity of the band influencing his we view the album cover?
Mike – “Yes, Mr. Syme’s work has been recognized many times over the years for its ingenuity and technical excellence, and his work for Rush has meant just as much to the band’s fans as Roger Dean’s work has for YES fans.Back “in the day”, many musical acts would work to build long-term relationships with certain art directors, photographers, illustrators, etc., and so you’d see their works as part of a “series” instead of individual products. Examples of this include Philip Travers’ work for the Moody Blues, David Larkham’s work for Elton John, Storm Thorgerson’s work for Pink Floyd, Derek Riggs’ work for Iron Maiden, etc.. In those cases (and, in cases where the bands were huge, like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eagles, etc., who would work with different ADs and cover creatives most every album), these all took place in the heyday of vinyl/early CD sales, and so fans were always willing to give a new record from their favorite acts a try, regardless of the cover. Since there were very few widely-read sources of criticism – certainly, nothing like what’s found online and via social media – musical acts relied on an ongoing relationship with their fans and hoped that those fans would help introduce their records to new consumers as well. If an album had a cool package, it could only help to make the introduction all the more impressive, I think.
Some bands were expected to have great covers, which is why it took a lot of guts (and confidence that their fans would buy a new record regardless) for a band to deliver something against the grain, as you saw when The Beatles released their “White Album” or The Band released Music From Big Pink with a Bob Dylan-painted primitive painting and no title on the cover.
Not sure if I answered your question – it’s one that I always ask album cover artists when I interview them and one that has elicited many different answers.”
Yes Mike, you covered it for sure and thanks for your response.