Their success with that cover design led to jobs on albums by artists like Free, the Pretty Things, Tyrannosaurus Rex (Marc Bolan), Alexis Korner and, by 1970, Hipgnosis (named by Barrett) had opened its studio on Denmark Street in London. Musician, photographer, and designer Peter Christopherson (Throbbing Gristle, Coil) joined Hipgnosis in 1974 as an assistant, becoming a full partner in 1978 and providing his invaluable creative insight to the studio’s many projects. Throughout the decade of the 1970s and inching into the ‘80s before the studio dissolved in 1983, Hipgnosis designed literally hundreds of album covers, arguably defining the art form for a generation or more.
Aubrey Powell’s Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art.
As one of the innovative creators of the vast majority of the album covers presented herein, Powell frequently tells the story behind a cover, the (then primitive) graphics process used in creating the artwork, and often-humorous tales that provide insight into the rock ‘n’ roll world for which Hipgnosis provided the public face that would be seen in advertising, record stores, and music collections around the world. One of my personal fave stories in the book is that of British rockers 10cc and the cover to their 1980 album Look Hear, featuring a sheep lying on a psychiatrist’s couch placed on a beach. After the band signed off on the idea, Powell was flown to Hawaii to handle the cover photography, only to find that his Freud-inspired couch prop was nowhere to be found on the island.
Hipgnosis – Visual Innovators
Hipgnosis used the entire 12” x 12” album size as a blank canvas upon which to tell a story to compliment the music (sometimes 12” x 24”, encompassing the back cover as well), the studio providing every project with brilliant, colorful art that has withstood the test of time. Although there are many classic albums in the Hipgnosis catalog – Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Presence, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, Wings’ Band on the Run, etc – the studio’s lesser-known work for relatively-obscure bands like Audience, Strawbs, Hydra, Caravan, and Brand X, to name but a few, is equally stunning, memorable for its artistic expression and unforgettable imagery.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Sadly, these budget dollars would slow to a trickle as the 1980s wore on, and by the time that the compact disc came to dominate commercial music sales in the ‘90s, cover art was reduced to the 5” x 5” dimensions of the CD, becoming somewhat of an afterthought to music video as the prime avenue for marketing new music. Sensing, perhaps, the end of an era, the partners of Hipgnosis went their separate ways in 1983, Powell going into film and video, creating music videos for artists like Yes, Robert Plant, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. With Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art. however, Powell has provided readers with a look to the past when album cover artwork was second only to the music, something to pore over as the vinyl spun around the turntable, the sound weaving its magic. Grade: A+ (Thames & Hudson, published May 16, 2017)
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