Access. It’s the most valuable currency of celebrity journalism. Photojournalists Bob Gruenand Ken Reganbuilt celebrated careers by getting access to coveted rock stars such as Madonna, whom Ken Regan photographed as she was about to become a star. Regan, who passed away in 2012, was welcomed into the homes of rock stars not only because he had undeniable talent, but he handled access with discretion. But in today’s era of stars granting “all access” to everyone through social media, what’s the role of the great professionals like Gruen, Regan and Annie Leibovitz? At a time when anyone with an iPhone can become a photojournalist, what sets apart great visual storytelling from pedestrian photography?
Both of the books are vivid reminders that rock and roll is as much a visual medium as it is a musical one. Sometimes the rock stars just explode off the page, as in this photo of Jimi Hendrix taken by Ken Regan:
Everything old is new again. In the classic rock era, musicians and their audiences met each other through record albums. For music fans, holding the vinyl in your hands and exploring record cover art was part of the joy of discovering new music. For musicians, the album artifact was an important way to express their art and sell albums. Apple destroyed that relationship by launching iTunes in 2001. But in the era of Pinterest and Instagram when people post 3 trillion images online a year, consumers are rediscovering the joys of record cover art, as we’ve witnessed with the resurgence of vinyl sales. To celebrate the apparent return of the LP cover, I’ve launched my own Memorable Album Covers Pinterest board.
Periodically I’ll feature selections from my board on Superhype. Todays’ feature is Ray Charles’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, released in 1962. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music an example of how smart design creates a memorable album cover. Art meets commerce in his LP cover, which was designed to sell by featuring the instantly recognizable Ray Charles face and name. Notice how the tilt of his head guides your eye to his name, which was featured at the top of the cover to make sure you could find the recording on LP racks in record stores. The stark red background, bold type, and powerful image make for an inviting cover of a classic recording.
I’m not going to comment on the quality of the music on each LP cover I discuss (although in most cases my opening the featured) record album led to a memorable listening experience) but rather the attributes that make for a memorable cover, such as:
Visually arresting design, as with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
Design that best reflects the content of the album, of which there are numerous examples, Pink Floyd’s enigmatic Dark Side of the Moon cover being one of the best-known examples.
A cover that captures the essence of the artist or even an entire form of music — for instance, the way Sticky Fingers captures the licentious nature of the Rolling Stones or how the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols captures the spirit of punk rock.
Stay tuned for more. Please also share with me your own covers and reasons why you find them memorable.