Saturday, March 16, 2002

Okay, this week’s installment moves us into the visual realm--album cover art. I’ve always been fascinated by the packaging of recorded music. The artwork really affects the way I think about a particular release. The mental picture I have when I recall a piece of music is usually some variation on the cover art. Led Zeppelin IV brings to mind grey skies and crumbling walls. Dark Side of the Moon conjures up the wavering trajectory of an electrocardiograph reading. Husker Du’s New Day Rising is suffused with sunlight smothered by river-silt brown, matching that album’s glorious waves of guitar fuzz and the locked-in-the-trunk vocals. Hemispheres, Rush’s 1978 masterpiece, elicits thoughts of planet-sized cerebellums and elegantly clenched male buttocks... Oh dear.

Lovely Floating Landscapes
Roger Dean’s art went hand in hand with the ascendancy of Yes as hugely popular prog-rockers in the mid-'70s. He was there for their breakthrough album, Fragile, and stayed with them until 1977’s Going For the One album, for which Hipgnosis supplied the artwork. (More on them later.) Dean set the standard for fantastical sleeve art and hard-to-discern band logos. The average punter would associate his imagery with Yes, but he’s also done covers for two of my faves, Uriah Heep and Budgie--two of the greatest no-hope outfits that ever existed.

Mad as a Hatter
I LOVE Paul Whitehead’s album covers for Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator circa ’70 to ’72. They’re sort of "John Tenniel meets the space age" in exactly the same way as those bands’ music was reaching back while looking forward. My favourite Whitehead covers are for Nursery Cryme (Genesis, 1971), Pawn Hearts (VdGG, 1971) and Fool’s Mate (Peter Hammill, 1971). 1971 was a good year, I guess. Anyway, Whitehead’s official site has many great examples of his work past and present, and it’s nice to see that he hasn’t lost his gift for trippy imagery in the least.

Like Roger Dean, Derek Riggs is intimately linked with one band--in this case, Iron Maiden. Riggs has been with them right from day one, with a brief respite sometime in the ‘90s, I believe. He created their adorable mascot, Eddie, and his album sleeves have played a huge role in Maiden’s growing popularity throughout the ‘80s. It’s all about visual consistency. The kids couldn’t get enough of it. My favourite Riggs covers are Maiden’s first album (before Eddie became too cartoony--back then he was just creepy) and 1983’s Piece of Mind. What must have America’s moms and dads thought? Be sure to check out some of Riggs’s other work for bands like Gamma Ray and Stratovarius. And, if you’re an up-and-coming group, why not buy an original Derek Riggs for your wicked debut? Or if you’re an aspiring author with a first-draft novel you’re desperate to have published, you can buy a cover for your paperback masterpiece, particularly if your book has a rural setting and features half-clothed characters wandering through wheat fields, casting steely glares, and shagging.

Note: a few of these sites are heavy on the Flash and Shockwave, so if you’re visiting via a dial-up connection, be prepared to wait.

Storm Thorgerson
Formerly known as Hipgnosis (the design studio he formed with Aubrey Powell in 1968), he’s responsible for some of the greatest album art ever--Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Houses of the Holy, and on and on. His website is a total knockout, too. For background/technical info on some of the most iconic imagery in rock music, it’s a worthwhile visit.

Travis Smith
This guy must work his ass off, because he's popping up everywhere these days. He’s the artist of the moment in the heavy metal world. As you can see at his official site, much of his work has a really cool hazy, misty quality to it, but he’s not afraid of being garish either. Opeth and Devin Townsend are examples of the former approach. Demons and Wizards and Iced Earth get more of a D&D treatment.

H.R. Giger
This infamous Swiss artist's work has appeared on albums by artists as diverse as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Celtic Frost, and Debbie Harry. And who can forget when The Dead Kennedys included a poster of his Penis Landscape with their Frankenchrist LP? Tipper Gore shat blood. Ah, those were the days.

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