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Album Art
By Rebecca Rochat


Rebecca is a frequent contributor to Clever Magazine and a freelance writer based in in Chattanooga, TN where she writes for Chattanooga CityScope and HealthScope magazines. She also writes a fashion column for Examiner.com.

As for most of my generation, it was the Beatles who turned me on to pop music. It wasn’t long before I would be spending hours at the local department store flipping through not just Beatle albums, but other pop and rock stars’ albums as part of my growing musical curiosity and horizons.  With limited exposure to television or even live performances (this was before MTV), album covers put a face or faces to voices heard on the radio. 

I knew what Elvis Presley looked like, but not James Brown, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, or the British groups of the early and mid 60’s. Some of the first stirrings of sexual titillation, which left me both excited and at the same time ashamed, I can trace back to staring at those covers. There was more to just buying an album and listening to it once you got home. It was the ritual of looking at the front then back cover (sometimes over and over) as I listened to the music. Listening to music was a tactile and visual event that was just the warm up act for the audio. Then came the introduction of gate-fold covers and inserts, often with lyrics, and one could become immersed in an artistic pas de deux with the music.  

Those early album covers were black and white or color photographs shot in a studio or sometimes with the outdoors as the backdrop. The creativity or artistic quality of the cover was in the eyes and imagination of the photographer. That all changed in 1968 with the artwork design for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brilliantly conceived by Robert Fraser, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. The cover, which featured the Beatles in satin day glo military outfits, also included the images of more than 70 people as well as artifacts from John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s homes such as statues, a trophy and a portable TV.

It was the first time images of people other than the band or singer were used for the cover. Sgt. Pepper’s was the cover that inspired a new era of abstract op art covers known as psychedelic with their surrealistic and brightly colored patterns reminiscent of drug induced altered states. Still, there was the threesome of visual, tactile and audio experience coming together to create a musical love fest.

Beginning in the mid-60’s and into the 90’s. new technology in the form of eight track tapes, audio cassettes, and finally compact discs (CD’s) made album music portable. Album music could be listened to on portable tape and CD players and vied for musical attention with the car radio while driving. While album music was becoming portable, album art and its significance was shrinking literally, and figuratively. Miniature replicas of album covers were made to fit tape, cassette and CD cases. Album music was transitioning into a purely audio experience. There was no album cover to look at or hold in your hands. 

And finally, the iPod, the 21st century personal music listening device. Music goes from Internet to listening device directly into the ear. Listening to music has evolved into a purely audio experience.  Nothing to look at, no photographs, no art, nothing to hold in your hands. Cyber music for the ear. In 2008, album cover designer Peter Saville sounded the death knell for album art, but in 2009, Apple not quite ready to put the nail in the coffin, introduced iTunes LP a format for interactive album artwork which allows the user to view multimedia elements alongside the music. “Interactive”, “multimedia”, terms that would have been as unintelligible as a foreign language to an eleven year old girl flipping through album covers at the local department store. It didn’t get more interactive than putting the LP on the turntable, placing the needle on the vinyl disc, settling into a comfortable chair or lying on the floor holding the album cover and becoming immersed in the world of art and music. 

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