The LP has seen a steady revival in recent years. In this eighth decade of album cover art history the 12" record, or vinyl, has become hugely fashionable again. To get a sense of how we got here, we invited Richard Evans to take us through the story of album cover design in a series of exclusive extracts from his wonderful book, The Art of the Album Cover.
Words: Richard Evans
Sixties' illustration and the contribution to cover design by notable Pop Art doyens Peter Blake (Sgt Pepper's) and Richard Hamilton (The Beatles' white album) in Britain, and Andy Warhol in the US, meant that a new generation of designers was heavily influenced by 'fine art'. Indeed, illustration continued to flourish into the Seventies and cover art became even slicker with more and more artists turning to the photorealism afforded by the airbrush to produce their way-out ideas.
This 'tipping of the hat' was a two-way affair, as American painters including Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselman had also embraced the use of the airbrush in their work in the Sixties.
Hand-in-hand with photorealism came a resurgence of nostalgia for the Fifties' America of hot-dog stands, gas-guzzling cars and soda fountains, aided and abetted by the release in 1973 of George Lucas's movie, American Graffiti, and the long-running TV series, Happy Days.
As the Seventies progressed, so began the age of decadence and extravagance not just in the rock'n'roll lifestyle but in its album packaging, too. Within a few short years the gatefold sleeve became the industry standard and every designer worth his salt wanted to design for them. The advantage of the gatefold sleeve was that album cover designers now had a canvas of 24" x 12" to play with. And not only that, the artistes demanded specially designed liner bags (inner sleeves), which added yet more to the cost but resultedin truly fabulous and elaborate album packages.
I remember only too well, in 1975 when I worked at Hipgnosis, having to deliver the finished artwork for Paul McCartney & Wings' album Venus & Mars to the print production people at EMI Records. It was late on a Friday afternoon and the production manager just wanted to get away for the weekend. I showed him the package artwork - a gatefold sleeve to be specially printed on heavier card than the standard weight of board. Inside said gatefold sleeve were two full-color stickers, a full-color card inner sleeve holding the vinyl disc with its full-color special labels, and two 20" x 30" posters that were printed in black and white - all except for two small circles a quarter of an inch in diameter in the bottom right corner. One of these was printed in a special red and the other in a special yellow.
The production manager hit the roof. "This'll cost a fortune to print", he bellowed. Knowing full well the enormous amount of revenue McCartney and his band brought EMI Records, my reply was not without a certain gleeful smugness. "It's what Paul wants", I said. "Just do it."