On Facebook I was recently tagged on a meme called Ten Days, Ten Album Covers. You only needed to list the albums with no explanation. But, I just could not do that and had to write an explanation. About halfway through, I realized I had a post for my blog.
Remember, it about the covers, I focused on the photography and art design, and not necessarily the music. Two albums on the list I never listened to, then some of the others (Beatles, Springsteen, Dylan, Lennon and The Rolling Stones) are favorites.
Starting with number ten and working my to number one.
The album’s art designer for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti was a man named Peter Corriston. He wanted to use a New York City tenement for the cover, but needed one that had no distractions like lamp posts or street signs. The layout would also have to fit the square design of an album cover. He found what he needed at St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The resulting cover actually consists of two buildings, 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place. While they were close in appearance they were not as identical as your see in the final photograph. The original photos were shot by Eliott Erwitt, B.P. Fallen and Roy Harper (no mention is made of which photographer shot the various photos in the album). There was a lot of pre-photoshop doctoring to make the two buildings look as a close as possible. Below is what the two buildings look like at the time.
The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. Photographer Robert Frank’s photograph of a collage of photographs, supposedly taken at New York tattoo parlor, was used for the cover. Frank was born in Switzerland. After coming to America, he became part of the Beat Generation. Like the other members on the Beats, Frank with his photography was searching for the forgotten Americans, those exiled to the edge of nowhere. Mick Jagger, familiar with the photographer’s work, contacted Frank. The Stones were working on Exile on Main Street, an album that featured a lot of raw outlaw style blues. They wanted the same outsider feel for the album cover. Originally, Frank was going to use photos he took of the Stones on the seedier streets of L.A. But after art director John Van Hamersveld saw the tattoo parlor photo, he knew he had his front cover. Many of Frank’s other photos of the Stones were used on the back cover and inside.
Janis Joplin’s Pearl was released posthumously. It contained some of her finest work including the classic Me and Bobby McGee. The photograph was by Barry Feinstein. It’s beautifully lit with the light falling perfectly on Joplin’s face. The Victoria style chair, her clothes and the drink in hand (most likely Southern Comfort) add to the atmosphere.
Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, was photographed by her close friend/lover/artistic cohort photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The photograph, taken in an apartment in Greenwich Village, is from the mid-1970’s. During the session, Mapplethorpe took about a dozen photos of Smith with a jacket slung over her shoulder and skinny tie flung around her neck before he caught the perfect image. It’s a delicate depiction of the singer off-setting the punk rock image she embraced at the time. Mapplethorpe died in 1989 from complications from aids. Patti Smith would write about their life, per Mapplethorpe’s request, in the excellent memoir Just Kids winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010.
The Doors Morrison Hotel – The album cover was by photographer Henry Diltz (art direction Gary Burden). Two years ago my wife and I attended a presentation titled Behind the Lens. The guests were Henry Diltz and Patti Boyd, aka Patti Harrison. Diltz part of the talk was the more interesting, as were his photographs. Boyd’s photos, she admitted were snapshots she took over the years of ex-husband George and other celebrities. Diltz though is a professional photographer who has many album covers to his credit. His stories were fascinating. The Morrison Hotel was an actual hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles. Ray Manzarek and his wife were riding around looking for potential locations to shoot the album cover. He recommended the third rate Morrison Hotel. The day of the shoot, the desk clerk told Diltz and company they could not come inside and shoot. The group set up outside and began to take a series of photographs hoping for that one special shot. Then came a moment when the desk clerk left for a break and the grungy lobby was empty. Diltz got the group to run inside and pose in front of the window. He shot about a roll of film and then they all got out before the desk clerk returned. They got their cover shot.
Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home is one of rock’s true classics. The cover photo was by Daniel Kramer. The photo shoot was done at the home of Albert Grossman, then Dylan’s manager. The lady in red, seductively lounging in the background, is Grossman’s wife, Sally. Note Dylan’s previous album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) behind her. When asked why this photo was selected, Kramer responded, it was the only one where the cat sitting on Dylan’s lap was looking at the camera.
The cover photo of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album goes back to the Beatles Hamburg days when they played in the city’s red light district. The photograph is by Jürgen Vollmer, an old friend of the group from those wild early days playing in clubs like the Kaiserkeller. Vollmer captures Lennon’s early rebel without a cause persona. He’s framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg, wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other, a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.
The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, has become one of the most iconic shots in the history of rock. It was Springsteen’s third album and his big breakout, selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone. The photograph was taken by Eric Meola who during a three hour photo shoot shot more than 900 photos. Meola, a self-taught photographer opened up his own studio in 1971. Four years later he was photographing Springsteen leaning on the big man, Clarence Clemons, for the cover of Born to Run. The cover photo has been often imitated, from Cheap Trick to the Muppets, but never duplicated.
In the 1976 Joni Mitchell released Hejira, a fusion of folk and jazz; the album cover, like the music, was a mix. Three photographs: Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, a superimposed image of the artist staring directly at you, and a second superimposed image of a long empty highway layered over the artist’s coat. The final blended image suggests the creative never ending journey Mitchell has been traveling. It’s self reflective, seductive and elusive.
Like the music inside, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover was revolutionary. The art designer was Peter Blake. Each of the four Beatles were asked to compile a list of people they admired and would want on the cover. The concept was that the group performed a concert and all these people were in the audience. Using cardboard cutouts of their selections, all would all be featured in a group photo. Permission needed to be obtained from the chosen before using their likeness. Some folks, like Leo Gorcey, demanded too much money and were axed. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan made the cover. Just as surprisingly Elvis Presley, a significant influence on the group, did not. Michael Cooper was the photographer of the final image. While this photograph would be his most famous, Cooper worked with many other musicians of the day, notably with the Rolling Stones. In 1973, Michael Cooper’s life spiraled out of control. Addicted to drugs and with bouts of depression, at the age of 31 he committed suicide.