Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The 70s get the accolades, album cover art among them.  The mid-60s saw the first of what we may consider album cover "art," but iconic and beautiful jackets go back even further.  In the 50s, album covers truly became a marketing strategy, something of which we are, sadly, losing sight. The Napster effect killed off more than just the album, but its covers as well. Fanatics, myself among them, have their iTunes all tidied up with graphics that look pretty on Apple TV, alternate takes, lyrics, ratings, composers, yet there is something austere about the feel of an album, a tactile treat in itself, in the smell, in the way that we flipped open a gatefold and read the lyrics or rolled a J.  Gone are the days... 

The first gatefold LPs, by the way, were from innovative bandleader Enoch Light, a means to retrofit more liner notes. Light was one of the pioneers of album cover art.  The Persuasive Percussion and Provocative Percussion series were pop art before pop art, helping to launch the LP, which up until that point was a novelty.  Jackets like Persuasive Percussion; Bachelor Pad Music, designed by pop artist Josef Albers, can be seen as precursors to the work of Peter Saville and Peter Blake.

LP jackets of the 50s tended toward graphic design, particularly those of Jim Flora. The covers provided a sense of excitement long before one ever heard the music contained within. Disks like The Panic is On and the self-titled Gene Krupa were like the works of Miro. 

Two Sinatra concept albums make the cut here: Come Fly With Me and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, two great albums, two hep covers.  The better album is the phenomenal In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; the better cover (and a more solid concept) is Come Fly With Me.  No better cool cover than this, Mr. Cool embarking on a TWA propjet, thumbing a ride.  It's pure retro camp; it's genius, that Sinatra reportedly abhored.  "It looks like an ad for TWA."  It does indeed.

But the granddaddy of cool was Time Out from Dave Brubeck. A classic album from the first strains of "Take Five" (AM10) to the last beat of "Pick Up Sticks."  The abstract cover art and inclusive song-by-song liner notes make for the complete package.  Find it, dig it, groove the hep vinyl, man.

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