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Album Cover Survey

PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 5:27 pm
by howard male
When I was young(er) the cover of an album was almost as much a part of the album as the music contained within. The typeface, the image (whether it was of the band or some pseudo-surreal imagery commissioned by the record label) the visuals somehow came to represent the music, and the music echoed the visuals.

We were all too innocent to think about concepts like marketing and product placement back then (whenever then was) and if we adored a particular artist then they could do no wrong and even looked great when they knelt on the floor with a model of a tank provocatively planted between their legs - in fact Tanx was my favourite late T. Rex album and however slapdash and innuendo-heavy that cover was, I still look on it with fondness and can't separate it from the great music it represented in my mind, and the sense of expectation I felt when I saw the cover before I heard the album.

But now we are all grown up and know better than to associate the random workings of a record company art department with a band the art department may never have even met - don't we? Well, the answer in my case, is no, I'm afraid not.

If a record company creates a cover like the Feryal Öney one which prompted these thoughts (see 'Another CD Catch up' under New Releases) they can expect me to not even play it even if I got it for absolutely nothing, because I've convinced myself I know what it's going to sound like.

And, likewise, if I see an album with interesting artwork at a car boot sale for a quid I'll buy it expecting the contents to be of some value too. Needless to say, this isn't a full-proof way of acquiring a good record collection but it's proved fairly reliable over the years.

Now I've thought about this a bit more, I'd like to ask you all several questions on all this.

1. Favourite album cover(s) of all time

2. Favourite world music album cover

3. Cover that least reflected the music within.

4. Cover that best reflected the music within.

5. Cover you love even though you know you shouldn't.

6. Album you bought on the strength of its interesting cover and weren't disappointed.

7. Album you bought on the strength of its interesting cover and were disappointed.

8. Cover where an artist you'd previously had the utmost respect for disappointed you deeply.

9. LP cover you most often used for rolling joints on.

10. Cover which has the most interesting back-story which you happen to recall.

Feel free to improvise around the above themes or just answer as many or as few of the questions as you like or even add further album cover related questions.

PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 5:56 pm
by Rob Hall
Can't think of any off the top of my head Howard, but there's a number of websites devote dto bad album covers. Here's one to give some food for thought: http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/worst-album-covers

(Apologies for diverting your thread, and I promise to come back with some proper suggestions.)

Re: Album Cover Survey

PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 6:00 pm
by Rob Hall
Got one!

howard male wrote:9. LP cover you most often used for rolling joints on.


No contest: Live/Dead by the Grateful Dead.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 12:55 am
by Charlie
I cheated by going to look at the covers of the Albums of the Month posted on the home page, trying to recall my initial reaction as I first received each album, a reaction that was bound to be at least partly influenced by the cover. And nothing really struck me until I got to Camille's Le Fil. I remember when that arrvied, a slip case promo with no information, just that insolent look on Camille's face and a thread running across it. [I didn't know until a long time later that Le Fil was French for The Thread. And so I didn't immediately realise that the continuous tone running between each track is the thread referred to in the title.]

I put the album on with absolutely no idea what it might sound like, and was consequently delighted to find such adventure and originality. I didn't like every track, but loved the good ones enough to forgive the indulgencies. I can understand why Ian A and Garth don't like it as an album, but think that there are four or five songs that perfectly express the look on the cover.

Most of the other albums in the list are generic pictures of the artists' faces without any daring or imagination.

Going back a bit further, the packaging of Bari by Ojos de Brujo somehow promised a richly textured sound that was fulfilled by the music.

Manu Chao's albums have each had a distinctive, attractive look, achieving the same sort of colourful home-made feel that is in his music.

Sinikan by Sekou Bambino is probably the most inappropriate cover in the list that goes back to 2001, showing him with the side of his head peeled off to reveal electric wires inside. Good idea for a techno album, but as far from Sekou's music as a picture could be.

I liked the smouldering, come-if-you-dare expression on the face of Pietra Montecorvino on her album Napoli Mediterraneo, and her smokey voice lived up to that 1940s Italian vamp look.

World Circuit takes a lot of trouble with its sleeves and usually gets it right. The picture of Ali Farka Toure on the cover of his posthumous Savane was marvellous, and would have probably been sensational on a 12 x 12 vinyl album.

The German compilation label Network Medien is almost always on the mark with its 2xCD sets, Desert Blues, Island Blues, Golden Afrique, etc.

The Ethiopiques series is consistently well presented.

As usual, what comes to mind are the good ones. If I remember some turkeys, ie records that I keep playing despite their terrible covers, I'll be back to report them.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 10:35 am
by Chris P
Sekouba Bambino's Sinikan is a rare example of a WM album with a striking cover, and those ain't techno-wires Charlie they're old nails driven into some found wood or sculpture

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 10:59 am
by howard male
CG wrote -

As usual, what comes to mind are the good ones. If I remember some turkeys, ie records that I keep playing despite their terrible covers, I'll be back to report them.


Funny you should mention turkeys, Charlie, because I got a real Christmas turkey of a cover yesterday morning in perfect synch with this topic - the World Music Network have a series similar to their Rough Guides called Think Global. The latest is called 'World Christmas.' The cover depicts a slightly cross-looking sphinx - but then I'd be cross if I suddenly found I had not one, but six Santas climbing up me on ladders. Need I say the shrink-wrapping has come off this one.

CG wrote -

World Circuit takes a lot of trouble with its sleeves and usually gets it right. The picture of Ali Farka Toure on the cover of his posthumous Savane was marvellous, and would have probably been sensational on a 12 x 12 vinyl album.


And there lies a tragedy even greater in my view than the loss of a certain sound that vinyl had - looking at the artwork at a decent size. I still think many CD sleeve designers (such as the Ali and Ethiopiques people) are still nostalgic for the days when they had 12 inches to play with, so to speak - their designs, good as they are, seem to be screaming to be seen on an LP sleeve.

But, yes, Manu's covers are a perfect marrying of visuals to sound, and their boldness is a perfect way of adjusting to the small format of the CD. I'd also add the African Pearls series - I don't know quite how they did it, but they've managed to make fairly banal photos sing with rich, warm yet subdued colours.

Finally, we should mention LuXula here. Monte has managed to produce a little jewel of a cover which invites you to pick it up and study it. I don't know how usual it is for an artist to be allowed to do their own CD packaging (I do know that novelists are only very rarely given a say in what their books look like) but if they're up to the job, the LuXula cover suggests they should be given the opportunity.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 2:35 pm
by taiyo no otosan
I'll have a stab at a couple of these:

4. Cover that best reflected the music within.


I reckon that 'Yalla!' an old(ish) comp of Egyptian pop has a great cover. A grinning kid with a huge beat-box and a wheelbarrow full of cassettes. Totally sets the listener up for the wild funky streetsounds of 'shaabi' you hear on the record.

and as for

6. Album you bought on the strength of its interesting cover and weren't disappointed.


I bought Anouar Brahim's 'Barzakh' purely because of the beautiful Arabic calligraphy on the cover. I had no idea what to expect and was blown away by the corresponding beauty of the music I heard. I've loved pretty much everything he's done since. In fact, thinking about it, most of his covers are rather good and entirely appropriate for his sound.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:04 pm
by Dominic
Chris Potts wrote:Sekouba Bambino's Sinikan is a rare example of a WM album with a striking cover, and those ain't techno-wires Charlie they're old nails driven into some found wood or sculpture

I'm sure it was inspired by Nkisi fetish sculptures from the Kongo kingdom. I remember one of these from the Africa 95 exhibition at the Royal academy. I think that each nail signifies a prayer or invocation.

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More about this sculpture at https://www.africadirect.com/productsdesc.php?ID=15588

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:44 pm
by tulsehill charlie
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my call for Howard's no. 3

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:48 pm
by tulsehill charlie
my call for Howard's no. 3
should have been 1, 4, 9 and 10 - I can't hit the keys today

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 6:56 pm
by Ian M
When I was thinking about this almost one of the first I thought of was also Ali Farka Toure's Savane, so i will second CG's suggestion. that photo is a fantastic portrait of a man relaxed and at home with his surroundings, king of all he surveys. It just oozes charisma and presence and stature. Niafunke has also got a great cover.

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One that does stick in my mind is the cover for the soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ - Passion -Peter Gabriel and assorted musicians. This was a great introduction for me and I guess many others to some fabulous music from the Middle East and North Africa. It is a collage of sticks and feathers and found things making picture of a human head, laid out on what looks like the dusty earth. Looks great LP size and seems to go with the music perfectly.

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Also honorable mention to Robert Wyatt, whose sleeves and liner notes are always illustrated by his partner Alfreda Benge. Again they seem to fit the music, or are almost integral to it - colourful, dreamy, warm hearted.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 10:25 pm
by Dayna
I think Manu Chao's La Radiolina is a great one. The contrasting colors on the cover & the Latin designs do make it lively.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 11:02 pm
by Chris P
Following on from Ian M:
Although I grew up with the beautiful monochrome LP sized:
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by Alfie Benge

I think this more colourful design also by Alfie works better on the Cd size:
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Here's her wonderful cover for his next album "Ruth is Stranger than Richard":
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Also this series of LP covers was imaginative or not depending on your taste:
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which raises the topic of how much synaesthetic influence the sleeve has on perception of music - I hear the music on Unrest in tones of black and grey (and now a bit of green too following the green introduced into the Cd reissue), the music on In Praise of Learning in tones of red (+ political subject matter), and the music on Leg End as lighter in tone, more multi-coloured and varied in hue.

PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2007 2:47 am
by Ian M
Thanks, Chris, those covers I would have chosen if I'd been able to get my head round including images in messages properly. Great images

Anyway, here's another one I like a lot for its simplicity and elegance and beauty, not unlike the music inside

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I don't know about your sock colour theory, but the cover can definitely influence your view of the music. which reminds me, how can we possibly forget one of the finest runs of sleeves in UK pop history, I give you a few:

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2007 10:47 am
by ian russell
If we didn't ever buy albums on the strength of the cover, they'd be sold in brown paper sleeves. I've bought loads just because I wanted to own the image on the cover and not worry about the contents.

I don't go much for the desperately-trying-to-say-something, art room knock ups - give me a good, clean photo everytime. Bring back Bailey! Find more Baileys! (I love The Smiths collection there.) I was in Paris recently and the Buika portrait was everywhere on the Metro. Really beautiful, and that's all you need.