Sunday, March 20, 2016

Please... fix it, Daddy?

Alongside Roger Dean, Storm Thorgerson was one of the premier album designers of the 70s. Hipgnosis worked with dozens of artists, including Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy), 10cc (Deceptive Bends) and Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food), but they're best known for their work with Pink Floyd. Thorgerson and Hipgnosis created the cover for the 1973 iconic album The Dark Side of the Moon, but also Wish You Were Here and Animals. Thorgerson, Dean and other top designers of the 70s took the lead established by Peter Blake (Sgt. Pepper) in the 60s and ran with the concept that album cover art was indeed art. The 70s saw the best of the best (from Physical Graffiti to Some Girls), though certainly, despite the lack of venue, the demise of the LP, the size of a cassette, the CD jewel case and even the digital lack or need for a cover, many great graphic album designers remain (Shepard Fairey, Dan Mumford, Peter Saville). Still the best remain Dean and Thorgerson.

Roger Dean, the sole designer during the essential years for Yes (Fragile through Relayer - nothing against The Yes Album or Going for the One, they just weren't designed by Dean) is instantly recognizable, indeed many insist that the look and feel of Avatar is based almost exclusively on the work of Dean, despite a failed lawsuit by Dean against James Cameron for copyright infringement. "When I was at college and went to art school, I had no clear idea what I was going to do," Dean says. "But part of what I had in mind was an incredible idea that I could design the future. It was a terrific, motivating thing." Dean had grand ideas of how outside-the-box design and architecture could change the way we live, the way we think, the way we interact with our world. The industrial design prototypes he created during college reflected this ideology: Why should a chair in the future have four legs? Why does a building need to be rectangular? Why do modern designs of everyday objects still follow blueprints that are hundreds if not thousands of years old? Out of that came Dean's penchant for the futuristic and fantastic. Dean is the designer, for instance, of the pod-like chair in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, and yet he will be forever remembered as the grand designer of new worlds, those impossible places we'd all like to go.

My two favorite LP covers remain Houses of the Holy and News of the World. Not known as an album designer, Kelly Freas (pronounced "freeze") originally designed News of the World for a pulp comic book called Astounding. The robot holding the dead body of a man is captioned "Please... fix it, Daddy?" to illustrate the story "The Gulf Between" by Tom Godwin. 

The robot killing the man is likened to a child injuring a bug and looking up at his parents saying, "What have I done?" Roger Taylor is a huge fan of science fiction and had the original mag. In 1977, he brought the idea to the table, inspired the band and contacted the artist, who agreed to alter it for their cover. Freas was involved in science fiction from 1950 until his death in 2005, also painting everything from scholarly pieces for NASA to buxom beauties as nose art on fighter planes.  He was the cover artist for several Mad magazines. The golden days of album cover art are behind us. Storm Thorgerson's death in 2013 accentuated that point. The lack of album cover art is a sad loss, and yet my question is, how indeed does one roll a J without a gatefold cover?